I was never a fan of the Fourth of July. Before we had kids, I’m pretty sure Ben and I just hid out and watched MST3K all day. Once we had the kids, we made a few very shallow attempts to “do something fun”, even if it wasn’t what anybody else was doing (I remember playing glow-in-the-dark mini golf in a nearly-abandoned mall, probably in 2012), but it was pretty halfhearted.

By the time Tuck had joined our household we had enough experience with him to know that he didn’t like the Fourth of July and all it’s “fun” either — he doesn’t like fireworks (not surprising), and the night of July 4th is the last time he saw his mother alive. The specifics of that story are his to tell when he feels like it, but for his first July living with us, in 2014, we had discussed in advance not only what we wanted to avoid “doing” (anything Fourth-of-July-ish), but whether or not we should “do something” in remembrance of his mother.

Suffice it to say that it is a pretty mixed bag of remembrance, and the acts of “mourning” or “celebrating” have not fit into it with any authenticity or comfort. It’s more of a getting through and holding space, and the actual anniversary falls in a murky area of a non-date — sort of the Fourth of July through the following morning. And this year is the first year that the fifth — the actual anniversary of the death — is not just part of the holiday weekend. I was surprised to find that Tuck had requested off from work long in advance of it, even knowing that the kids would be at camp and Ben would be working.

As for our Fourth itself, it is an evolving tradition that may in the long run have more to do with independence than remembrance. If you asked our kids “What does your family do on the Fourth of July?”, after three Julys of it (possibly the only ones they can remember), they would likely tell you:

— We stay home inside all day, except going out to do snake pellet “fireworks” in the afternoon at some point. We might watch a movie, but sometimes we don’t, although having MST3K on in the background is a distinct possibility.

— There is a lot of activity in the kitchen all day, most of it generated by Tucker. Mom gets out the big wooden salad bowl that she doesn’t even let anybody else wash, and there is always a Caesar salad. (“This is like a restaurant!” the kids had yelled, delighted, that first year, unaware until then that Caesar salad could exist in private homes.) Dad and Tucker work together like Amish men building a barn, to make a spanakopita. While there may be other kinds of food, there is always Caesar salad and spanakopita, and apple crisp for dessert, and apple crisp the next morning for breakfast on the fifth.

— There’s a special playlist of music for this day, and specifically for the time spent cooking and eating. Many of these songs are songs that we only hear on this day. It changes a little from year to year, but it is how the kids learned to do the Time Warp. (Music might get paused at points in the evening where we go outside.)

— If it’s not raining (like it did tonight), we will go into the park and do sparklers and other small combustibles, including perhaps one of those paper lanterns that immolate as they rise into the air, surely leaving their wire skeletons behind to kill an owl (I WON’T BUY THEM AGAIN. But I am using up the ones i DID buy, and there are a lot left).

In our household, this is the Fourth of July. I look forward to it more than I ever did before, and it has more personal significance than it did before, and it is amusing to see that the kids equate it with spanakopita and Outkast’s “Hey Ya”.

Our tradition is no tribute to anyone, except perhaps Tuck, who chooses to spend it feeding us all, but rituals for this day were originally conceived based on the mourning tradition of the “dumb supper” — where the dead are remembered through the preparation and consumption of their favorite foods, eaten without speaking, while listening to their favorite music. It’s a pretty good way to go, as far as these things are concerned — no speeches, no “sharing” of memories, nothing forced or sentimental. The work of making food, and whatever the music evokes. The expectations of those participating are minimal, as they should be in such complicated situations. The first year we did this, we promised one another that as soon as it felt weird — or wrong — for Tuck particularly, but for any of us, we would abort, throw everything in the garbage, and go out and get a burger. But that was never necessary.

As the menu and playlist are tweaked from year to year, we see that the changes we make are not made to make a thing more “right” or “the way it should be”, nor are Ben, the kids and I polite hostages to the straight and narrow of Tucker’s memory. We no longer have to carefully handle the pad Thai to which Ben is allergic, because none of us liked it enough to include it after the first year. I needed Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You”, to which I am allergic, struck from the playlist. Tucker added the Clash’s “Rudie Can’t Fail” this year, although I was pretty sure it had been there all along. Slice-and-bake Toll House cookies sounded right to Tucker; we had them.

This year, while the kids had one of their big concerts planned, Béla was being difficult and it seemed for a while that there would be no show. Claudia was panicked, and heartbroken, as she felt (unsurprisingly) that her contribution to things carried the day, and so she decided to go solo and unplugged — for four numbers, the last being a tribute to Tucker.

We were unable to use our giant neon sparklers and any of the assorted fireworks that Ben bought, or our owl-killing immolating lanterns, because of rain. Having been bummed out by a simpering Moldy Peaches song to which I am apparently allergic, I retreated upstairs temporarily. Tucker came up, and told me about this night eight years ago, when it also rained, as he was being driven back from saying goodbye to his mother. Suddenly it seemed like a good time to be with everyone else, eating apple crisp, and so we went downstairs. Recalcitrant Béla had simply put himself to bed four hours early, which was fine with all of us. We finished the Toll House cookies, and had apple crisp and ice cream.