How the Locals Get Down for Independence Day

Playing in the foam at the Fireman's Muster during the Sandwich 4th of July events.
DON PARKINSON/ENTERPRISE - Playing in the foam at the Fireman's Muster during the Sandwich 4th of July events.

The 4th of July on Cape Cod. Sure, we think first of fireworks, and parades with brass bands, clambakes on the beach with beautiful people dressed all in perfectly pressed white linen. That’s what the tourist magazines show us.

But how do the locals celebrate? What gems of smaller celebrations happen every year that might go unnoticed in the larger press? When asked to write this article, a number of memories came back to me of my own celebrations. Having moved here from Pennsylvania some 15 years ago, there were many new Cape Cod traditions and events for me to discover.

The first thing that popped into my head was a Saturday, 4th of July—2010 to be specific. Having gone to the beach at Megansett early that morning to sit and read, before the crowds arrived (locals rarely go to the beach on the weekend of the 4th—we’re spoiled, and prefer those times when the numbers are diminished), I was startled around 10 AM by the sound of firetruck sirens. And they were coming my way. I looked around for smoke and found none.

Then I saw it. It was a bike parade, being led by the big red truck. Children and their parents, carrying flags, bikes with streamers flying, all headed my way, toward the yacht club. And given that there is only one road in and out of that beach, I was stuck there, to watch. And listen. And I was delighted. A taste of small town America celebrating our freedom. A tradition that I’m told goes back longer than most can remember. Simple, no cost fun. Ending at the flagpole. Patriotic songs sung. Each child recognized, by name. Ice cream cones. I believe I had tears in my eyes. I know that my heart was warmed.

Thinking back on that day, I wondered what other traditions there were to be discovered.

With a few simple phone calls, I learned a lot. In Sandwich, there is a day full of festivities. Beginning with a three-mile run in the morning, a parade at 10 AM, picnic in the park, including an egg toss competition. Yes, I said egg toss. Approximately 500 people involved in that one, who, I am told, actually practice in advance for it. The fire department sprays foam and they slip and slide on that. There is live music for dancing in the evening, and a boat parade on Shawme Pond, that I was told was “the most spectacular sight ever seen!” by Janice, who has lived in Sandwich for 22 years. “This is the most quaint, feel good Americana kind of day, spent with the happiest people. Everyone participates in some way, and it doesn’t cost a thing!”

On to Woods Hole. One friend sent me the following: “We have participated in or watched the Quissett parade, a neighborhood tradition that starts and ends at the Quissett Yacht Club parking lot. My kids have ridden in that parade many times in my brother-in-law’s antique Model A, all decked out in red, white and blue. The rest of the community marches or rides in bunches, usually dressed up to make a mockery of something political or current events related. Pretty funny, always clever, and I look with anticipation towards that.

After  Quissett, we go to the Woods Hole ‘Bug Parade’ put on by the village community and grad students/summer students from the MBL. They perform in groups, walking in patterns or calling chants to depict some sort of molecular-level scientific event that only they know what it means, and they put a lot of work into costumes and choreography, and it’s all a hilarious ‘inside joke’. It’s all in good fun. They give out a ton of sliced watermelon afterwards to anyone and everyone at the parade, and my kids (now 15 and 21!) try never to miss it!”

Mashpee also hosts their own celebration, about 3,000 people strong, on the grounds of the high school, that includes obstacle courses for the kids, a dunk tank, K-9 demonstrations, pony rides and picnics, and culminates with fireworks after dark. This year the event is planned for July 2. For those who prefer the larger fireworks celebration in Falmouth, there are myriad ways to watch. For those of us who prefer simplicity, we walk in through Falmouth Heights with blankets in hand, and grab a spot on the beach. The view is spectacular.

I spoke with a member of the Upper Cape Ski and Sports Club, who told me of their annual tradition of taking a Patriot Party Boats cruise out of the harbor, with about 30 of their members, for their own personal front row seat. “It’s a totally different viewpoint,” Michael told me. “The boat is always one of the closest to the barge. We have a great view without the crowds. We take along our own food and beverages, and enjoy the camaraderie of our fellow members, in shorts and flip-flops instead of bulky ski clothes. Waves, wind, and water add to the allure of the fireworks. It’s great!”

Backyard celebrations abound, more often than not multigenerational. Brightly decorated tables, festively-colored lanterns. Grandparents, grandkids, and everyone in between gather for typical and oftentimes not-so-typical picnic fare. Another friend shared the following with me, which I found quite odd, although I’ve since discovered others who had the same tradition.

“My mother used to have salmon and peas on 4th of July, and if I think of it, I do, too. She also always said on the 4th, ‘Well, it’s 4th of July, the backbone of the summer is broken.’ I’m not sure I know what that means entirely, but my siblings and I always say it to one another in her memory.” Indeed, at least in Falmouth, 4th of July means the mid-point. We start with Memorial Day weekend, celebrate the middle with the 4th, then we know it’s on to Falmouth Road Race weekend, and another summer will be but a memory.

All the more reason to live each and every moment of our gatherings together to the fullest. Enjoy the simple things. Attend the larger things. Celebrate our nation’s freedom with those we love, with our neighbors, whom we might too often overlook. Sing “America the Beautiful,” out loud, knowing that the author, our beloved local Katharine Lee Bates, looked over these same waters and was moved later in life to write these words. “O beautiful for spacious skies…”   Is that a tear I see forming in the corner of your eye? “America! America!  God shed his grace on thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.” Yeah, we get that.

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