I remember a place in time when the Fourth of July really meant something to everyone around me — more than just a day off of work, and more than just an opportunity to sleep in late.
“Happy Birthday, to you!”
We were excited. No kidding. It was a big day. We woke up early on July 4 with the anticipation of the day before us. There was much to do, and as children, we were included in all the preparations.
Red, white and blue were the colors of the day, and we used our crayons and Prang paints to craft decorations for the picnic. In the kitchen, potato salad was being made. Eggs were being boiled for deviled eggs. A watermelon was wedged in the refrigerator. Hot dogs and hamburgers were waiting in the refrigerator for the old charcoal grill. A rare treat — a glass bottle of pop for each of us — was also cooling in a metal tub filled with ice. And before long, we would be sent to the porch to husk the sweet corn, and later to the garden to see if any tomatoes had ripened.
On the buffet in the dining room laid the evening’s excitement — a few boxes of sparklers. You would have thought someone had given us a $100 bill; those sparklers meant the world to us. We walked by them, eyeing the merchandise like those boxes were the most precious gifts in the world. It was hard to wait.
“Happy Birthday, to you!”
Family from afar arrived. We paraded the cousins by the sparklers on the buffet, and we showed them their own bottle of pop in the ice-filled tub. With more people in the hot and stuffy farmhouse than there needed to be, we (the kids) were sent outside to play. A baseball or kickball game ensued. We spent time swinging on the old tire swing which hung from the big maple tree in the yard, and we chased kittens in the haymow until the sweat dripped off of us.
Before long, we’d hear them calling us for our Fourth of July picnic. A long folding table had been set up outside, and the adults and kids were divided up between the dining room table and the old, folding table outside. Our Fourth of July decor reminded everyone why they’d come.
We ate. We laughed. We told stories, and we listened to the stories of others. It was a party, and we were happy, excited, ecstatic. Before we knew it, the pop bottles had been drained; the grill was left to smolder; and the adults used cold washcloths to wipe the sticky watermelon juice from our faces, arms, hands and legs.
It was a grand day, and just before we left to go to the fireworks at the fairgrounds in Princeton, those sparklers were snatched from off the buffet. An adult lit one or two for each of us, and we stood in the dusky night, twirling the sparklers like baton twirlers at the start of an Independence Day parade. The glow illuminated happy faces.
“Happy Birthday, Dear U.S.A.”
And now, many years have passed since those long ago memories of July 4, but as I think back, I have to believe our day represented patriotism at its finest. A family — intact. Fun. Excitement. Love in our hearts, and happiness on our faces. The whole group celebrating the birth of our nation, and actually hosting a party to celebrate who we are, who we were, and who we were yet to become. Isn’t that what patriotism really means?
You see, while I understand much has happened to bring our nation to where it is today, I have to believe our patriotism lives in our hearts, rather than in history books. We love this country because we can love each other.
“Happy Birthday, to you.”
BCR Editor Terri Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.