Happy Fourth of July


I had traveled to Brazil to teach a two-week workshop for teachers who taught English as a second language. One day after class, my students invited me to a birthday party. When I asked if I should bring a gift, unrestrained merriment ensued. I wasn’t offended; they often giggled at my American phrasings and actions.

They then explained: “It’s the 4th of July. We’re celebrating the birth of the United States.”

That evening, in a hall adorned with American flags, we watched a documentary about the United States: its beginnings and natural beauty. When the film ended, 250 Brazilians leaped to their feet and cheered my homeland, commemorating the holiday with an appreciation that made my past celebrations seem misguided.

As a child, I viewed the 4th of July as an opportunity to outshine cousin Jimmy. My age, he tied his shoes sooner, threw balls farther, burped longer, and bragged louder. But once a year I surpassed him.

I could run. When my long legs hit their stride, they usually carried me to victory. Annually, Jimmy and I competed in 4th of July community races. I always beat him, and he always said he slipped on somebody’s spit. Then, after the picnic at Grandma’s, I concluded my holiday celebration by running Jimmy down and threatening to poke his eyes out with a sparkler.

In my early teens, I liked celebrating the 4th of July because the carnival came to town. With cherry-picking earnings in our pockets, my best friend and I ate cotton candy, rode the Tilt-a-Whirl, and scurried through the crowds in search of the ninth-grade boys we adored. When we found them, we loitered nearby, striking various come-hither poses. Unfortunately, our true loves, cackling with adolescent laughter as they threw firecrackers at each other, took no notice.

As I aged, the day dedicated to the nation’s founding became a blur of picnics and watermelon, parades and sno-cones, bonfires and marshmallows, barbeques and brats; all ending with multi-hued fireworks that flowered, shimmered and danced, eliciting ooh’s from the crowd, terrorizing neighborhood dogs, and creating traffic jams upon ending.

I enjoyed the festivities, but other than a fleeting feeling of pride as the flag passed at the head of a parade or the national anthem played before the fireworks exploded, I gave little thought to the date’s history or importance.

Then I stood at the end of a movie in a bunting-adorned amphitheater that smelled of wood smoke, engine exhaust and tropical blossoms. I heard citizens of another nation—people who spoke Portuguese, dressed with European flair, danced to a Latin beat, and ate squid with pleasure—celebrate my country.

Standing to cheer my flag, 9000 miles from home on the edge of the sea in a foreign harbor, I realized how far the Statue of Liberty casts her light.

I felt a rush of love for my birthplace, the country I call home.

*Note to my faithful and probably confused blog readers: Running late for a doctor’s appointment, I decided to quickly post this week’s blog, but accidentally posted next week’s instead. Thus you read my “Happy 4th of July” wishes a week early. But that’s not the worst. I then rushed into the bathroom, looked at my hair, and smoothed eye-makeup remover on it rather than the anti-frizz lotion I intended to use. Oh dear.


Please leave a comment.



16 thoughts on “Happy Fourth of July

  1. I’m impressed that the Brazilians you taught celebrated America’s birthday with such fervor.
    I worked for three different universities with Asians and Europeans of a variety of nationalities, and most of them were amused by, or downright incredulous of, the patriotic displays of us Americans—fireworks, flags, parades and such. One of my European friends told me it must be because we’re such a “new” country, and we don’t know any better!
    But whether or not it’s done for love of country, the 4th of July is an excellent excuse for summer picnics, parades and parties!


    • I think the crowd I was with in Brazil was enthusiastic about the United States because they taught English, many had been partially schooled in the United States, and most had visited here more than once. Plus, Brazilians love a good party!


    • Dear Janet; hope your day got better..4th of July, wow, for our small town in the sixties, we had a parade and Dominion Day, now Canada Day.It was not until I went travelling and met Americans, even though we can see Washington State from here, that’s how sheltered we were. I loved the travellers I met especially from The South, Texas and California. I’m an American History fiend, Happy 4th to you and all


  2. Good evening Janet- thank you, my odd little muse would have loved to be in your class, he of the impish charms. Ma never hid us from the news, having studied art in N.Y. City in the 1940’s. watching J.F.Ks; funeral at 5, Watergate as a teenager, the Civil rights and Anti War movements have always interested me. Just read a good book of your Revolutianary War. I googlied your Colorado town- sweet looking place, and remote! Is that high desert or sub- alpine? I have not met anyone from there. Look forward to this weeks post next Tues, Thank you from Sheila.


  3. It certainly is remote, Sheila, and that’s one of the things I like about it. At 6200 feet, we’re not high enough to be sub-alpine. The northwestern corner of Colorado where we live borders Northern Utah and Western Wyoming and is mostly sparsely populated rangeland, surrounded by beautiful mountains. I’m happy to call it home. Janet


  4. Great post. I grew up in a small town in New York near Buffalo and our 4th of July festivities couldn’t have been more patriotic. Such awesome memories.
    Great you made it to Brazil. I’m taking the CELTA in Prague this November and have dreamed of teaching in Brazil. I have a good friend who lives in Rio but would love for you to offer some advice from an educators perspective as I understand it can be quite cumbersome for an alien wanting to work there. Obrigado!


    • So good to hear from you, traveling chair. I never took the CELTA, but had studied and practiced my way into being somewhat of an expert on the teaching of literacy. Mine were temporary jobs at conferences—three different summers of a week in Rio and a week in Fortaleza—put on by EBEU, an organization that had hundreds of schools teaching English to Portuguese speakers and Portuguese to English speakers throughout Brazil. EBEU took care of all my travel and work arrangements, so I’m afraid I can’t help with the red tape; but I can encourage you, say “Good Luck” on your exam, and wish you well.


  5. Having just returned from a trip to Vietnam where I taught a nursing class, I have a renewed appreciation for my country!


  6. So glad you’re home, Marilyn, and hope you had an enjoyable, productive time. And, yes, there is nothing like travel to renew my appreciation for the land where I was fortunate enough to be born.


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