My Venezuelan 4th of July
junio 26, 2009
By Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera, 2009 All Rights Reserved. Written in Margarita Island, July 5th 2008.
I knew it was the 4th. Yesterday had been the 3rd, so I was positive today was the 4th. It was Friday, and it was the fourth, because the stock market was dutifully closed. It didn’t matter that the dollar was plunging, that oil and commodities were swinging wildly out of control, that there were thousands of people losing millions of dollars. It didn’t matter that more than 6 million families had lost their homes. The United States had come to a standstill for its annual 4th. I thought about the American Embassy in Caracas and regretted I had not yet registered there. They were probably hosting a celebration for American citizens living in the capital. The thought came to me that I should establish some sort of an association in Margarita Island to bring together those of us who are living here. It would be nice, I thought, if we could gather for national celebrations, like today, or maybe Thanksgiving; we could help each other find American-like products in the island or maybe those who travel to the States could bring back some of those things we take for granted there that are not available, not produced, or even known here, like my French Gourmet Folgers coffee and my specially roasted Pilón Cuban coffee; we could meet every other week and maybe have a sing-along. I couldn’t explain why today my vocal chords had locked themselves on the words of Home on the Range quietly singing them away in my throat. We might also go to the beach for a bonfire with hot dogs (here, mostly German or Polish wieners) and no marshmallows. I thought about it for a minute, mentioned it to my husband and decided to file the idea away. Maybe some time down the road, when I was finally settled in Margarita. There were too many things I still needed to do, before allowing my altruism to get the better of me.
The day had started out very early as it usually did for me: I had brought the dog down and taken him to the yard where he began to bark back at another invisible barking dog hiding somewhere in the dawn’s early light. I had had my breakfast, not with my American Folgers, since I had had no time before I left the States to go to Publix and buy some to bring with me. It had been the first item on my To-Do list that last day, January the 17th of 2008, and yet it never got done, there were so many last minute more important details to attend to. The 4th unfolded slowly and uneventfully. My husband had sold our lawn mower tractor because now we did not own 3.8 acres in Naples anymore. We had a small 25 x 25 patch of green and a regular mower would do. He had set off to Puerto Ordaz to deliver the tractor to the new owner. He would be gone for two days. I sat down at my sewing machine and got busy with the kitchen curtains I had to finish. The 4th faded slowly away into the stitches, the minutes, the hours, the solitude and the barking dog and my cat Maggie rubbing her body against my feet and purring heavily, demanding attention. Home on the Range had survived my busy-ness and indeed, the skies had not been cloudy all day. It was 5 pm already. The phone rang. My husband was calling with the news that he would not be traveling to Puerto Ordaz after all. The customs officers had told him that the paperwork was perfect and that the flatbed could go onto its destination without him. I was so thankful! Our home had been broken into twice in less than a month so the prospect of being alone did not make me happy. “Hurry home,” I said and hung up. The phone rang again. It was my oldest sister in-law’s husband. So that I would not be alone that evening, he and his wife were inviting me to dinner at a wonderful restaurant in Playa El Agua, that stands right on the sand by the shoreline. Playa El Agua is a tract of sandy, open beach about 4 kms long. From the restaurant, you can see the wide expanse of ocean coming at you, and your ears become full of the sound of the waves. I told them about my husband’s change of plans, and that he would be joining us there.
When we arrived it was early for Venezuelan dinnertime, so the restaurant was empty except for the long table at the back where there were more than 20 people, all family, awaiting us. Everyone got up in unison and went into the Hispanic greeting frenzy of kissing and re-kissing and hugging each other. All of a sudden the greeting stopped, as in the musical chairs game when the music is turned off. Everyone scrammed to their chairs. Two were free, and before I knew it, my husband and I were sitting facing the massive, huge grey ocean. Today, you could see row after row of long advancing waves landing at the shoreline, smoothly and softly, with no effort, like a child sent by its mother to have some cookies from the jar. The ocean looked like molten lead coming from the horizon, turning into water hills, moving heavily, surely, driving itself into the sand in splashes of white foam. It reminded me of something that I couldn’t exactly place. I kept watching the rows of water, the grey. I ordered from the menu. And still the waves reminded me of something I had seen. Home on the Range still hugged my chords and sang itself into my ears, a lonely song. I thought of my children who I knew were celebrating together in Tampa, at the beach. Then I thought of the War Memorials in Washington D.C. I could see the oversized statues of the American soldiers at the Korean War Veterans Memorial, shining eerily silver grey under a full moon. From there my mind jumped to the dark grey of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial contrasting with the myriad of bright flowers left daily by the dead soldiers’ family members. The waves were still thrusting at me, but now the ocean was not empty. It was swarming with US Navy boats full of men heading toward the shore, there were soldiers with rifles held above the water and I could hear the cries, the bullets sizzling by and the explosions that gradually took over the space of Home on the Range until I could not hear it any longer. Had I seen this in Washington D.C.? No, this was D-Day playing itself out for me in this distant grey ocean on an overcast early evening! I felt my eyes welled with tears. I fought the heaving knot in the middle of my breast and turned around to my youngest sister-in-law’s Cuban husband at the opposite end of the table. He designs cars for Ford and he and his family are settling in Brazil for his three-year stay at the Brazilian Ford Headquarters. Of those present, the two of us had held American citizenship the longest. “Ralph!” I said raising my margarita glass, “Happy 4th!” He raised his beer bottle and, with a proud smile on his face, returned: Happy 4th! His Cuban-Venezuelan-American children looked up, raised their Cokes and piped together: “Happy 4th”; then my second youngest sister-in-law, a twin who lives in Atlanta and is married to one of the news editors of Spanish CNN, and her two Venezuelan-American daughters chimed in: “Happy Fourth! We all laughed, and then the laughing subsided and there was silence. I went back to my conversation with my oldest sister-in law, but I couldn’t recapture its thread. In the background, with the crashing waves, I could hear a young squeaky voice singing by itself, something I did not recognize. I could not distinguish the words; I could not recognize the distorted melody sung off key. Another voice joined in and then another older voice that made the words understandable and gave affirmation to the wavering childlike melody: …“By the dawn’s early light…,” I thought I heard. Then my twin sisters-in law joined the improvised but now solid choir: “Whose broad stripes and bright stars…;” then the girls: “And the rockets’ red glare.…” By then, my husband and I were singing loudly and proudly: “For the land of the free, and the home of the brave!” When I finally remembered we were in the restaurant, I looked around and half our table was standing up, hands on our hearts and teary-eyed. So were the tables around us: Happy 4th! Happy Venezuelan 4th!