A Canadian by birth and loyalty, an American by circumstance and choice, July 4 has always been a mixed holiday for me. My patriotism kicks in on the 1st—Canada Day—but then despite myself it diminishes slowly but surely into polite acknowledgment of the 4th—Independence Day—a sort of courtesy nod I guess to my American destiny. For some reason, I’ve never been able to get worked up over a national anthem spawned by war…“rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air…” However, I do get a thrill when I hear “Oh, Caaaaa-na-da, gloooor-i-ous and freeee!” There, do you see? The Mounties’ bugles snap into place, brass flashes, and now the swelling, majestic music mounts and expands and surrounds and bursts. “Oh, Caaa-na-da, we stand on guaaaard for thee!” The bugles hold the note, a note that, if I tip my ear, I can always hear. But this year? This year I am in Skagway, Alaska, and for the first time ever I felt a sense of pride at being an American.
The buzz of the day began long before the 4th arrived, everyone in this tiny town pairing up for the egg toss, practicing the sack race. My son Blake, bus driver for HollandAmerica-Princess Lines, decided to enter one of their HAPA buses in the parade.
The other drivers jumped right in, decorating, getting candy, costuming themselves. The idea was for Blake to drive the bus while the majority of them pretended to be tourists, cameras around their neck, and getting in his way, forcing him to hit the brakes with just inches to spare, and to emerge from the bus in an enraged fit of frustration. This would leave a handful of the drivers to act as stow-a-ways and Ethan—super hero Chock Man—the star of the show.
This is how it worked. Every time Blake hit the brakes and came hurtling out of the bus to chew out the surprised and very innocent tourists, super hero Chock Man would leap out, too, snap open the luggage compartment, grab his chocks, and, but but— who are these stow-a-ways leaping out and running around and around the bus?
Jared and Jo
Mayhem reigned as Chock Man chased the stow-aways, gave up, and tried to chock little kids, big kids, even two token Mounties (US National Parks Department guides dressed up for the part), a sort of courtesy nod I suppose to the Canadian gold that built Skagway.
The Mounties aren't cooperating!
And during all this Tony and I were throwing candy out the windows.
It was fun. I tried to toss to the little kids...
...but then friends ran alongside the bus. “Hey, Brenda! Gimme!” I tossed, they caught, and other friends came running, hands in the air. Others just waved. Some, like Linda, my Parks Department friend, threw me a hug.
The parade route was only seven blocks long, so we were scheduled to circle and come back through town. Circle we did, but this time Jared, House Manager, started grabbing friends off the street and shoving them into the bus with Tony and me. “Get on the bus!” “You’ll miss your ship! Get on the bus!” he hollered.
Strangers started jumping aboard.
Zell, a glass-blowing tour guide at Jewell Garden. “Can I get on the bus?”
“Get on!” I yelled. Up she popped, standing room only; soon, not even that.
We pulled to a stop at the judging intersection and were announced parade winners. Blake was handed $100 cash and back at the parade start we all tumbled off the bus, congratulating ourselves on a job well done.
HAPA Drivers and Me
The rest of the day blew around like blustery gusts as small-town America unfurled on this chilly, overcast day: sack races, egg toss...
Katy and Eric
Natalie, Amanda, and Jess
Ethan and Blake
the fire department dump tank...
Dinner at Bev and Kerry’s—my shipping boss at the Gardens.
Maybe ten of us crowded into their small downtown apartment before heading for the fireworks. By the time we reached the docks, it was just Zell and me. The crowds had swallowed everyone else. She and I pushed through to the end of the Broadway Dock in the half dark of an Alaskan night, as fireworks shot up from the far side of a ship and others competed from off a nearby barge. We must have stood half an hour before turning back and heading home.
I climbed wearily but happily into my sleeping bag, cardboard in place at the window to block the light, and I was just drifting off when the day’s niggling thoughts and emotions flitted into consciousness. A day of everything new in a very old way, and surrounded by strangers who’d become friends, we had one thing in common—we were Americans.
I was an American.
O! say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars...