I always approach national holidays such as Independence Day with a certain amount of guilt. Veterans Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day – these are the holidays whose meaning get lost in the cacophony of mattress sales, new car clearances, traffic jams and weather reports.
The Fourth of July comes with its own special brand of guilt represented most obviously by the July issues of just about every women’s magazine in the grocery store racks. Apparently at some point before Wednesday, someone is supposed to conjure some sort of fruity dessert bedecked with strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream and Stars and Stripes-laden toothpicks. For the past few decades it always comes as a sick realization that someone is me.
I start out well enough in June, when these publications show up. It seems perfectly reasonable that I should be able to craft clever invitations complete with annoying confetti to fall into the lap of the recipient and get them in the mail two weeks before The Fourth.
And I should be able to arrange a centerpiece of flowers cut from my garden, which I swear I’m going to plant the first week of May, even though it’s now the first week of June, but with my gardening skills, this shouldn’t be a problem. Okay, maybe I’ll order the flowers. But I can arrange them in a vintage vase that I’m sure I’ll find on one of those restful weekend meanders through an antique mall I’m always intending to take. I’ve got a whole month, right?
This year, no hamburgers hastily mashed together insufficiently so they fall apart on the grill. This year we’ll do Cornish hens, slow-roasted over a gas flame. I’ll know precisely how many hens to purchase because I’ll have gotten those invitations out and people will have répondez s’il vous plaîted by the time I need to know, right?
Now to drink. . . something red and fruity, probably with vodka. By The Fourth I’ll need lots and lots of vodka.
Oh, I’ll make a healthy fruit punch for the kids – served in a watermelon, because every single magazine has at least one recipe served in a watermelon rind. As organized as I am this year, I’ll have plenty of time to carve a basket out of a huge fruit blimp. There is nothing I like better than spending hours on something that will wind up in the garbage by the end of the day. There is something so Zen about it; like the Buddhist monks sifting a colorful sand mandala for a Missouri toddler’s soft shoe routine.
Since we are dining on those Cornish hens, we’ll have to sit down and, according to magazine stylists, no one is allowed to sit on a plain, old folding chair. They have to be covered in fabric, usually white, because that’s the color that is oh-so practical when you live on a gravel road in the hottest, driest part of the summer.
And let’s not forget place cards, otherwise people will be circling the table, not knowing what to do and all the food will go bad. Though it would be tempting to play music and put out just one less chair than people . . .
Well, you can imagine what happens to my plans by the time the holiday is a week away.
The first to go are the Cornish hens and the place cards. No one I know speaks French, including me. But, apparently, R.S.V.P. means “Wait to confirm attendance until the night before or until the host calls you and even then don’t give a definitive answer just in case a better offer comes up.” And I guess it would have helped if I had actually gotten the invitations out on time. Or at all.
So we’re down to just my family and a few of our closest friends – maybe – so, heck, what’s wrong with hamburgers and hot dogs? And those flowers will just take up space on the table where more actual food can go, so it’s a good thing I never did get around to making a centerpiece. In fact by the week before, there is so much food anticipated the idea of sitting down at the table has also been abandoned for a buffet meal.
Naturally the watermelon never does get carved; though one of the more creative members of our family found a way to sort of combine my beverage ideas.
So it won’t be the prettiest meal. But there will be that dessert thing with the strawberries, blueberries, whipped cream and flags. They have them on sale at Costco.