Happy Birthday, America

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For most of my childhood, we would spend the Fourth of July at a family friend’s house, where a number of Amsterdam’s finest would assemble and celebrate in grand fashion with lots of food and drink, and a comical re-enactment of Lincoln giving an address from a second story balcony. I didn’t understand much (if any) of the humor to those performances, but judging from the laughs and groans they must have been ribald and bawdy, and something I’d totally appreciate today. Back then that was the yawn-inducing portion of the day for us. More exciting was the freedom to roam an extensive yard, and play games like tug-of-war and softball. While the latter did nothing for me, the former afforded a tantalizing glimpse of a few formal garden beds.

Spires of blue delphinium backed by meticulously manicured rows of privet caught my eye, while rows of cucumbers and squash wound their tenacious tendrils around anything in their path. One of the joys of my childhood was stumbling upon someone else’s garden. They always seemed nicer and better than my own, in the way that a salad or sandwich always looks better when made by someone else.

I’d rather have spent the day dawdling in the garden, hidden from the crowds behind walls of leafy green, secreted away among the loud chattering of black-eyed Susans and pink petunias. Yet try as I might, I couldn’t get my brother or Suzie or anyone else we happened to be hanging around to stay very long in such seclusion. They did well with the company of others, entranced by the action of competition, while I was better off on my own.

Escaping from the throngs of sweaty revelers, I stepped into the quiet of the house. In the entrance hall an ornate vase held a bouquet of delphiniums. I stood there in the darkened coolness, studying the flower forms and the composition of the bouquet, grateful for the solitude. Away from the screams and laughter and nonsense, it was my own first step towards independence.

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