Yankee Doodle Andes
By Suzanne Adam
I’ve come to the American Embassy alone. It’s not a holiday in Chile, and my husband, Santiago, is at work. The guard passes his detector wand around my body. How strange to start my Fourth of July like this. What would Thomas Jefferson think? I flash my passport and move through the turnstile.
In the security check line, I chat with Rachel, the woman behind me, who is also alone.
“My kids had exams at school today,” she says, “but I wanted to come anyway.”
I nod. “I used to bring my boys when they were little. Some years we’ve been in the States for the Fourth.”
Rachel smiles. “My last Fourth there I went to a baseball game.”
“Once I took my boys to a parade in my hometown,” I tell her. “Small town spirit was still alive! Everyone came out: Boy Scouts, firemen, businessmen, politicians, people with flags.”
“I can’t believe I’ve been living in Chile for twenty-two years,” Rachel says. “My kids, totally Chilean, tease me about my accent.”
I laugh. “Often I can’t understand my own kids when they speak Spanish, and I’ve lived here 37 years, longer than in the States.”
I never imagined I’d be saying that one day.
Yet, I don’t consider myself an expatriate. Precisely because I’ve lived my adult life abroad, I never forget I’m American. I’m a patriot of both countries. Like the sea birds on the beach here that have migrated from the West Coast, I call two countries “home.”
It’s winter here in the Southern Hemisphere, and, bundled in parkas, we’re a mixed group in the Embassy courtyard: expatriates, Mormons, students, bi-national families. Five young Marines, impeccable in their dress uniforms, stride in formation to the flagpole. I can almost see my reflection in their polished black shoes. They solemnly unfold and raise the immense flag, bright and bold. Beyond the fluttering flag, glow the ridges of the snow-clad Andes. The Chilean Army Band strikes up the “Star Spangled Banner.” Images of the America I remember flash before me: picnics, football games, the summer song of crickets, Girl Scouts, Peanuts comic strips, Norman Rockwell, Joan Baez.
There’s a minute of silence for the Armed Forces in Afghanistan, followed by a reading of the President’s address to the nation, and, finally, a sing-along. How long it’s been since I’ve sung “It’s a Grand Old Flag” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Over coffee, hot chocolate and cookies, I chat with friends and meet a newly arrived California woman. I’m one of the last to leave.
But, my July Fourth isn’t over. My friend Ann has invited us to dinner. Eight of us gather in Ann and John’s living room. John plays his dulcimer and Ann her flute, as Rosita sings “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” a hymn sung in the times of the Declaration of Independence.
Around a table set in red, white and blue, John gives thanks for our blessings. Dinner is served on blue and white china commemorating America’s bicentennial. Under my lasagne I discover Independence Hall. Betsy Ross is hard at work on her flag on my coffee cup. Boston’s North Church tower lies beneath my apple crisp. John tells the Chileans of Boston’s warning lantern code:
“One, if by land,
And two, if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be.”
“Longfellow’s ‘Paul Revere’s Ride!’” I announce.
Carmen recites her favorite poem by Robert Frost, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” completing all four stanzas. We offer cheers and applause, and turn thoughtful as John reads African-American poet Langston Hughes’ “I, Too, Sing America” that begins “I am the darker brother…”
Nothing will replace memories of my July Fourths back home: grilled hamburgers, the picnic table set in patriotic colors, fireworks over the bay. But today I’ve added a rich new layer to my memories – one fitting for someone who considers two countries home.
About this writer
- Suzanne Adam is a writer who grew up in Marin County, California. She graduated from UC Berkeley, served in the Peace Corps and moved to Santiago, Chile in 1972.