Wednesday, June 20, 2007

BEST OF: We hold this truth to be self-evident

Cambria’s Independence Day festivities are billed as an "Old Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration."

Is there any other kind? Have you ever been tempted to attend a "New Wave Fourth of July"?

Me neither. In fact, I've never even seen one suggested.

Maybe that's because some things are best when left alone.

It's called tradition.

It brings to mind a recent recipe I read for dressing up watermelon. Cubes of the fruit were frozen, then sprinkled with sun-dried tomatoes and drizzled with basil-and-chipotle-infused syrup.

It might be wonderful, but it's not watermelon the way I want to remember it. And I think I'll pass this time.

Year after year after year, the American Legion's Independence Day celebration at Shamel Park does tradition, which is exactly what it's supposed to do.

It gives me a lump in my throat when I see the color guard and the flag, when I hear the anthem.

We giggle as we watch kids of all ages try to run forward with one leg in a shared sack or catch a water balloon without breaking it.

Everybody gathers around and cheers their favorite servers, as we wonder whether San Simeon Bar & Grill will win the waiter-waitress race again this year.

We eat all the wrong things and enjoy every bite. We listen to the music and might even get up to dance (if we can hide in a remote corner of the park).

And we thrill to the fireworks display, which we find much more fun to watch than overwhelming gazillion-dollar shows that fill the sky for hours with so many bursts and blasts, you really don't get to enjoy any of them individually. Those mega-shows are so overwhelming, my eyes and ears get tired.


Cambria’s Shamel Park celebration reminds me of my childhood, of Independence Days spent with family at Manursing Island Country Club in Rye, N.Y.

I remember swimming off and on all day with my Aunt Kate (only a couple of years older than I am) and Cousin John. We frolicked until we were human prunes. When we got dressed, we had that strange dizzy sense that comes with being in dry clothes after having been in the water so long.

We'd go to the little poolside snack bar and get big vanilla ice-cream cones. The clerk would give us each a cone-shaped paper cup of chocolate shot to dip the rapidly melting ice cream into.


The next big event was the buffet dinner in the dining room that overlooked Long Island Sound.

We'd devour the shrimp in cocktail sauce, the fried chicken, the deviled eggs and those bite-sized chocolate eclairs.

And, as dusk fell, we'd marvel at the fireworks.


Several decades ago in Cambria, the Independence Day celebration was on hiatus for a while.

The now defunct North Coast Property Owners Association revived the fireworks, much to the glee of residents and visitors, who'd been rather sulky over the lack of festivities.

When the association folded, the Cambria Chamber of Commerce took over and expanded the event.

Recently, I reminisced about all that with Del Clegg of Cookie Crock Market fame. He and I were among the directors on the chamber's board then.

He teased me about my having to wear a tall, sequined red hat with a long, blue feather on it.

I'm so short, that was the only way the other organizers could find me in the crowd.

The chamber was determined to make the event family friendly. We’re so glad it has stayed that way, thanks to American Legion Post No. 432.

We know how hard it is to pull together an event like that, how many people it takes doing so many tasks.

Del also reminded me of the 8-foot-long strawberry shortcake that husband Richard and I provided to the ceremony each year from our bakery. The shortcake required pounds of homemade, buttered sourdough biscuits, gallons of whipped cream and enough crushed fresh strawberries to fill several good-sized trash cans.

We'd assemble it all on a specially painted door, slide it into the back of the van and drive veerrrrrrrryyyyyy slowly to Shamel Park.

And the work goes on.

For instance, that holiday hot dog you munch requires people to make the plans and the commitment, buy the hotdogs, buns, relish, mustard, napkins and other accessories and find folks to run the booth.

They set up and fire up the barbecue, decorate the booth, cook the dogs, sell them, keep things stocked, clean up the mess afterward, tear down the equipment, take it home, clean it and put it away (that was always the part I hated most!).

And just what do you do with five open jars of pickle relish on July 5?

On Independence Day, for every booth and every activity, it takes people willing to give up weeks of their time to provide the rest of us with one day of fun.

That's an old-fashioned Fourth of July. That's tradition. That's how it should be.

Thank you, American Legion and all your cohorts. Long may you reign.

Answer to Anonymous' comment: A waiter-waitress race is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the park.

Kathe Tanner is an award-winning reporter for The Tribune and The Cambrian. She also has written a column for The Cambrian since 1981. This one was published on June 29, 2006.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Is there a waiters and waitress race this year?