One Fourth of July me and Yogi and some others went out to the old clay pits and swam all day. We were juniors in high school. And by our own admission (if no one else’s), we were pretty near grown, independent as all get out and as “cool” as James Dean on steroids. We found some cardboard and slid down the slick banks and exploded into the cold water like seals slipping off an iceberg. We raced each other the complete length of the deepest pit. We rested on the high bank and talked about girls, baseball, life beyond our little village……and girls.
We completely skipped the Independence Day celebration down on the town square. We were too old for that. Besides, we’d been to every one of those things since birth. I kid you not! Parents would wrap three month old babies in red, white and blue blankets and tote them around like patriotic symbols. We’d seen those flags waving from every light pole in town. We had eaten the barbeque and the corn on the cob. We were way too “hip” to bob for apples. Sack races were for little kids. And we certainly had no desire to hear the high school band’s attempt at “The Star Spangled Banner”.
I did have one tinge of regret. It was my Father’s favorite holiday. Oh, he’d eat big at Thanksgiving. And he’d bring home walnuts and oranges for Christmas and stand around while we unwrapped our knife or Red Ryder gloves. But it always seemed more of a day for us than for him.
He’d wake us even earlier than usual on the Fourth, “We’ve got to get ready, boys. Soon as your Mother finishes cooking, we’ll load the car and swing by the ice plant and pick up a couple of cold watermelons.” None of us were so young as to not catch the excitement in his voice.
For a man who liked to eat, the food was just an added attraction on this day. He laughed over the games and the frivolity. He would talk hog prices and weather when prompted. But he sought out the World War II veterans. They were all approaching middle age by then. But they shook hands and patted each other on the back like they knew something that we didn’t. They gathered in groups and talked, and laughed, and grew strangely silent at times.
Dad would round us up when the band marched into sight. We stood at attention, as a family, when the colors were presented. As Daddy straightened that broad back and his hand found his heart with the drummer’s first beat of the “National Anthem” any fool could see they had struck up his all time favorite song!
I knew about Thomas Jefferson and John Adams back then. I could recite the opening lines from “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”. If pressed, I could give a few facts about Bunker Hill and Valley Forge. I was proud to be an American. But, unfortunately, I never read all the way to the bottom of the “Declaration of Independence”. You know, down where it ends with “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
We talk a lot today about athletes and the commitment they make. We place many on pedestals and applaud their every effort. We go to stadiums or tune in on Saturday afternoons to cheer for them. We plan parties and social events around game time. I’m not against any of that. As a matter of fact, I have led the cheers for my favorite players and teams.
But isn’t something out of whack here?
It occurs to me that no athlete in the history of the known world ever made a commitment to any team, group or nation as did the fifty-six signers of the “Declaration of Independence”. The briefest of review of any of the fifty-six will reveal they put their money, time, heart and life where their mouth was! It was way past bold talk because King George was way past vindictive! Our “war for independence” turns out the other way and each would have been swinging from the nearest yardarm, tree or goalpost.
As it was, many of the signers did sacrifice their fortunes, many put their lives in harms way by joining the Continental Army. NOBODY could touch their honor!
Maybe I’ve taken a few Independence Day celebrations lightly because I’ve never paid much of a price to be here. Our house has never been torched by an invading army. My feet have never bleed from marching in the snow. I’ve never shipped overseas to defend the Stars and Stripes.
The Fourth of July is not about barbeque and firecrackers!
It’s amazing how smart your father becomes as the years move on. He never said a word about me finding something more important than celebrating the birth of this nation on that long ago Independence Day. He told me it was my choice. And shucks, I’d been there sixteen years in a row. But it is the one that keeps coming back to me over and over. I’d give a hundred thousand million dollars if I could get that day back.