12 July 2012

Small Town 4th of July

Adapted from article published in the Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph (07.11.2012); page 3

I am a small town girl, from a sparsely populated rural area in the West. When my cousins or classmates talk about catching up on life, going back for a visit, or the highlights of growing up in Choteau, Montana, we invariably mention “the Fourth.” It is an iconic holiday for us, though not necessarily how you might expect.

The 4th of July may bring a number of things to mind, depending on your frame of reference. As a Canadian, it is simply three days after Canada Day, and in Quebec, it is ten days after la fête nationale and just one day after la fête de la Ville de Québec. In Great Britain, if noted at all, it symbolizes one of many colonies breaking away from an epic empire. To indigenous people on this continent, it may signify a key step in the beginning of the end of their traditional ways of life. 

July 4th is also known as Independence Day, the United States of America’s national holiday. Officially, the country was born July 2, 1776, when the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution declaring the thirteen American colonies independent of Great Britain. The explanatory document known as the Declaration of Independence was signed two days later, and we have celebrated this date ever since.

To international spectators, celebrations marking this date likely seem like red-white-and-blue-clad spectacles commemorating the bloody sacrifices of patriotic citizens. However, where I grew up, “the Fourth” does not involve politicking, speeches, or grand-standing. Rather, it is an multi-generational homecoming, and the time of year when we gather to celebrate life in this small town. The three little hotels are booked a year in advance, and the population (normally around 1,800 people) more than doubles.

The festivities usually span several days. High school classes plan their reunions to coincide, couples plan weddings and receptions, and families also organize get-togethers at this time of year. An Art-in-the-Park artisan show, fun runs, fundraisers for community projects, public concerts, and a community street dance lead up to July 4th.

The day of, there is always a parade featuring local businesses, classic cars and farming equipment, children, local musicians, and community groups. For several years, my mother has arranged for the grand finale - a fly-over by Montana Air National Guard F-16 fighter jets which roar over the length of Main Street in a salute. A pitchfork steak fondue in the community park and family picnics are followed by a popular rodeo. 

Contestants grow up on local ranches, and represent not a static, stuck-in-the-past heritage, but an on-going vibrant way of life.  At night, a community fireworks show delights and equalizes us. Children and grandparents, punk kids and bankers, farmers, ranchers and visitors “ooh” and “ahhh,” honk car horns in appreciation, and gaze at the sky in wonder.

This year, I did what we all try to do. I came home for “the Fourth.” Instead of spending it in Eastern Canada, I ran into old classmates on Main Street. Some no longer recognize me, and some have never left town. I sat next to my piano teacher at a Grand Ole Opry-style variety show, where we reminisced about a decade of lessons and recitals. My high school biology teacher and junior high history teacher played in a six-piece band - skills I never knew about. My grandparents hosted the 40th annual family barbeque, and we celebrated my parents’ first grandchild - we took him to his first rodeo. 
Everywhere I went, there were children – packs of kids carrying on the tradition of growing up together in a small Montana town.  

Of course, there are limitations to growing up in a seriously small rural community, but coming home for this holiday always reminds me of the upside – close-knit families, a tangible sense of community investment, knowing your neighbors, and being in touch with the realities of life cycles and hard work. That is the lifestyle distilled into our small town 4th of July.


Steph said...

 Love it Bethann! I may not be an American, but grew up in a small town, and this definitely captured that life well :) 

Britta said...

Things are good "out west".  It has been much cooler than QC (around 20 - 22 most days) but sunny.  Perfect for doing our 10 kms walks three or four times a week.  
I hope all is fine with you.  I enjoyed your 4th of July article.

Bethann said...

Thanks, Steph!

Bethann said...

Thanks, Britta!  

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