The 4th of July was by far one of my favorite holidays growing up. We would drive to my grandparent’s house on Spring Lake in Glendale, Rhode Island for the long weekend. It was an hour and a half drive from Springfield, Mass., which could feel like forever back then. I knew we were just about there when I saw the handcrafted speed limit signs on Spring Lake Road, also know as the bumpy road, that my grandfather made.
While the whole weekend was fun, America’s Birthday truly stands out. My siblings and I always slept in sleeping bags on the living room floor. I would try to position my sleeping bag under the skylight. We would wake up to the sounds of my grandmother bustling around the kitchen. After breakfast, we would follow my grandfather, who was dressed in his knee-length shorts and dark knee socks, to the front yard. It wasn’t time to jump in the water yet. Instead, we poked small holes into the ground and lined up small American flags, which could be see from the water, across the retaining wall. As a World War II veteran, this ritual was extremely important to my grandfather.
By mid-morning, it was time for the first swim of the day. Then my cousins would arrive and the fun would really begin. We would only get out of the water for lunch. My grandmother would make a large batch of Dynamite (a French Canadian version of a sloppy joe), which was always paired with chips, and corn on the cob. After lunch, we would jump back in the lake. Before long, my grandfather would take out the wrinkled, worn paper bag that we had all come to love because….it was filled with colorful Nerf balls. The Nerf wars would begin in the water and nobody was safe. Then we would get called out of the water for our afternoon snack – watermelon slices with salt. We were so careful with the seeds because we knew if we swallowed even one, there was a good possibility we would grow a watermelon in our bellies. Years later I realized this wasn’t true. I also know now there is no real reason to wait half an hour after eating to go swimming!
In the late afternoon, more extended family would arrive, including great aunts and uncles and second and third cousins. After dinner, which was usually hamburgers or ham sandwiches, we would play outside until dark. Then we would gather on the dock to watch fireworks over the lake. This is where I perfected my “oohs” and “aahs.” This signaled the end to my perfect 4th of July celebrations.
True confession of the day: In honor of those days, I am making Dynamite today. Happy Birthday America and thanks for the memories Mémère and Pépère Charpentier!