There are three great Fourth of July Parades in Rhode Island: The one in Bristol is the longest, continuous Independence Day parade in the country. It welcomes marching bands, floats, military companies, fife and drum corps and the odd celebrity from throughout the U.S. to walk down a red, white and blue striped median in front of hung-over Rhode Islanders, many of whom staked their roadside claims in beach towels and lawn chairs before dawn. The Ancients and Horribles Parade in Glocester is even wilder, a free-for-all of camp, kitsch, expressions of the politically incorrect and spoofs of whatever the big “bubbler” topics of the year were. (Expect a heavy dose of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Depression-era themes this year.) Equally festive, cleverly costumed, and even more distinctive is the Snug Harbor Parade, a 10-minute walk (tops) on and around Gooseberry Road. Its motto: “Wear a costume. Bring an instrument. See you on the Fourth.”
Those Rhode Islanders who don’t go to a parade will be at a beach, with everyone ending up eventually at a grill in somebody’s backyard. Another Rhody ritual is crossing the border to buy fireworks. They’re illegal here (even lighting a sparkler is a crime), but the police wisely opt for a don’t flaunt it and you can get away with blowing things up for a week or so attitude. Booms, bangs and streaks in the sky began last weekend in the cove where I live. If tradition holds, the nightly noisemakers will continue through the week, growing in intensity, before finally dying out sometime in mid-July. Nothing says summer in Rhode Island like driving from one end of the state to the other – approximately 40 minutes – and ending up just off the Interstate in North Stonington, Conn., at an abandoned gas station taken over by Phantom Fireworks, then loading up the car with Rolling Thunder, Barbarian Blasts, Roman Candles, Orange Bombshells, Silver Crackling Palms and Smoke Balls.
But for me, enjoying Independence Day is mostly the magic of simply hanging out on the cove with family and friends, watching bonfires dot the bay and fireworks displays pop up like humpbacks in a feeding frenzy. Night after night, from July 3rd through the 5th (and sometimes longer), there is no better way to spend an evening than lingering over the water, gazing at the glittering waves and the brilliant orange beachside blazes, glancing at the stars and glimpsing distant bursts of fireworks set off by towns, yacht clubs and private beach clubs. Life as it should be. Or at least life the way it looks in a beer commercial, which is pretty much the same thing.
What is your favorite or most unusual Fourth of July memory?