Chicago, July 4th, 1963. Jack Kennedy is president and I have recently arrived from England with the father of my new March baby. Somewhere in the old photo album there is a picture of us by lake Michigan in Chicago with our new American friends, Fred and Jan. We know nothing of the 4th of July barbequeing tradition. While Fred teaches my husband the fine arts of lighting the coals and later grilling the meat, Jan and I get out the potato chips and sip Coca Cola. Out come the buns, bright yellow mustard, mayo (from a jar!), pickles, onions and ketchup. I learn to mix ground beef with dry onion soup and to shape acceptable patties. To my Belgian eyes and palate, it all seems very unpromising, but I have just lived three years in England and this can't be worse. If it is, I brought potato salad made with real mayonnaise. The lucky baby is safe with Gerber applesauce and a bottle packed in our newly acquired Styrofoam cooler from Woolworth.
The men probably talk physics, it's their field, and my friend and I play with the baby and chat. I still have problems with American English which are compounded by my ignorance and sometimes fear of the culture. Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire movies have not prepared me for the dangerous reality of living in the University of Chicago area. We are rarely out after dark but today there are many families around us going through the same motions. "Ready!" announces the head chef and we gather around to put together the perfect hamburger. I sink my teeth in my lightly toasted round bun and bite. Not bad. Pretty good, actually. Washed down with cold Coke and intersperced with the potato salad, I quite like it.
Suddenly, at a nearby table where the radio has been on all along, the volume goes up and everyone drops their food and stands. Bewildered, I hoist my baby on my hip and rise. All around us people are clutching at their chest. Fred explains that the game is about to begin. What game? "Anthem," whispers my husband. Ah, yes. It's the American "The Queen" except the Brits don't hold their hand to their heart and they do it in theaters. I learn that day that sports and the Star-Spangled Banner go hand in hand in the US, and I will accept it as another unfathomable cultural rite. I stand respectfully, holding my American born baby.
Later as he is sleeping in a basket, we watch fireworks over the lake, and then my first 4th is over. It was to be the one and only, but life took an unexpected turn and today marks my last 4th as a card-carrying alien. Though not yet sworn in, I passed the citizenship test. Later this summer, I will pledge allegiance with my hand on my heart. And for the future of my first American child, his siblings and their own children, come November, I will cast my first vote. Happy 4th!