I was sitting in traffic this morning, looking forward to the July 4th holiday coming up (even though going back to work on Friday will feel a little weird), and I started thinking about some of my favorite fictional Fourths. The ones I came up with are all from children's books, the best-loved ones that are still on my shelves:
My all-time favorite is probably in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town on the Prairie. De Smet, the little town on the Dakota prairies, has survived the Long Winter and is growing daily as new settlers arrive to stake their claims. It is prosperous enough to have a celebration on the Fourth, though Ma is disappointed that it will just feature horse-racing, not the picnic with the traditional fried chicken that she would prefer. Laura and Carrie are thrilled to go with Pa, to enjoy fireworks, eat pickled herring, listen to a reading of the Declaration of Independence (which they all know by heart, of course), introduce Carrie to lemonade, and watch that young Wilder boy win a buggy race with his team of perfectly-matched Morgans (which they win in spite of the heavy peddlar's wagon they're pulling). In Farmer Boy, set ten years earlier, Almanzo's whole family goes to the Fourth celebrations in the town of Malone. There he is taunted by his mean cousin Frank because he doesn't have a nickel to buy lemonade. When he asks his father for the money, he gets a homily on hard work, but he is rewarded in the end with a half-dollar. Surprisingly for Farmer Boy, which I've seen described as food porn, there is no luscious description of the picnic lunch that Mother packed (reading this book always leaves me hungry and craving apple pie, which they eat for breakfast).
The only Fourth I can remember in Louisa May Alcott's books is in Eight Cousins. Rose and Uncle Alec are spending a delightful holiday camping with the boys and the perfect Aunt, Jessie, on Campbell's Island. But Rose decides to return to the aunts' house and send Phoebe, her friend the family's maid-of-all-work, off to the Island to enjoy a rare holiday on the Fourth. She has to trick everyone, including Phoebe, to accomplish this. While she nobly enjoys "a quiet, busy day, helping Debby, waiting on Aunt Peace, and steadily resisting Aunt Plenty's attempts to send her back to the happy island," everyone else on the "happy island" is fretting because she isn't there, particularly Phoebe, who doesn't enjoy her holiday at all. Kindly Uncle Mac finally drags her out of her slight martyr complex to watch the fireworks.
I also like the Fourth of July with Sydney Taylor's All-of-a-Kind-Family, who celebrate on New York's East Side in the early 1900s. All the familiar elements are there - flags, bunting, firecrackers - but the family feasts on potato kugel rather than hotdogs and apple pie. (In the next chapter Mama takes the girls to Coney Island for the day, with a picnic lunch that includes limburger sandwiches.)
One of the very nicest Fourths takes place in Philadelphia in the 1820s, in Jane Flory's Faraway Dreams. Maggy Mulligan has been rescued from the Seafarer's Safe Harbor, an orphan's home, by Miss Charlotte Sutcliffe, a milliner, who has taken her as an apprentice. Miss Sutcliffe has a tiny workroom in a house shared with her sister, whose pompous husband and spoiled daughter hate having a relative in trade but depend on her earnings. Miss Sutcliffe is an artist whose bonnets are much in demand, and Maggy slowly grows to love the beautiful fabrics and the creative work, as well as her gentle mistress. After long summer days of hard work, Miss Sutcliffe declares that they will take a holiday on the Fourth and enjoy the whole day: "The prospect was exciting. Independence Day was celebrated all over the country, of course, but nowhere with more enthusiasm than in Philadelphia where the Declaration had been signed." It is a day of pure delight, start to finish. I loved this book as a child, checking it out over and over again from the library. I was so happy to find a copy again a few years ago, and to find that it is still a joy to read. Jane Flory wrote another of my favorite childhood books, One Hundred and Eight Bells, about a young Japanese girl growing up in Tokyo in the early 1960s. It was my introduction to Japanese holidays like New Year's, which sounded particularly fun. Sadly, her books have probably been purged from most libraries these days.
Any favorite fictional Fourths to add to the list?