Bristol – There will be floats, bands and puppets, the trill of bagpipes and Sousa marches.
The sailors will step smartly down Hope Street, where the red, white and blue traffic stripes have replaced the mundane yellow strips. The historic harbor is filling with boats, their white sails riffling in the afternoon breeze.
There will be flags, thousands of them. Some will hang from the stately 18th and 19th century colonials that grace Bristol’s waterfront. The wooly-headed blue hydrangeas sprout from lawns grand and modest.
It’s the Bristol 4th, billed as the nation’s oldest July Fourth celebration. This year is the 231st incarnation of the combination parade, town-wide party and Old Home Week in this quintessential New England town.
To out-of-towners and parade viewers, it is the time to flock to Bristol for the timeless rituals of the traditional Fourth festivities. The bands, the floats, the boats and fireworks streaking across the East Bay sky.
In Bristol, it is the season for family gatherings and high school reunions. Bristolians gather from across the globe to party with old friends and family. Cookout and picnic tables are piled with mountains of steamers, stuffies, little necks, saugys, salads, hambugers, lobster, chourico and baked beans.
Through wars, depressions, recessions an family milestones, the rituals of a Bristol Fourth endure.
Mary Cantwell, a writer who left her native town to find fame in New York, wrote a lyrical love letter to Bristol about growing up there during the Great Depression and World War II.
``Early in the morning when the sky is gray we can hear the dull boom of the Fourth of July canon,’’ wrote Cantwell. ``Get up, get up, my mother pleads. .get up, get up…it’s time to get out the old blankets and folding chairs and spread them over’’ the narrow slice of lawn in front of their Hope Street home to corral a spot, ``before the people from out of town come down and park their carcasses right in front of you.’’
The canon is fried still at dawn. Parade goers still joust for prime perches on Hope; the town bars camping out or showing up to set out chairs and blankets before 5 a.m.
In an uncertain world, it is nice on Independence Day to have a Norman Rockwellian celebration such as Bristol’s Fourth here in our Rhode Island backyard. Particularly when the front yard is Narragansett Bay.