Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day

The dawn's early light, this morning at 4.48am. Cat's breakfast time.

On the Fourth of July, many years ago, I got into a car with a strange man.

I had been in the States, in Washington DC, for a few days, for what was supposed to be a six month stay, and was visiting some friends in Takoma Park, Maryland, a suburb of DC. We had driven to the Washington Mall to wander all day and watch the fireworks later that night. For some reason I split up from my two friends, and we arranged to meet hours later at the Monument. I was wearing white.

Walking down the packed Mall on that hot, sticky day, a wide-eyed girl washed by the Americanness of America, I was approached by a well-dressed man who must have been in his fifties. He was friendly and civilized without any creepiness, and we spoke about Africa. He owned an antiques store, across two streets from the Mall, which he showed me, so I knew it was real. It was filled with African artefacts, and smelled smoky. He lived on the top two floors of the building, which he owned. He invited me to a Fourth of July house party and BBQ (an exotic word to me, fresh from braais) outside town, and I went with him. He said we'd be back in time for the meeting with my friends.

At the house on a lake there were more friendly strangers on the lawns running down to the water, and two women who met me told me that while getting into the car with this man was quite fine, I should never do anything like this again.

The lake was brown.

He drove me back to the Mall, and on the way we listened to what I still call the Prairie Dog Home Companion. He explained that it was broadcast live on a station called NPR every Saturday at 4pm. As I write this post, I am listening to it, live from Avon, Minnesota. Except they broadcast it now at 6pm. They are playing marching tunes, and a World War 2 vet is recounting his experience in Germany. The audience sang The Star Spangled Banner. Garrison Keillor is singing in his off-key, Basset Hound way.

A couple of hours later, in the dark, fifteen years ago today, I met David and Katherine under the Washington Monument. There must have been 10,000 people gathered around it , and I walked right up to them, on the hour.

Either guardian angels or dumb innocence. Or gut feeling uncorrupted.

I am sipping hard cider, organic, which is delicious beyond speech, listening to Mr Keillor and a Minnesotan with a northern accent, waiting for my chicken in buttermilk to be ready for deep frying, and macerating my black raspberries from the farmers' market in lime juice and sugar (they need it).

Outside, great big fluffy clouds are suspended in an unfamiliarly blue sky. The cosmos are in bloom.

Tonight I may climb to the roof to see the fireworks. They don't bother the cat, who grew up with them.

Happy Fourth of July. It's a warm and fuzzy feeling when well edited and orchestrated.


  1. Does this 4th of July seem different to you (it's your first as an American citizen, right)?

  2. [getting over cold sweat]
    [clearing throat]
    Bloody h...
    [stopping in mid-sentence]
    Errr, well...
    [taking a deep breath]
    The only thing I can say is... Wow. Someone up there is looking after innocent South African redheads...

  3. Pam - no, feels just the same, but I know the history better!

    Beence: ...yes, I know. Maybe I looked like dangerous redhead who could do karate.

  4. I'll spare you all the comments I could make about this rich, multi-layered (if scary) post, except that your description of Garrison Keillor's singing made me laugh, it was so apt. I listen to him late on a Saturday night, on BBC Radio 7, and shall always think bassett hound now.

  5. I sometimes wish my life could be better edited and orchestrated. However, 4th of July was a good day, indeed.

  6. oh Marie, you were making your guardian angels work awfully hard that day! "Prairie Dog Home Companion" and Garrison Keillor singing like a basset hound are both spot on :)

  7. I've known a few "innocents" over the years and know better than to scold them for taking chances -its who they are.

    I-am-cautious, hopefully not scolded for making the most of things within my limits!

    By the way, hard cider -on the 4th? How thoughtfully American!


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