First time was such an experience we were forever hooked!
There are some occasions during the year when my longing for Seattle aches even more. Thanksgiving. Holiday Season with the Christmas Ships. The cherry blossom for my birthday in March. The boat season Opening Day. The Outdoor Cinemas. But most of all, 4th of July.
Our second stay in Seattle was summer 1995. First week in July our Swedish friends Erik and Monica and their three young sons were visiting, not from Sweden though but from San Fransisco. They had lived in Livermore for a year a few years back, and this summer they were back there for a summer stay. So, they made a 16-hour intense roadtrip Livermore-Seattle to visit us. A bit of a pay back visit for the one we made in the other direction in 1993 when they had their year in Northern California and we did our first Seattle stay.
And so it happened that we came to spend our first and their second 4th of July together. We had a really nice afternoon at the wineries. Snoqualmie, Columbia. Chateau Ste. Michelle. Picnic on the lawn somewhere, five little boys running around while their parents enjoyed the scenery, waiting for the evening event to start.
We knew from our Seattle friends that Gasworks Park at the north end of Lake Union was the place to be for the fire works in the evening. They also informed us that parking would be a problem, but luckily Steven and Lisa lived in Wallingford and they had saved two spots on the street for us.
I don’t know though how it happened that the two Swedish families actually got a spot at the (what I call) Kite Hill in Gasworks Park, although we weren’t there early in the day. But we did! We spread our blankets and had a tough job keeping our five sons together, I tell you, you don’t want them wondering away in a 30 000 people crowd!
I don’t think we had any idea going there, how big the Gasworks Park 4th of July celebration was. And how amazing. 30 000 people gathered around the old gas work, nowadays a rusty kind of funky installation. Lake Union packed with boats around the giant barge from where the fireworks are fired. Downtown shining on the opposite side of the lake. And everything in a very family friendly environment where no alcohol is allowed.
I quite don’t know how to describe in what way this evening was so special to two Swedish families. We were tourists in an event we had no roots in. In the same time, we had come to know and like the American culture which had been so welcoming and open to us. We were, to some extant, a part of it.
Sweden didn’t have a National Day until 1983. By 1995 it still was something we found kind of ridiculous, something constructed laid upon us which we (Swedes) had no heart in - in a way we still do. So, national days in general, was something we didn’t quite understand. Waiving flags hasn’t been in the Swedish soul I guess since we finally stopped being at war with our neighbors in Europe in 1809. It’s a foreign thing to us, a bit frightening and hard to grasp.
For the two Swedish families, surrounded by 30 000 people honoring and celebrating their country, it was a cautiously overwhelming experience. Being a part of The Star Spangled Banner, people singing out loud their national anthem with full voice and without embarrassment was dazing. We were intrigued and I would say seduced. To express that much positive feelings about your country was to us a bit… wow… this is kind of nice…
It was also very special doing this together. Knowing the evening was something we shared, and no one of our friends back in Sweden would never understand. Telling about it would raise judgmental eye brows and the story would be received with question marks. No, this was ours. Then, part of the adventure was the drive back from Wallingford to Madrona (normally a 20 minute ride) where we stayed that summer, which took us two hours through a jam packed 4th of July night, five boys down and out sleeping in the back seats.
I have spent many 4th of July in Gasworks Park since then. We learned that the trick for the full experience was to be there early in the afternoon to get a good spot at the front of the hill, facing Lake Union and Downtown. To bring food for the whole day, watch the sun set sparkle in the high rises, the boats cruising the lake, and finally the amazing fireworks in the dark evening, accompanied by orchestrated music, up until 2001 always starting off with Jimi Hendrix’s version of Star Spangled Banner. After 9/11 though, not even Seattle was allowed to have fun with the anthem, and Jimi Hendrix was out.