The first couple of days in July meant one thing when I was a kid.
Dad spent evenings after work mowing the yard and setting up sawhorses with long boards for makeshift tables under the shade of our small apple orchard.
The stars and stripes were hoisted in our front yard. Mom cleaned the house furiously and labored for hours in the kitchen preparing food including our favorite picnic staples. I could barely contain my excitement. Independence Day was almost here.
The fourth of July was always the third exciting event of my childhood summers promising a fun-filled day as my parents hosted a picnic celebration at our house each year. Cars started arriving in the morning loaded with friends and relatives and food, food, and more food. Our front yard and the berm of our country road resembled a parking lot.
Everywhere you looked there were people. The older set would rest in lawn chairs under the shade of the apple trees, fanning themselves and reminiscing about days gone by. In the field on one side of our house, younger folks engaged in a lively softball game.
In another area of the yard, some of us kids would play badminton or Jarts. My dad and the middle aged men held long-running horseshoe competitions. The steady clink of metal horseshoes denoting ringer after ringer resounded through the humid air.
People were strewn here and there in lawn chairs and blankets representing the spectrum of humanity, from sleeping babies to younger children, teens to 20 and 30-somethings, middle-agers to the older generation.
Generations gathered all together, in one place, to celebrate life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with good food, good fun and good people. As evening drew nigh and dusk started to fall, everyone gathered up their belongings, jumped into their cars and headed off to watch fireworks, capping off a day well-spent.
Those days of yesteryear continue to be some of my fondest childhood summer memories. Eventually, the picnics stopped as the older relatives passed away, times changed, and families became spread out. After my husband and I married and had our own family, I sometimes felt so nostalgic for those huge celebrations and somehow negligent for not providing those opportunities for our own children.
But we lived far away from our families, in the middle of neighborhoods of mostly strangers and our 4th of July celebrations seemed meager. We attempted to make the holiday exciting with picnic food, sparklers and always watching nearby fireworks displays, where we oohed and ahhed, but for me it just didn’t compare to my childhood memories.
The closest taste of a huge 4th of July fest our children savored were neighborhood celebrations held in our suburban neighborhood when we lived in the Pacific Northwest. A few neighbors planned an Independence Day block party one year and a neighborhood tradition was born. Throughout our subdivision, houses were decked out in patriotic decorations, people adorned themselves in red, white and blue, and flags waved happily in the breeze.
Festivities commenced with a neighborhood parade including kids on bikes, in wagons and strollers, a few mini floats and our neighborhood resident policeman driving the “DARE” police car through our streets. Enthusiasm to decorate bikes with red, white and blue streamers and mini flags and decide what kind of patriotic outfit to wear ran high at our house. Our kids couldn’t wait for the gigantic party to begin.
Games for people of all ages from egg toss to races, prizes, face-painting, craft-making, music and a huge picnic added up to one rousing day of celebration. When darkness descended, we enjoyed our own neighborhood fireworks.
One year the display was set off in our cul-de-sac (after we all soaked our wood shake shingled roofs down with water) and we lounged on our front lawn watching them and drinking root beer floats - a day to remember for certain.
And isn’t that what the 4th of July should be? A day to remember the birth of our nation. To remember that there is no nation on earth like ours, and our forefathers fought diligently for us to become a free nation unlike any other. To remember that thousands of our fellow Americans sacrificed their lives for our many freedoms, even one as trivial as the freedom to close off our streets to traffic and hold a block party.
Today is a day to pause during the celebrations, place one hand over your heart, and salute the American flag and the nation it stands for. To pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
In my Opportunity book, Chapter 7, Page 4, I will remind myself of this pledge as I see Old Glory wave over our land from houses, buildings, parks and streets.
As I witness another day of celebration and another evening of fireworks bursting through the night sky, I will give thanks that I am an American, living in the land of the free and home of the brave. May God bless America, land that I love!
“Where liberty is, there is my country.” ~ Benjamin Franklin