Independence Takes a Village
“Laguna Beach is what other Southern California beach cities aspire to,” says tourist Shayne Moore.
While admittedly biased to quote a friend about your own town, that doesn’t make what she says less true.
Independence Day is a busy in Laguna Beach. July 4 is my personal favorite holiday, not because of the crowds or weather but for what it signifies and how it’s celebrated in my old neighborhood among some of my closest friends.
Six years ago, I lived on Brooks Street and developed personal ties to other residents. My former Wheaton roommate and closest friend Mark Metherell lived with his wife, Sarah, a few houses away. I don’t have enough space to list them all, but between the Metherells, Hills, Sorensens, Cohns and others we decided to organize our own Fourth of July neighborhood parade.
It started ridiculously small. Just some kids on bikes, our dog Genevieve and maybe a car or two. Howard Hills paid a few members of the Laguna Beach High School marching band to play a few tunes and strut up and down the street with us.
Afterwards, we rolled out our barbeques and foisted family recipes on neighbors. My specialty is Wisconsin brats grilled till crispy and then boiled in a gravy of sautéed onions and PBR.
We always made a point mid-parade to raise the flag on the pole in our front yard, say the Pledge of Allegiance and recognize Brooks Street veterans, which seems to have had a disproportionate number of World War II, Korean, Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq war vets.
Howard recently reminded me of one magical moment when we had the band play at Jane and Arthur’s home, an elderly couple both with accelerating dementia. Arthur’s World War II flying pictures were in the front yard. We stopped to recognize him and play some patriotic music. As we did, Jane whipped Arthur out in his wheelchair and, despite his decaying memory, gave a strong salute. I don’t think there was a dry eye on the street.
Time has taken some of those veterans and other neighbors. Mark Metherell was killed in service while advising the Iraqi special forces in April 2008. A memorial paddle-out at Brooks Street in his memory was canceled due to a sewage spill and reset for July 4. A memorial paddleout is now a regular part of the annual festivities.
Last year, my family and I were away in the Netherlands on a homeland visit to Friesland and missed both the Brooks Street festivities and our friendships.
Neighbor Lique Hoskins is Dutch like my family. We always commented on the Netherlands role as the first country to recognize the U.S.A. and raised the flag with cannon fire (actually firecrackers). This year we raised the flag that flew over the Iraqi base where Mark worked on the day he was killed.
The parade has taken on a life of it’s own, swelling to hundreds of families. The paddleout to Brooks Street had enough people to form a circle around Second Reef. Cora Metherell, Mark and Sarah’s 4-year-old daughter, paddled out with me and said, “My daddy fought so that all our families would be safe!” Many of us added saline to seawater.
“It’s a good thing to see Mark’s memory grow over the years and not diminish,” Howard said recently. Equally impressive are Laguna neighborhoods where people get together to celebrate the profound liberty we share and to embrace it with camaraderie, love and enthusiasm.
The holiday’s significance was underscored by Cora, scampering around in the sea and sand amid the friends and family who participate in her life. The liberty that lets neighbors freely assemble and celebrate together is worth defending. Independence takes a village.
David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is [email protected].