The Fourth of July, as we all know, is Independence Day. Hurray for George Washington and the revolutionaries, down with King George and the British. That sort of thing.
But have you ever wondered what it's like on the other side? Have you ever celebrated the Fourth across the border in Canada, in that territory settled by pro-British "Loyalists" who fled the United States after the Revolutionary War?
It is a most peculiar experience for one accustomed to the U.S. way of viewing the events of 1776.
My wife Gerry and I observed the Fourth on the other side once in Fredericton, the beautiful little capital of New Brunswick. Going into Fredericton meant going into the camp of a former enemy who openly hailed the "Loyalists" who fought for them against us. I mean people who opposed our revolution and never even said they were sorry.
Our first stop was the hallowed Loyalist Cemetery near the banks of the Saint John River at the edge of the city, burial ground of Fredericton's revered founders anti-American Tories, the lot of them. We trudged down a muddy path to a ring of trees around a swampy grass clearing in which the Tory heroes lay, prepared to utter a revolutionary sentiment or two over them in honor of the holiday.
We managed to get a quick look at a couple of headstones but that was all. Before we could even open our mouths, they struck angry swarms of dread North woods mosquitoes. Backwards we dashed, quickly very quickly batting mosquitoes off hair, face, neck, arms, clothes.
Much buzzing. Much stinging. They were everywhere. The Tories' revenge. For days afterward, we bore the swollen red marks of the Loyalists.
More insults were to come, in the elegant Legislative Assembly chambers downtown. High on the front wall, in a place of honor to the left of the Speaker's chair, hung a portrait of George III, the very monarch we made a revolution against.
In the United States, of course, we celebrate the end of colonialism. But in Fredericton they seemed to yearn for its return. Union Jacks flew from staffs all over town and portraits of Queen Elizabeth and her consort hung in government and private buildings everywhere. Ceremonial guards outside City Hall wore the white pith helmets, long crimson jackets and black uniform trousers of the British colonial soldier.
Just behind City Hall stood the restored quarters of the British garrison that was stationed in the city for more than a century, one of the buildings housing a museum full of anti-revolutionary twaddle. Captions below portraits of leading Loyalists praised them for "faith, courage, sacrifices" against Yankees, who were for the most part described as violent, crude, rude and vulgar.
There, too, a portrait of George 111 hung in a place of honor. Among the Loyalists singled out was that other fine fellow, Benedict Arnold, who lived in New Brunswick before slinking off to Mother England in 1791. At least the museum keepers had the decency to own up to Arnold's "reputation for crookedness."
The later-day Loyalists claimed to like us nevertheless. A half-dozen U.S. flags fluttered smartly outside the Lord Beaverbrook Hotel, Fredericton's finest, and the marquee proclaimed, "We Salute our American Friends. Happy 4th of July."
Sure thing. Funny, though, that they forgot to call off the mosquitoes.
(Dick Meister is a San Francisco writer. Contact him through his website, www.dickmeister.com.)