Recently someone asked McKane what his favorite holiday was and he responded without hesitation, “the 4th of July.” This confused the inquirer. Not Christmas with its gifts, decorations, and parties? Not Halloween with its candy, costumes, and tricks? Nope. You see, for Tom’s family the 4th of July is no mere weekday to be acknowledged with a few fireworks and hurrahs; it is a full-on, no holds barred, 24-hour celebration of freedom, friendship and family togetherness involving food, fun, and most of all competition. Originally their summer tradition began as a backyard barbeque and water balloon volleyball match, but in recent years, it has escalated to a full-scale Olympic contest requiring multiple venues and culminating in the presentation of a much-coveted trophy. For those who value sleep a little less than the others, the day begins at 6 am with the launching of the hot air balloons.
This crew usually then retires for a nap while a second group heads down to the Freedom Festival parade, which usually is rather tame but on one particular year included a marching band carrying a banner proclaiming, “Cassie, will you marry me?” Cassie, Tom’s cousin, accepted the proposal, not from the band, but from her then boyfriend, Dan. After the parade, everybody regroups during lunch and prepares mentally and physically for the upcoming competition. Sign-ups are usually around 1 or 2 pm and the drawing of teams follows shortly thereafter. Equal numbers of men, women and children are assigned to four teams, each of which is given a name and accompanying buffs a la Survivor. The events vary in complexity from year to year based on the professional and academic demands of the planners, but they always involve some form of relay in the pool, a track and field component, and an intellectual and/or artistic exercise. This year the teams faced off head to head in the pool, round robin style. Our relays included something called fancy floats, a variety of strokes, and thankfully no basketballs. I am happy to report that for the first time Tom and I were on the same team as was Dax and our team dominated in the water. This may be due in large part to the fact that we had multiple competitive swimmers, but I think it must have been my mastery of the blue raft that put us over the top.
After the pool, we moved on to track and field. Though we did not crush our competition, we performed well enough in the sack race, the three-legged race, and the wheelbarrow race to eke out a second place standing.
Our overall victory was ensured during the third event when a new addition to the 4th of July scene, Susannah, rapidly and correctly ordered a list of presidents, including perennial toughies Benjamin Harrison, Chester Arthur, and William Polk. Fortunately her high school history teacher had forced his students to sing the Presidents’ Song every day and she simply sang the song to unravel the order of our assigned list.
Though past years have demanded a wider variety of skills and included photography contests, citizenship tests, balsa wood airplane decoration and design, and horseshoe tossing, we felt proud of our relative accomplishments. The bottom line is we get our names on the trophy and enjoy the title of victors for a year.
Our 4th of July was rounded out by a neighborhood fireworks performance/display aptly titled the “Cul de Sac of Fire.” A crew of five or six men clad in matching red, white, and blue tie dye T-shirts executed a carefully choreographed pyrotechnic program while an adoring crowd downed homemade ice cream and doughnuts. We had to dispatch with the traditional water balloon volleyball and pool basketball tournaments due to inclement weather, but there were few complaints from the adult crowd, who in our advancing years, were sufficiently worn out from the earlier competition.
Next year will be the first Utah 4th of July we have missed in our then 17 years of marriage. If all goes according to plan, we will be in Costa Rica when the competition kicks off. I suspect that after 10 months of traveling we will long for this time-honored tradition but will have gained something quite valuable in return for our absence: a heightened understanding of our freedom and the significance of our American identity. We have found that no matter how displeased we are with Washington or our leaders, travel allows us to see things through a wide angle lens rather than the zoom we tend to use at home. Though America is not without flaws, it is unique, inspired, and without parallel. If our kids understand this, then maybe they can help to fix the problems rather than complain about them.