This time last year on Memorial Day weekend, we were househunting on Long Island and stumbling jet-lagged around Brooklyn and Manhattan. We knew nobody here and, awash with forms to fill in, lines to queue in and cheques to write, the US seemed fairly threatening and intimidating.
What a difference a year makes.
This year we celebrated the official start of summer in style. On Saturday night, we went to a fireworks display at a local beach park. Thousands of families gathered at dusk on the sands with picnic baskets, rugs, deckchairs and beach toys, waiting for darkness to fall and the display to begin. We arrived late, around 7.30, having been to a lunch party in Queens during the day, but to our relief found that despite the huge throng of people it was still possible to park (now I begin to appreciate the massiveness of American parking lots). We met our neighbours, and sat and chatted on the beach eating and drinking as the sun went down, hoping the distant squally clouds and rumbles of thunder over Connecticut wouldn't reach Long Island before 9pm. A few drops of rain fell, but the storm held off and it was pleasantly warm.
As the first fireworks went off in the harbour, a woman behind us exlaimed 'Summer's here!" And, sitting there watching the sky light up with my feet in the sand, I could not have imagined a better place to be. (My delight at the evening was only slightly marred by my attempt at breaking an airconditioning unit by mistake when we got home as I enthusiastically threw open a window - a ridiculously shameful episode to be related another time...).
Yesterday was Memorial Day itself (the remembrance is of troops killed from the Civil War onwards). We marched in our very first parade through the town, in support of the community centre we belong to. The Littleboys were given US flags to wave and we marched the length of Main Street to the harbour (about a mile) following lines of cheerleaders, scouts, military servicemen, policemen and masonic lodges. Brass bands and bagpipes played, and the whole thing ended with a procession that seemed to involve every fire truck in town (Lord knows what would have happened if there had been an actual fire somewhere), plus the town's fire marshal decked out in most splendid uniform and a huge white hat, waving from a car like the Queen. (Firefighters are like gods here - no wonder, when every summer evening seems to prompt a succession of sirens racing to the rescue of another clapboard house that has caught fire). The street was lined with spectators who had come out to sit in deckchairs and cheer everyone on, basking in the beautiful summery heat.
There is nothing like this in England, and if you'd asked me a year ago, I probably would have been quite cynical about American parading and flag-waving. But it seemed entirely appropriate, and, I have to say, was great fun. Americans know how to celebrate in style.
So, very different from a year ago. We are no longer the newbies - although we were still wide-eyed enough to take touristy photos of the parade. This summer we will have our essential equipment at the ready - new barbecue, ice box, picnic rug - and, hopefully, not every weekend will necessitate a visit to Bed, Bath and Beyond. We won't rush off to the beach at every peep of sunshine, like heat-seeking British missiles; I've bought our mosquito coils for evening meals outdoors; the boys will be at summer camp instead of hanging around the playground with me. Bring it on......