Every year, for the Fourth of July, we have a gathering at the little house in the big woods, and we always hope to spend most of the time on the patio in our backyard. Unfortunately, summer in Maine is a hit or miss affair—some days are sunny, and others are rainy, especially in June or July. Naturally, you never know when the rain will come, and this makes it particularly difficult to plan a Fourth of July “barbie,” as the Australians might put it.
Some years, the weather has been fine, and Clif has been able to grill at his leisure, beginning with bread and ending with chicken. Other years, the day starts out sunny, but by midafternoon the clouds gather, and it’s a rush to grill the food and eat before the rain comes. And some years, Clif has been out there with his umbrella, trying to keep things dry as he grills.
Last year, we finally came to our senses and planned food that could be eaten indoors or outdoors. We decided on hot dogs, either grilled or pan fried, and a crock-pot full of beans in barbecue sauce. Our guests brought various side dishes, and we all agreed that this was a very tasty way to celebrate the Fourth. Clif and I were so pleased with the results that we decided this would be our new tradition for upcoming gatherings on the Fourth.
As I write, two kinds of beans—black and kidney—are simmering on the stove. Tomorrow morning, into the crock-pot they will go along with peppers, garlic, onion, and barbecue sauce. Because Hurricane Arthur is blowing up the East Coast, it is my guess that we’ll have to dig out the cast iron frying pans to cook the hot dogs indoors.
No matter. There will be seven us, a good number for the little house in the big woods, especially when the furniture in the living room is rearranged a bit.
Tomorrow morning, on the Fourth, I expect I’ll wake up hearing the various hosts, reporters, newscasters and commentators on NPR reading the Declaration of Independence. NPR has been doing this for over 20 years, and it is a tradition I have come to love. I am always moved by the language, the style, and the promise of the Declaration of Independence. The promise, of course, hasn’t always been kept, but it is there, and I believe that, in part, it is this promise that gives the American temperament its optimism, its energy to look ahead, to move forward.
Optimism can at times seem foolish, naive, and misplaced. But optimism can also propel a country through hard, bitter times when it looks as though there is no place for optimism. Solutions to seemingly intractable problems such as climate change can come from optimism.
So happy birthday, United States. May optimism continue to guide us.