Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Very American Holiday

This year, my family and I had one of the very best 4th of July holiday weekends that ever!

It began, of course, on the 4th itself, when Patty and I, along with our two youngest, took advantage of the perfect weather and our Greenfield Village membership and visited the open-air museum. A rare appearance to the place in modern clothing!
Now, we have been to the Village countless times - being members we visit nearly a dozen times a year, enjoying all of the different activities each season brings. But, it's been a number of years since we have gone on the 4th of July.

So, this year, that's what we did.

During the summer season Greenfield Village has actors playing different roles to perform vignettes in numerous locations throughout the place: a "difficult customer" and how the proprietor deals with her at the J. R. Jones General Store; life as a slave on the Susquehanna plantation; 19th century school days in the Scotch Settlement school; and, at the Wright Brothers' home, the two brothers and their sister speak of that day in December when man, for the first time, flew an airplane. And we made sure to see each one.

They also had candle dipping, of which my daughter enjoyed participating in very much. She told me she wanted to wait to light her beeswax candles on her birthday in December. That's a fine idea, if I do say so myself. There were also period games for kids on the Village Green.

And for dinner (lunch), we ate at the Eagle Tavern, where it's always the year 1850.

To fill in the gaps in between the scenarios we entered some of our favorite homes: the houses of Adams, Giddings, Firestone (pictured above left), and the Carrol Family (Susquehanna Plantation).

Mostly, however, we just enjoyed the beautiful day, strolling the along the streets of the past.

Then, at five o'clock, we had to leave - which we did. But, we didn't leave the grounds: we stepped back out to the entrance area and got back in line, only this time armed with chairs, a blanket, and a cooler with sandwiches for a picnic, for we were going to spend the evening there, listening to music followed by a fireworks display.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to bring cameras in for this evening extravaganza, so I have no shots to show.

At 6, the gates re-opened and in we all went - eight thousand of us - and skedaddled to what we hoped would be the perfect location to see and hear the sites and sounds of America's 232nd birthday celebration. We chose a patch of grass on the hill directly behind Noah Webster's home. A festival atmoshphere ensued, with tents for food and drink, men riding the old-time high bicycles, strolling singers with Captain Banjo, and vendors yelling out their wares. The 1st Michigan Colonial Fife and Drum Corps marched up and down the sidewalk, performing Revolutionary War music. They were followed, on the stage set up in Walnut Grove, by the River Raisin Ragtime Band. Then, as the sun was getting ready to go down, a true 'heavy metal band' known as The Detroit Symphony Orchestra took the stage. Performing classics and pop standards for the next hour and a half, it was the perfect setting. During intermission, I took advantage of the darkness and strolled about the Village; peaking in windows of some of the houses while it's dark is eerie fun. And, I got to witness something I don't normally see in my suburban Detroit neighborhood - an arial display by the firefly brigade dancing to tunes no one knew (thanks to the Moody Blues for that line). Just excellent!

The DSO continued after the intermission with a medley from West Side Story and a few other classics, and then they completed their show with what is now a standard at most 4th of July musical celebrations - Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. The best part is they used real cannons for the BOOMS at the end. Awesome! Truly Awesome! My favorite part of the whole night, to be honest. But, the night still wasn't done: an amazing fireworks display, accompanied by the DSO, took place. Rosalia was in awe and wide-eyed as she watched the spectacle. And Miles, who fears greatly the loud boomers, even watched as I covered his ears.

This was probably the best 4th of July I can remember. It was as good as it gets!

Then, the following day, we packed up my clan (except for Robert, who is off in Gettysburg, fighting the rebs - more on him on the next blog posting) and traveled north - not too far north - to Lexington, just north of Port Huron. Our family cottage, which is now owned by one of my brothers, is on the banks of Lake Huron. What better place to spend a sunny and warm day-after-the-4th-of-July than at a summer cottage with family?

And to start this traditional day off, on the ride up we listened to WKNR and CKLW radio from the summer of 1967 - actual recordings that I have from that year 41 years ago. A perfect beginning.

Most of my childhood memories are of this place that my grandfather bought before I was born - I spent all of my summers here as a youth. Once again, the sites and smells took over.

Eating lunch at the local A&W, spending time at the beach, eating the traditional (in our family, at least) Italian soup and chicken, and, of course, visiting with extended family members made for a fun and relaxing day. Relatives that we hadn't seen in years paid us a surprise visit, which kind of made the day for me.

My son, Tom, pulled out his guitar and played a bit, a game of Bocce Ball was played, and, as twilight time took over on this day, a bonfire was lit. Marshmellow roasting and sparklers (for Rosalia and even a few of the adults) made for a fun evening.

It brought back very fond memories of my (not-so-long-ago) youth up there - the different phases of my younger days: grandpa and grandma, my dad, cousin Mike, and, of course, when Patty and I were first married and our eldest kids were little.

And that was my July 4th, 2008 weekend. A very American - or I should actually say, a very traditional American time - just like the ones we used to know.

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