Today, as I write this, at my parents house in Chattanooga, people are arriving for their annual 4th of July breakfast event. My dad says this year he expects about 175. He always makes the joke during his short welcome speech that the party goes on "whether I live here or not." People laugh. They raise a flag, parade around the block, then everyone eats. This is after prizes are given out for the best costumes, of course--everyone comes dressed in red, white and blue. Some people overdo it--crazy hats, ridiculous outfits, stars and stripes in every conceivable concoction. Those people are rewarded.
When I moved to NYC and tried to explain the event to people here, I realized how genuinely original and somewhat bizzare the whole thing is. "Do you grill hot dogs?" they ask. "No, it's breakfast." "And how many people do you have?" "And people just show up?" The looseness seems to make them uncomfortable. They can't configure a celebration without booze.
What also makes them uncomfortable, I gather, is the honesty of the event. It's not a commercial enterprise, it's not sponsored, it's not the Macy's Fireworks Spectacular. It's just an idea my dad had twenty-something years ago. Neighbors invite their out-of-town guests, they bring the new grandchildren, the old folks who rarely leave the house, the fire department brings a big red truck for all the kids to sit on. The antique car club rides their rides down the street to lead the parade. We've been in all the local papers--now just one paper--for many years. I remember feeling nonchalant about having my family on the front page, in color, all decked out, smiling in the yard.
There are hundreds, perhaps a thousand, pictures of the party all over the place. In some ways, every picture looks the same. Some years ago, I attempted to make sense of the stacks of pictures, shoebox after shoebox. It was impossible. How old are the Mackey's children? Is my grandmother still alive? You spread all the pictures around you and look for those signs. Did my dad build the railing five years ago, or six? Old mailbox or new? What color is whats-her-name's hair?
I miss the parties. I'm going next year.