Decorated bikes, fire trucks, and mimes on parade: My first Gambier Fourth of July
As I was preparing for the move to Gambier, many folks have reached out to let me know the ”must-see” local events of the year; and, at the top of everyone’s list was the annual Gambier Fourth of July celebration. I heard about this from village residents, faculty and staff – nearly everyone I met. As with the other major pop culture touchstones of the summer (Terry Francona’s first season managing the Indians; “Man of Steel”; the new album by Kanye West; and the new novel by Meg Wolitzer), the excitement around the Gambier July 4th parade inevitably raised the question, “Does it live up to the hype?”
I am pleased to report that the answer, unequivocally, is yes: the Gambier Fourth of July celebration should be on everyone’s “must-see” list. In fact, our family did not stop at watching; Owen dove right in as a participant, decorating his bike and riding in the parade with some new friends (he is the one in the Uncle Sam hat and bright yellow Crocs).
Holidays serve many purposes: a time to relax, a time for gathering with friends and family, a time for recognition and reflection upon days with historical, cultural, or religious significance. Holiday celebrations are also a window into a community’s identity and values. We can learn a great deal by observing the ways that a community marks a holiday.
In the spirit of armchair ethnography (and with apologies to my colleagues in the anthropology department), what does the Fourth of July parade and celebration say about our Gambier community? Many of the things we value were on display on Thursday morning: volunteerism (prominent representation of the Fire Department and recognition of the Citizen of the Year); the youth of the community (not just kids on bikes marching, but also the Kenyon Young Writers and students from the mime camp); poetry (what other town has a poet laureate read a new, original poem on the Fourth of July?); and academic engagement (and, what other town prefaces its parade with serious commentary on America and democracy from its mayor, Kirk Emmert, Professor Emeritus of Political Science?). The whole event captured the warmth of the community and a sensibility that successfully combines the serious (poetry, academics, and citizenship) with the silly (kids wrapped in crepe paper on bikes and at least one dog with hair dyed red, white, and blue). Gambier is very much feeling like home to me.
[As a postscript, in case you are interested in the grades on the rest of my summer hype list: on Francona’s season, still too early to tell; on “Man of Steel,” fun for a while but in the end too loud; on Kanye’s album, I’m sorry to report that I can’t make myself get through it (I have tried); and on the Wolitzer book, it is on my iPad and is next in the queue to read].