Freedom is the oxygen of the soul.
– Moshe Dayan, Israeli politician
When I was growing up, though my parents, especially my father, were patriotic, the Fourth of July wasn’t a big holiday for our family. Occasionally we went to Porterville Junior College for the fireworks show at Jamison Stadium. In high school, hanging out with my friends was more important than watching the fireworks, which never interested me as much. As a result, I came to view July 4th as a day off from work as an adult. When you have kids, however, it becomes a different story. Once Jacob began playing youth baseball, we were guaranteed spending the 4th at a baseball tournament in San Bruno, which is down the peninsula.
About five years ago, my cousin Janet and her husband Tim – affectionately known as Timbuktu to our kids – started coming up to visit us. The first year they came up we were invited over to one of our friends’ home up in the hills to have dinner and watch the fireworks, though that year it was too foggy to see the fireworks from Chrissy Field in San Francisco across the bay. Since then, however, we’ve created our own little Fourth of July tradition. Janet and Tim come up to watch Jacob play in a summer baseball tournament. On the 4th we walk over to Cerrito Vista Park for the El Cerrito City’s annual celebration, which includes World One’s music festival. Each year the celebration gets bigger. Then we have an elaborate dinner that David makes, which is always a treat, given that he loves to cook and is a great cook. I’m just the sous chef and the “busgirl” at the end of the evening. The past two years we have invited friends over for dinner on an impromptu basis.
An important component to Janet and Tim’s visit is science experiments, which the kids especially look forward to. Tim is an independent science instructor who provides staff training and runs after-school programs, science nights, birthday parties, and summer camps serving the Central Valley, although he runs several summer camps in various towns up and down California such as Ojai and Paso Robles. His company is called Science-Dipity (P.O. Box 801, Porterville, CA, 93258, 559.779.4821). One summer, Janet and Tim came up and did a science birthday party for Jacob in the park. This visit, after the festivities at Cerrito Vista Park, they had a corn starch explosion and shot potatoes from rockets from our balcony, among other experiments.
Last year, the six of us attended an Oakland A’s game at the Coliseum and watched the fireworks after the game. It was freezing – but that is true Bay Area weather for night baseball. This year we were prepared, with sweatshirts and coats, but it was so balmy that we were comfortable in short sleeves. This year we were also smarter about where we got our seats so we could watch the fireworks without having to move. People are allowed on the field, but we preferred the comfort of our seats over the chaos of getting on and off the field. Whereas the A’s won last year with a 9th inning walk-off – characteristic of the team last year – they lost this year, 1-3. But the fireworks show made up for the loss, and the A’s came back to win on the 4th of July, giving them the series win over the Chicago Cubs. We’ll have to figure out something for next year, as the A’s will probably be on the road; we’ll be making baseball and fireworks a tradition when they are in town.
For dinner, David made Mario Batali’s chicken thighs with snap peas and garlic, Batali’s grilled waxy potatoes in red-wine vinegar, corn that Janet and Tim brought up from the Central Valley, and vanilla bean ice cream dusted with crushed English toffee with milk chocolate. It was a late dinner and we finished up dessert just as the fireworks festivities around the Bay Area began. We had one of the clearest evenings for the 4th that we’ve had in years. Lucky us! We saw multiple fireworks from different cities on our balcony. We didn’t see the fireworks coming from the Berkeley marina, but we watched the fireworks coming from San Francisco, Marin, and Richmond. We were also treated to some pretty impressive illegal fireworks. That was an amazing way to end our Fourth of July.
Lucky again for me, I have Friday off. After a visit to Annie’s Annuals for plant hunting, we’ll play some rounds of Sequence, which is another tradition for our families and a game that Jacob is keen on playing. It will be a shorter visit than in years past, as we disperse later today for family matters. But as we wait for Janet’s blueberry scones to come out of the oven, I take inventory of our Fourth of July, and I’m grateful to have family and a meaningful tradition for this holiday. Our kids are growing up with a much different, richer Fourth of July than I had as a child, which warms my heart, and they will likely carry on such traditions when they have families of their own. If this is a holiday that is just another day off from work, create meaning for you. Create traditions. It makes life that much richer and deeper.