It was super wonderful to be back in America for the 4th of July, which is both the birthday of America and my baby brother Rich. When he was very little, he used to think the fireworks were for him. And for many, many years, the entire family gathered at my parents’ house for a massive yet chill backyard BBQ / birthday celebration. After a day of silly conversations, lots of amazing food, and chillaxin’ or napping in the grass with grill-scented dreams, we’d convene around a Carvel ice cream cake to sing Happy Birthday. Everyone in Red, White, and Blue. Family. Friends. Joy. At night, I’d head off for some excitement with friends – fireworks, another BBQ or party. I love this quintessentially American holiday – patriotism, a whole summer of memories awaiting us. The anticipation of many good days. The epitome of why I wanted to be home now.
When I get nostalgic for the way 4th of July used to be, I think of the last episode of The Wonder Years, as they celebrated Independence Day . . . one last time the way it was.
The next day Winnie and I came home. Back to where we’d started. It was the fourth of July in that little suburban town. Somehow, though, things were different. Our past was here, but our future was somewhere else, and we both knew sooner or later we had to go. It was the last July I ever spent in that town. The next year after graduation I was on my way [. . . ]Like I said things never turn out exactly the way you’d planned. Growing up happens in a heartbeat; one day you’re in diapers, the next day you’re gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul. I remember a place, a town, a house like a lot of houses, a yard like a lot of other yards, on a street like a lot of other streets, and the thing is after all these years I still look back with wonder.
I grew up in Yonkers, NY on the border of the Bronx from 1980 to 1989 when I moved to a town much like that portrayed in Wonder Years, one of the Post-War suburban ideals where kids could be kids, biking to their friends, enjoying and exploring with wonder. Waldwick in Bergen County, NJ. I love my Yonkers experience, and it played a huge role in shaping my early years, especially with visits to Grandma in Innwood, Manhattan–sometimes feeling like a NYC kid. But I’m so grateful to my parents for choosing this beautiful, simple, peaceful town where I finished growing up and now stay when I return “home.”
Of course, just like for Kevin Arnold, home has changed.
After my grandparents passed away, as we all grew up and a bit more distant without the strong lure of the matriarch’s wings pulling us together, the giant family BBQ was canceled. Instead, now it’s just my parents hosting their kids, who have returned to the nest for the day or the summer. Yet while this year it was a bit quieter, with slightly less food and missing the laughter of my young cousins and the humor of my grandparents, it was a lovely day.
A friend visited me from the city, and we went swimming at Brookside, the lake where I used to lifeguard for many years. We enjoyed excellent food at my parents’ house, including the Carvel cake, and then drove into the city for a rooftop BBQ with some of my best friends from Fordham. Plenty of laughs, smiles, sunshine and relaxation as locals set off fireworks. I spent much of that party sharing stories and ideas from my time in Genoa, feeling completely grateful that, at least for now, I have the best of both worlds. I live a blessed life.