It’s for the kids, really. Carol does it all for the kids. The American-flag decorations, the cookouts, the fireworks, and the patriotic bunting in the backyard. It’s all for them.
It’s going to be an interesting holiday. Normally, Carol’s family throws a shindig for the Fourth. But not this year.
Carol comes from a German family. Her great-grandparents came to the U.S. by boat. So all the ancient ways go unremembered. Carol’s grandkids, for instance, actually eat ketchup on their hotdogs.
My grandfather would roll in his grave.
The Fourth has always been the holiday when Carol’s family would visit. A big reunion. They would tell their children about the old days, and about baling hay on a Georgia farmstead. Kids love these stories.
But today there will be only three people at Carol’s house. One husband. An adult daughter. One grandchild.
There are summer disappointments like this happening all over the nation. Coronavirus is spreading faster than pee in a public pool, and everyone’s Fourth is affected.
In Ohio, Upper Arlington’s parade is marching a longer route so people can space themselves several miles apart. Let us pray for the tuba players.
In Texas, Willie Nelson will throw his annual picnic concert—sort of. It will be a digitized virtual concert.
In Albuquerque, fireworks will be launched from four spots throughout the city so people can watch from the safety of porches.
And Carol’s family of four will eat hotdogs and potato salad in their backyard.
“The fireworks,” says Carol. “That’s all my grandkids are worried about. This virus doesn’t scare them, these kids want fireworks.”
There will be a display downtown that people can watch from their cars. Carol will take the grandkids. They will eat ice cream in the front seat and watch the sky light up like… Well. The Fourth of July.
It’s a strange time to be alive. From Maine to California beaches are shutting down. People are wearing surgical masks just to check their mail.
The Center for Disease Control released some suggestions for germ-safe cookouts.
They recommend letting only one person tend the grill. But beforehand, the grill-person should have his or her temperature checked to make sure that they are, in fact, still alive.
The CDC also recommends practicing patriotic social distancing. They urge partygoers to bring their own plates, silverware, packaged hotdogs, lawn chairs, American-flag decor, beer, toilet paper, bathroom reading material, etc.
People are asked to sanitize their hands after touching doorknobs, utensils, people, dogs, and various forms of uncles. And if someone accidentally sneezes on you, do not freak out. Just go home, take a deep breath, and write up a legal will.
And it’s all enough to break your heart. Mostly for the children because they are growing up in a frightening world of rubber gloves and masks. And even though it’s bizarre to us adults, it is becoming normal to children.
The only thing the CDC does not comment on is whether it is okay to eat ketchup on a hot dog this year.
The answer is no. It’s not okay. I wasn’t going to bring this up, but the CDC’s silence on the hotdog issue leaves me no choice.
I know many disagree, but I do not feel that ketchup should go on a hotdog. At least, this was a belief within the family I grew up in.
Oh, believe me, we ate ketchup. We ate it all the time. But not on franks. Ketchup on a hotdog was as blasphemous as sugar in cornbread.
Then again, just like Carol’s family, my father’s people were German. They were proud, hard people who never defiled sausages with Heinz products. They only used thick, pungent, grainy, sour, barely legal mustard.
My father’s people migrated to America long before the War Between the States, back when U.S. land was either cheap or free. And they brought their mustard with them.
My ancestors built pinelog cabins, modest barns, hog pens, and silos that dotted the American countryside. And because my ancestors were Catholic, they were fruitful and multiplied.
They made homemade sauerkraut by leaving buckets of cabbage to rot on the back porch. They ate lots of organ meat. Lots of cow tongue. And mustard made it all go down easier.
When world wars broke out, my ancestors—mere boys—traveled to the homeland of their fathers to fight the Kaiser, and Hitler for their Red-White-and-Blue ideals.
My grandfather said Europe had exquisite mustard.
They always celebrated the Fourth of July with real oomph. Because this was not just a country to them. This was a place of wild ideas, and great thinkers, and people who weren’t afraid to fail.
To them, America was a place where a man could be who he wanted, think how he wanted, love who he wanted. Their nation was far from perfect, but the mustard-eaters refused to give up on her.
You could say that my people built this place. So did yours. So have all the newcomers. Each one of our people. Men and women. Red and yellow, black and white.
And sometimes I wonder why. Why did they want to build a new country? Why not keep living in the old ones? Why go to all the trouble?
Maybe they built this place so that even in the face of horrific sadness, hard times, bloodshed, famine, and worldwide disease, their children would have a place to live, worship, and be treated like human beings.
They did it for the kids, really. Kids like you and me.
Happy Fourth of July.