On the Fourth of July, I walk outside and hoist the flag and drive into town to the Farmer’s Market where I buy three fat tomatoes from a man whose accent I can’t quite place but whose tent smells fresh and green and whose tomatoes have just the right amount of mottling so that I can tell for certain they have been ripened to that perfect red firmness on the vine. Having found my Holy Grail, I wander around a few more minutes and end up buying a canteloupe for $3.00 from a little boy who is learning from his father what it means to grow and tend and share and a package of blueberries that I suspect are going to actually taste like blueberries and a jar of hot sauce for my friend’s daddy’s birthday.
And then I go to the grocery store and buy a loaf of white bread, Sunbeam Old-Fashioned with the little girl in the blue dress on the package, the first loaf of white bread I’ve bought since the last time I found perfect tomatoes. I stop on the way home to get gas and a Diet Coke at a station where the young man with a broad smile hands me my change and responds to my wish to him for a Happy Fourth with a “Be safe.”
And then I drive home and make a tomato sandwich with lots of mayonnaise and lots of salt and I take it out to the front porch which just the day before was repainted with a shiny latex paint that reflects the sunlight almost like a mirror. I sit down on the top step and, balancing my white china plate on my lap, pick up the sandwich, square and dense, with both hands.
I pause to say the blessing, that thing I’ve done before every meal from the time I could speak. That thing that I did at first because my parents did it and then because I was showing off my memorization skills and then because it was habit and that I do now, today, because I am looking across the yard, then across the road to rows of peanuts trying to gain a foothold before splaying themselves all over each other into long tangled webs and I am reminded of the essential nature of roots. I am doing it today because I am sitting on a porch without splinters and am reminded that even the sturdiest of sanctuaries needs maintenance. And I am doing it today because I am about to eat a perfect tomato sandwich, because the red juice is going to run down my wrist like blood and I will be reminded, strangely, of communion. The Eucharist. Eucharisteo. To give thanks.
Elsewhere on this Independence Day there are fireworks and concerts, parades and baseball games and, much to the joy of my little friend Kate, jumping frog contests. There is celebration rowdy and loud and, perhaps, I think, less than reflective of the occasion than it should be. And in the thought I am gifted with another reminder: “It is right and good and a joyful thing,” we intone in preparation for accepting the bread and wine on Sundays, “always and everywhere to give thanks to you Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”
Always and everywhere. Always – at mealtimes, but also during fireworks and concerts. Everywhere – on quiet front porches, but also at parades and baseball games and, most especially, during jumping frog contests. Always and everywhere, give thanks for freedom.
Above my head the flag is fluttering in the warm breeze of midday. Red like the tomato. White like the bread. Blue like the sky. I turn my head to take in pine trees and cotton fields, the nearby houses of people I love, my own strong legs. I lift my hands a little higher. “Thank you,” I say, “for this.”