“What do you remember about the 4th of July when you were growing up?” I asked my son when he called recently from Nebraska looking for a Hawaiian barbeque recipe that didn’t contain red meat or pork. With some hesitation he replied “I don’t remember much – just fireworks and maybe a barbeque in the backyard?” And then he said “Oh yeah. Sometimes we watched the musical “1776”!” We did indeed watch the musical, safely at home.
Big 4th of July celebrations were not a ‘thing’ when I was growing up. We stayed close to home in Antioch and watched the fireworks fired off at the county fairgrounds from our second floor porch. We’d eat popcorn popped fresh in the old hammered aluminum Dutch oven on the kitchen stove, spitting out the ‘old maids’ on to the lawn below. Sometimes my older sister Karen would come over with her two kids and we’d “ooh and aww” together. The 4th of July was family time.
Because of my husband’s career in the Air Force, we lived in Japan, Germany, Korea, and New Jersey (which is kind of like a foreign country) before returning to the Bay Area. Over the years, our family has seen many kinds of fireworks. Most were spectacular public displays high in the sky and some were small ones we set off in the neighborhood. The latter were mostly exciting and certainly not “safe and sane”.
The most memorable fireworks occurred just a few years ago after a flight home to SFO from visiting our son in Florida. As we approached the Bay Bridge going east, traffic around us slowed, moved to the left lane, and then stopped. People leapt from their cars and ran to the railing overlooking the Embarcadero. We heard what sounded like canons being fired and realized we were right in the middle of the fireworks. We watched the pyrotechnics and cheered with a hundred strangers! As the last boom faded away, everyone sprinted back to their cars and took off into the night.
After talking to my son, I got to wondering what other people thought the meaning of the 4th of July was so I asked my Facebook friends. They answered with words like freedom, independence, fireworks, celebration, hot weather, BBQ picnics, family gatherings, and watermelon. My friend Tim said the song, “Ragged Old Flag” by Johnny Cash explained the holiday to him. I pulled the lyrics up on the computer. It’s a great song.
While I was on the computer I asked the internet what it thought the meaning of ‘The 4th of July’ was. The first sites declared simply that it was a day to commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Other sites furthered my education by explaining that the Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies were a new nation and were no longer part of the British Empire. Nice facts, but what does it mean? Why should we celebrate the 4th of July?
Then I found an essay written by the crooner Pat Boone in 2010. He wrote: “…the signers of that document, composed by Thomas Jefferson, knew that this declaration of independence from the dictatorial rule of Great Britain might also be — literally — their death sentence.”
The colonists knew that a war with the more powerful British would result, “yet they put their signatures, and their lives, their families, their destiny, on that parchment.” In 1788 the new Constitution was ratified. In his essay, Pat Boone continued:
“But between those two celebrations, in 1776 and 1788, there was much horrible fighting, rivers of bloodshed, the deaths and bankruptcies of many of the signers of the Declaration, families torn apart and businesses and farms destroyed. The freedoms declared by the Declaration — and ushered into fact by the Constitution — were secured at a terrible cost.”
“And so, against all odds, and even against reason, that Declaration told the world that “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states.”
The colonists had been so oppressed by the British government that war and its consequences were preferable to the status quo. Mr. Boon exclaimed that “They wanted to be free, to make their own decisions, to govern themselves and breathe the sweet air of liberty.”
Asked what valuable lesson she learned from her father, my middle daughter once replied “Life is all about maintenance. Everything you do, everything you have, everything and all of your relationships require maintenance. Otherwise they fall apart.” That goes with our nation too.
We can’t take it for granted that it will be there when we need it. We need to nurture it and protect it. We, you and me, are what make the United States of America what it is. And because of the foresight of our forefathers, we can adapt as we go along. Don’t like the way things are going? Change it. Vote intelligently. Serve in public office. Support public agencies. Attend public meetings. Keep informed about current affairs. Help teach our children to be good citizens.
My husband Jeff and I recently returned from an incredible journey around the Mediterranean. We started in Barcelona and ended in Athens, seeing and doing things we only ever dreamed of before. We lived through 6,000 years of history in two weeks. We walked on the very ground where democracy was born and where freedom and liberty are highly valued.
Every country we visited was working on their version of participatory government. We watched a protest in Athens over the possible usurpation of the Macedonia name. We felt the pride of the citizens of Montenegro, a country who has only been independent since 2006. We saw the Catalonian flag waving bravely all over the city of Barcelona. Everywhere, people wanted to be free, to make their own decisions, to govern themselves and live with liberty.
My son reminded me about the musical, “1776”, that we often watched with our kids on the 4th of July. The story is based on events around the signing of the Declaration of Independence. John Adams, forefather and second president persuades his colleagues to vote for American independence (on July 2). After Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail:
“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”
So with John’s approval, go out today and celebrate our hard won freedom and liberty with barbeque, picnics, watermelon, family gatherings, and of course, a good old fashioned parade. (Which is happening this morning at 10am on Main Street!) Then enjoy the spectacular fireworks at the Marina tonight.
Oh – Why did my son want a recipe that didn’t involve red meat and pork? Because he is celebrating Independence Day with his friends who are Catholic, protestant, Muslim, vegetarian, Buddhist, vegan, or on a diet. Only in America!