It was the sweater. Red, white and blue, mimicking the American flag. I could practically hear John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever”. Snickers of laughter circulated our table. Garish clothes hardly fit in with our country club set. Harsh commentary flew back and forth about the woman wearing it. She was from Cuba or Greece. Who cared? She didn’t fit in, that much I knew.
But that damn patriotic sweater stirred the past long forgotten. A wave of memories washed over me pulling me into a whirlpool of red, white and blue. Dragging the past forward.
Watermelon. Vanilla ice-cream. Blueberry pie.
We were celebrating the Fourth of July with our annual family picnic. I had just turned ten. I thought I was something special and informed everyone that they were to call me “Susan,” not “Susy.”
My Great-Aunts arrived early to put up the red/white/blue bunting and streamers. My family took up four tables at the park. It was a hot California summer and sunlight filtered through the trees casting dappled shadows on our faces. I sat at the table with the grownups while my sister, Beth, ran around the tables with a red, white and blue pinwheel, making it spin. The ladies argued about my unmarried aunt who was pregnant. Mom said that she didn’t care what people thought, she loved her sister. My mom was like that, always defending the underdog. The conversation meandered and flowed into the story of how my great grandparents came to America. My grandmother would smile and with a slight accent say softly, “The land of opportunity. America welcomed us.” Her misty-eyed sisters would nod with understanding.
Later, after we gorged ourselves on fried chicken and potato salad, Grandma provided a ball for the kids. It was slightly warped, so it never went where you threw it. We laughed every time it went the wrong way, especially when it hit Dad on the head a couple of times.
Grandad called me over to help turn the ice-cream. My cousin, Eddie was tired and needed someone to take over. But that was the little kid’s job, and I almost refused, until Grandad bribed me with first scoops. Grandma had the strawberries and peaches already sliced and ready for the vanilla ice-cream.
The day swiftly turned into evening, the anticipation of fireworks winding us kids up even further. Dad spread a blanket out for us. Mom sat in the car with my little sister because she cried at the noise. I listened to Dad’s voice rumble as he reminded us of all the sacrifices people made so that we could be free. Beth and I lay side by side watching the fireworks. We “oohed” at the fantastic display. Beth slid her hand into mine, and I turned my head to smile at her.
“These are the best fireworks ever, aren’t they Susy?” I agreed with her as the night sky lit up with red, white and blue.
“What do you think, Susan?”
I blinked at Martha Farthingsworth. Brittle laughter pulled me out of the past.
“What do you think about that foreigner wearing such a tacky outfit?”
“I think,” I said as I placed my drink down, “I’ll celebrate the Fourth of July by welcoming her to America.”
Get the Five Days to a 1950s-style Gracious & Elegant Life Mini-course
Subscribe (free!) to my newsletter with tips and updates PLUS get my (free!) Five Days to a 1950s-style Gracious and Elegant Life mini-course. Once subscribed, I will send you a newsletter with midcentury lessons for subscribers only. You also get access to a private Facebook group for subscribers only. How great is that?