When my English-born wife was growing up in London, she liked to look at the map of the world in her schoolroom. She was particuarly fond of gazing at the nations tinted pink on the map, signifying that they were part of the British Empire.
One big swath of territory that was not pink was, of course, the United States, which began a painful separation from England and its King in 1776 and completed it nearly a decade later by force of arms. This once-wrenching departure has long since become a subject of good-natured joking between Yanks and Brits, including my wife and I. Two hundred thirty-four years is a long time to nurse a serious grudge.
"You were spoiled brats,'' she told me this morning, with a glint in her eye. "Still are.''
"Yes, and now there are 320 million of us,'' I said.
Things have gone pretty well in the post-pink era between the U.K. and the U.S. Oh, there was the unpleasantness of 1812, when the British Army occupied Washington, D.C. and burned the White House. Talk about sour grapes. But matters haven't been so bad since then, as the Empire has softened into the Commonwealth and America grew up in fits and starts to become great.
The Englishwoman who became my wife arrived on these shores at age 19 the same way so many others did before her: by ship, after a stormy crossing of the Atlantic to New York harbor, in February. She is a whole-hearted traveler who has visited many places I haven't, and may have traveled more miles for pleasure and business than I have. We two didn't meet on the road but we could have, so intrepid a globetrotter is she. She is also one of the few people outside the travel biz who understands that travel writing is a job, not a hobby or a holiday, though its fascinations are many. We have traveled together to far-flung places - Hong Kong, Argentina, Japan, Uruguay, Chile - to nearby places - Canada and around the U.S. - and, of course, back to the U.K.
I think this July 4 - or 4 July, as the British would write it - we'll tune out those stressful times of 1776 and 1812, and the bombs bursting in air. We'll grill some burgers out back and drink some wine. We'll be grateful that the only explosiveness between our two countries in the post-pink era are Independence Day fireworks in the night sky.