With Fourth of July approaching, I thought it would be good to do a post about the holiday. I pondered how my immigrant parents celebrated when I was younger and whether anything stood out. Nothing unusual came to mind except the way my mother pronounced Firecracker (Fire-Krah-keh) and Hot Dogs (Hot Dog-zeh). We had cookouts with all the usual American fare with some Polish Kielbasa mixed in. Two distinct memories came to mind and while they don’t relate to the Fourth specifically, they are memories of wackiness and patriotism.
I’ll start off by saying; we’re not a bumper sticker type family. Once in the parking lot of DeMoulas grocery store in the 1970s, someone handed me a campaign sticker. City Council? Mayor? I don’t remember. Two things I do remember: it was a big sticker and it was free. I begged my father to put it on the bumper. He was the kind of guy who wore French cuff links, kept a neat mustache and wore ties and colored polyester pants.
“Buhmperrr sticker! What are you crazy?”
“Why should I advertise them?”
I’unno. Just want to look cool is probably what I thought. I learned at an early age that if you advertise something on your car, it’s serious business.
I only remember two things ever adorning my father’s car. 1.) A big yellow ribbon dangling from the antenna in honor of the US hostages in Iran. It was replaced when the ends tattered.
2.) A vanity license plate that was so unlike my father’s personality (but not unlike his humor) that I had to confirm with my brothers that I didn’t imagine it. He bought it during one of our vacations in Cape Cod.
It was red and white. A hippie sat with a smoking joint between his fingers with the caption:
“If you’re so damn smart, why ain’t you rich?”
It graced the front of our orange Gran Torino. I vaguely remember my Dad asking me to stand in front of it once in the church parking lot. I’m not sure if it was the joint, the damn, or the dirty hippie he was hiding. I think my Dad intended it as a funny keepsake for the peg board in the garage but I have a memory of peeling off the shrink wrap and attaching it to the front of the car with my brothers. Later when the joke got old, it resumed its home above the workbench.
When my mom got her license, she too kept a pristine car. Not only was her car sticker free but she also kept an afghan laid across the back seat to prevent sun damage to the upholstery.
That all changed on 9/11 when I noticed two matchbook size American Flag stickers affixed to her red Ford Taurus. Her haste with small details was evident, because not only were these permanent stickers (not decals) stuck on from the outside; the flag in the corner of the back windshield was placed upside down. The other one, the one that made my throat tighten with emotion was stuck on the driver’s side window just about a hands-width above the door lock. She couldn’t have associated that sticker any closer to herself than if she had worn it over her own heart.