Update: this piece was indeed published in this morning's paper (July 9th) slightly behind schedule)
While I celebrated the Fourth of July last night with a dinner party and fireworks viewed from the lake house, Small Town and Small Town Next Door are celebrating Independence Day on the Fifth of July. I don't know why they do that, but part of the celebration will include a concert performed by my big, fat, summer band. I'm excited.
I had written a patriotic piece for Small Town's newspaper, but it didn't make it in yesterday's issue as I had hoped. Just so it doesn't go to waste, I'll copy it below. Happy Fifth.
I am a true patriot, the kind who takes her right to vote seriously, and the kind who gets weepy at Memorial Day observances and group singing of the National Anthem. I don’t often shy from arguing for or against my nation’s policies and championing various political candidates as I see fit. Just the first three notes of “Taps” can make my eyes well up with tears, and I find reading the preamble to the constitution out loud a treat, even if no one else is in the room to listen. “We the people of the Unites States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” Sigh.
But no occasion inspires my sense of patriotism like July 4th. More than any other national holiday, it’s our chance to celebrate the value of our governmental system—a system based on laws, elections, and a constitution in place of a king. When the sun goes down and people gather for fireworks after a day of picnics and baseball, my heart swells, and I am a proud American full of enough sentimental patriotism to fill the Statue of Liberty all the way to the tip of its torch. I don’t think I am overstating my response—I can be one gushing citizen.
My family has observed the Fourth of July in memorable ways. We have seen fireworks above the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg. We have seen them over the Washington Monument with…and I’m not kidding…Robert Goulet singing the National Anthem on the Capital lawn. On July 4, 2002, we went to a Yankee’s game in New York, and when the massive crowd stood to sing the National Anthem, I wept. Despite all of these historic and picturesque settings for celebrating Independence Day, one of my favorite memories is when we hosted a large family gathering right here at home.
My in-laws took us up on an invitation to spend the July 4th weekend here even though it meant traveling eight or nine hours. For several days, more than twenty of them were guests in our house along with a Brazilian cousin. Because my father-in-law was from Brazil and the only family member to immigrate to the US, we have a large collection of in-laws in Brazil. During the summer of the big shindig, one of them, Luciana, was working as an intern at a hospital in Philadelphia, and she joined us for the weekend.
Luciana had learned about America’s Independence Day from colleagues at the hospital, but this would be her first chance to observe it in person. Of course she knew about fireworks, but she wasn’t accustomed to our way of viewing them. And why should she have been—we had developed a custom that appeared to some as, well…macabre. Our neighborhood borders a cemetery with a hilltop view of the valley. On a clear night, you can sit up there and see fireworks from Tuscora Park without the crowds and parking mess, and we had been joining neighbors on that hill with blankets and popcorn and flashlights for several years. It isn’t the Capital lawn or Manhattan, but it’s home.
At first, our foreign guest thought we had managed to combine the festivities with mourning the dead in some kind of odd ceremony that meant you had to climb the hill to the eerie graveyard, spread your blankets out respectfully between the grave stones, and sit in the dark watching fireworks miles away. But when we explained how our neighborhood custom was something done by just a few families, and the rest of the town was actually at the park, she understood.
While I am proud enough just watching fireworks on the Fourth, I found that sharing the experience with someone from a different country, one that celebrates its own independence from empirical rule, made my patriotism seem just a little bit more meaningful, that much more personal, and a deeper source of pride.
This year we’ll watch the fireworks from a pontoon boat on Atwood Lake, and while I won’t have any international guests on board, I intend to celebrate the “Blessings of Liberty” and relish every spark in the sky.