The Gerasimovs took us on their boat to watch the 4th of July fireworks on the Connecticut River with the backdrop of the Hartford skyline in the distance. Our kids sat at the bow, two Leonardo DiCaprios and a Kate Winslet, arms in the air, laughing with glee against the speeding breeze.
Sergei, the captain of the boat, anchored, situating us among a myriad of bobbing boats, some small fishing boats dwarfed by double decker cruisers filled with friends and cans of icy beer.
I wondered if the people sitting along the shoreline wished they were us, coveting our prime seats for the light show and the sporty boat’s easy access to a quick getaway with no traffic home.
We ate shrimp, fruit and sipped Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. We talked about our vacations, kids’ summer activities, birthday parties of laser tag and pool antics, and never-ending house projects. We watched a giant, bright, orange sun ease into the horizon. I envied the children and their belly laughs and joyful hearts dreaming about the next fun activity on their busy schedules.
Fireworks zipped across the sky: smiley faces, stars, pastel and primary colors of fire. Each spectacular burst was welcomed with “ooos” and “ahhhs” from onlookers. A celebration of a country we loved. I wondered what Sergei was thinking, a native of Russia who had come to this country to attend college following a career as a professional European hockey player. To learn a language, a culture, a business and to look back on all that effort and be able to say you grabbed and claimed the brass ring of success was pretty impressive. He certainly deserved a boat to treat his family on regular river cruises.
Our children needed to learn what hard work looks like. We all agreed and discussed the importance of teenage jobs during our ride. To look down at a minimum wage check and see how little added up despite the hours you harvested tobacco, or stocked shelves or served French fries at the drive through. Those were good lessons to learn and a sobering look at what it is like to start from the bottom and the overwhelming number of people who relied on those jobs for their livelihood and not a life lesson.
As we made our way back to the marina, we cuddled our sweatshirt clad children and closed our eyes, feeling the balmy breeze against our tanned, summer skin.
Jennifer, who had recently traveled to India for work talked about the poverty she saw there. The crazy roads filled with a maze of cars going every which way, farm animals commuting among the traffic jam.
“Such happy, hospitable people. They took such good care of us,” recalled Jennifer of these amiable, happy people who had so little and yet were so pleasant.
A moment later, with her seven-year-old daughter in her arms Jennifer said, “We are so lucky.”
I swallowed hard and for a split second a wave of worry came over me. The work we had put into earning this kind of life, to have these moments of contentment could never be taken for granted. The country we lived in, despite its dysfunction of debt, red tape, people clamoring for fame versus the pursuit of helping others, a seemingly endless list of issues and politicians more interested in pontificating than solving problems. Despite all of the mess, Jennifer was right, ”We are so lucky.”
We are employed with good jobs, healthy children and living in a Connecticut town with a Main Street framed by colonial houses from the 1700s. These homes are American artifacts, functioning history and former residences of industrialists and pioneers of capitalism. Ship builders, cotton manufacturers, brownstone and granite quarrymen, and orchard farmers – our descendants who worked hard so we could have the freedom and luxuries of our everyday life in a very different America where there is more poverty, fewer middle class and a one percent.
Two centuries ago, while railroads were crisscrossing the western part of the Connecticut River, towns like ours remained isolated with no bridges to link up to transportation and other resources. The Connecticut River was the only outlet to opportunity with a single ferry delivering residences to the west side. I wondered if this is why our town managed to remain in this bubble of white picket fences, good schools, 100% college entrance and Saturdays spent on soccer fields.
Our boat jetted past the dock where the oldest running ferry still sat, waiting for the next day of commuters and families venturing over the river for ice cream and a pretty ride. The ferry is another remnant of yesteryear Americana, occasionally halted due to budget cuts to manage a state deficit. But the little ferry rallies, holding strong to its 300 year tradition.
The cruise to the fireworks was over and we sleepily collected our bags of leftovers and garbage and exited the boat. Each family said our good-byes and retired to our SUVs, heading home, smiling over the idyllic evening.
We drove past the ruins of an old cotton mill, then an airplane parts factory recently transformed into a town park and tribute to its former glory. We passed the rows of blueberry bushes now budding berries the size of marbles. Migrant Mexican workers groomed the fields, commuted to their jobs in the back of a pick-up truck, jostling knee to knee in the hot July sun. These men sent their less than minimum wage pay to their families at home, living in shacks with dirt floors, enduring sweltering heat and missing their fathers.
I carried my sleeping, heavy son up to his room, kissing his ruffled blonde head. I took a moment to rock him side to side, savoring him. Soon he will be too heavy for me to carry. “We are lucky,” I whispered in his ear and gave him an extra squeeze before laying him onto the bed. I brushed his bangs to the side and prayed our good fortune would also be his legacy. I prayed that he will learn to work hard, to study hard, to pursue dreams even if they seem unattainable. I prayed that he will always have moments of fireworks over the river, friends and the American Dream come true.