At 67, I have celebrated our country’s independence each July for a good long time now. Often growing up, the festivities were at our local park, watching the fireworks drop their colors into the lake there. Some years we were in Colorado, cooking out and sharing sparklers with second cousins who we only saw every four years. And since I grew up outside of Washington, D.C., we occasionally journeyed to the city to sit with thousands of others as we watched the “rocket’s red glare” over the Washington Monument to the strains of the National Symphony Orchestra playing “The 1812 Overture.” A surefire guarantee of goosebumps on a warm summer’s night…..
And yet, for all those wonderful memories, the nicest Fourth I’ve had in recent years happened just last summer, very far from home. I was on a two week tour across France with 24 other Americans that began in Paris the first of July. We’d headed out of that glorious city and into the countryside a few days later. I’d remembered it was the Fourth that morning when I awoke, but soon forgot as we toured the site where a 13th century castle was being recreated, enjoyed a picnic lunch, and finally landed in Bourges late that afternoon. The incredibly picturesque town, situated in the Burgundy region, was replete with houses that dated to the 15th century, a beautiful cathedral, narrow streets, and even a palace. We explored the Cathedral, then journeyed en masse to our restaurant where we dined on boeuf bourguignon, fresh bread, goat cheese salad, and of course, wine from the nearby vineyards.
As the meal drew to a close, servers suddenly appeared from the kitchen, carrying out creamy desserts. Each was topped with a lit sparkler! “Whose birthday is it?” I asked someone at my table. “America’s,” she smiled. Of course……Almost immediately, we heard the first notes of the “Star Spangled Banner” coming from a cd player somewhere in the room. We stood as one, and began to sing. My eyes were welling with tears, and it was everything I could do to keep them from spilling over. The locals watched from their tables, smiling broadly, and applauded with us as the anthem came to an end. We looked at one another with American-sized grins, and shook our heads at this incredibly kind gesture. We were in a foreign land several thousand miles from home, and yet made to feel very welcome on a night that was quintessentially American.
The French have had a heartbreaking couple of years. And yet, the people of Bourges went out of their way to remember a holiday that belonged to a group of strangers feeling a bit homesick that particular evening. I am so very grateful; I will long remember that especially sweet Fourth.