Independence Day

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My dad’s birthday is on the 4th of July. For years we woke to the mixture of him blasting John Phillip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever and my mother shouts of “Turn that music down, Jerry.”

We spent all his birthdays at my aunt, uncle and grandparent’s summer cottages in Henderson Harbor, NY.  The only time during the 4th of July that I didn’t spend in the water or making tents out of towels on the lawn, or running around with lit sparklers was when everyone gathered around Nam and Gramp’s black and white, rabbit-eared TV to watch Wimbledon.

I remember one year, leaning back against Dad’s legs watching Chrissy Evert battle Martina Navratilova.  Chrissy had just hit a beautiful winner down the line.  “Dad,” I said, “I bet she could beat you.” Everyone had laughed. Confused and embarrassed, I pulled my knees into my chest, until Dad patted me on the back as if to say, it’s ok.  Then I knew my silly mistake.  Of course she couldn’t beat my dad.  Nobody could beat my dad.

For years I’d sat on the grass outside the courts, watching him play.  His opponents would always tease, Oh no, he’s brought his good luck charm, and I’d wait for them to finish so I could get on the court with Dad.  Eventually I’d stand on the opposite side of the court, trying to return his serve, trying not mishit the ball as he charged the net, and trying to win that promised hot fudge sundae if I ever beat him.  We’ve been playing for years and I’ve yet to win that sundae.

The summer I turned 16 was the first I spent away from Dad on his birthday.  Instead, I spent the day at The Wimbledon All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

Wimbledon!  I’d traveled to England on a High School summer exchange program and a group of us spent the night sleeping on the payment outside the stadium in hopes of securing tickets.  When the gates opened on the morning of July 4th, we were tenth in line and ended up with front row seats on Center Court.

I tried to mentally record every detail to later share with my dad. The reel still plays in my head of the traditional bowl of strawberries and cream, the delicately manicured pea green grass of the courts, our Chrissy playing just yards away from me, the misbehaving fans screaming from the standing-room-only section, Jimmy Connor’s bow to Princess Diana that made her blush so deeply, and how she was so pretty in a soft, fuchsia dress that several times I ended up watching her instead of the tennis match.

So there I was, across the ocean from both a dad and a country celebrating birthdays.  A 16-year-old girl experiencing her first true taste of independence; all the while wishing her Dad was by her side to share it.

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