July 4, 2018
The parade has come and gone, the Community Service Officers, the young men (so far I have seen only guys this year) in the bright vests, are removing the temporary parking ban signs, and replacing the pedestrian crosswalk markers removed for the parade.
The front street has gone, in thirty minutes, from a packed parade route to an empty everyone-is-at-the-beach (or today at the beach or the Streak Fry) afternoon. It is a sort of mirror of Labor Day, when everyone leaves, and the emptiness is overwhelming for a night, then things gradually pick up, not back to a summer high but neither to winter's heart.
The parade route has not changed but its temper has; there was a time the crescendo was in town, now, especially on days as hot as this one, it feels spent, over, once The National has been passed, certainly by the time Rebecca is reached and floats and bands sort of drift off instead of circling down to the Interstate parking lot, where there was once room for them to sit, or up to the Spring House west lawn where the big green gardens now grow.
Still, it is “our” parade, both homespun and in the words of one visitor: “it was awesome, beautiful.”
Earlier, before the parade, I met a man now of Montreal, born and raised on an island off Brittany, who had come here for a day with his sons, to show them a place he imagined to be like his hometown, one reached only by ferry. It sounded smaller, in area, and larger in population, although on this day, that latter number is fluid at best. At first I thought of all days to come to Block Island, this is not one I would have recommended but, later, it seemed ideal. It would be hot anywhere, but anywhere does not have the ocean, nor a parade like this one, with marching bands less the centerpieces than the punctuation, attempts at providing structure to a great run on sentence.
His boys were universal almost-teenagers, eyes rolling when their dad gave me his name, lovely and rollingly French, in a dialect of his island, meaning “spirit of the sea.” Perhaps his parents were hippies of their day, run away to an far off place, as universal as his bored boys.
A “real slice of Americana” a first time viewer remarked of this crazy, sunny, populated parade day, and I hope visitors take home that impression. And if there are a few people just off the boat, struggling with their luggage, weaving through the crowd of watchers, and if we have to have some character in costume “not advertising” alcohol (couldn't it at least be Sam Adams instead of some unrealistically clean pirate?) so be it, they are just wildly varying threads in a crazy quilt of a tapestry, which is, of course, the story of our country.
The thunder continues as the sun goes in and out and I fancy it the echo of fireworks caught in the clouds, unwilling to have their moments of glory restricted to times of darkness. “We're still here, we're still here!” they want to remind us.
As is this nation still here, 242 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, 242 years and two months after the colony of Rhode Island declared independence, and more than two years after New Shoreham was in the forefront of a few towns in the colony formally pushing back against what they deemed unjust taxation by a distant crown.
My church, my town, my colony were in the forefront of separation of church and state, the establishment clause that is at the start of the Bill of Rights, a source of some pride to me.
It is disappointing that more people do not want to remember those facts, and do not put them with that baseball game in Iowa, on the big screen “Field of Dreams,” and think “it's a part of our past. . . it reminds us of all that once was good, and. . . could be again.”
The Old Harbor was full, still, on the night of July Fourth, the great horseshoe raft of boats still in place, lining the interior of the red jetty. The incoming ferries were nearly empty, those departing packed, the upper decks full in the long light of a summer evening. It might get raucous, later, but the town was in the lull that follows a hot day at the shore, when everyone is tired from fun or partying or just a long day of pure vacation.
The sun was slipping down behind The Sullivan House crowning Indian Head Neck as I came home, but it was daylight and I could see that some of the vessels that had been in the New Harbor in the morning had already departed, breaking the long chains reaching across those waters.
It was calm down Mansion Road, crickets chirping and leftover fireworks popping in the distance, an occasional burst rising above the treeline high enough that I know it is not more thunder. I think of the funny little shower of the afternoon, showing in dark patches on the sidewalk, causing some windshield wipers to be turned on, but scarcely noticed — probably welcomed — by walkers traversing the sidewalks on this hot day, the damp no more than a distant lawn sprinkler reaching too far, an oddity of the moment.
I lean out the window looking toward the tall grass rimming the yard and spot the hoped for pyrotechnics, more fireflies flashing, quietly, the reward for my effort. There are more fireworks, I realize not so far away when I hear clear shouts of delight following them.
The gentle sound of surf rolling up the beach has to it a different quality in summer, more like waves breaking to wash the beach of the day's footprints, to make it clean and new for tomorrow, another day for us, another year for the life of our nation.