Each of us hold memories of the 4th of July from our childhood… or from another time in our lives… or another life… altogether.
It may be a double-header at the “Baseball Palace of the World” aka Comiskey Park at 35th and Shields to see Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard and the mighty Yankees come to town to take on the Go Go Sox with Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Jim Landis, Sherm Lollar and Early Wynn on the hill for the Senor, Al Lopez.
Or maybe it was a fireworks show in a small town as the whole family packed the station wagon and headed on a vacation journey… yes… by car.
I recall one particularly hot 4th of July when the sun of the New York City sky burned down as I gazed on the signature sculpture of the NY World’s Fair, the big silver globe of the world that still gleams today in Flushing Meadows. It was then that I got to see the brand new Shea Stadium, now gone and almost already forgotten, from an elevated train… that, to me was big time excitement.
Or, the countless 4th of July days spent dressed in Native American garb… wearing beads, war paint and feathers… with a loin cloth and all. Dressed as a proud Indian warrior for a fun day… usually, a very hot day… but a fun day none the less at the Annual Pow Wow with my fellow Cub Scouts Pack 3465.
Maybe it was a concert on a summer’s night… in a small town… with the strains of the community band playing a John Philip Sousa march in the best way they possibly could with each note swirling through the warm air with the most patriotic of intentions, despite their pitch or intonation.
Or, maybe the memories might take you to a quiet night at summer camp long ago, where you were sure that all of the other kids hated you and it’s just a matter of time before a bear devours you in your sleep… or, is that only my personal flashback?
Then again… there may have been that one special 4th of July when just the right girl happened to be standing close by at just the right moment and to be cable to remain close to her, you stayed in line for the Ferris Wheel, even if you were petrified of it and all the terror that it could inflict… like drop you… it didn’t matter. Your heart was pounding out of your chest with the anticipation of just sitting next to her.
The memories continue as they bring back the images of a parade down Main Street, or State Street in Chicago for me… marching as tall and proud as one can be in brutal heat while wearing a wool uniform that smelled like the moth balls that your grandmother packed it in after your grandfather wore it… and not very recently! Top off the ensemble with a big fuzzy hat with a feather sticking out of it to make sure that you looked as ridiculous as any high school kid could possibly feel. Sure… that’s how we celebrated Independence Day, and how we celebrate them still.
Maybe it’s a flashback moment of that same parade with a young boy or girl standing at attention holding a salute as the flag of our country passes by… much like the indelible image of little John John saluting as his father John F. Kennedy’s funeral parade went by on a fateful morning in November of 1963.
The countless farmer’s daughters and VFW crooners who stepped up to the microphone to lead us in the singing of our National Anthem… or God Bless America… or America the Beautiful… or… all three. They were, and are the voices of us all. America takes to music and starts to sing when we feel proud. I know the feeling very well… It’s a place that I’ve visited many, many times.
It may be the moment of discovery that launches you into the endless summer days and nights of our youth, knowing that from that moment forward, there would be no barriers of time… the entire world lay ahead of us.
Those were the simplest and sweetest moments that just seemed to happen around this wonderful time of the year.
Remembering the phrase that my Dad spoke as the family car drove past a cornfield on the way to the lake… or the cabin, “You know what they say about corn, don’t ya?” “No, what? you’d say, playing along… knowing well that you were going to be told again, no matter what your response was… “Corn oughta be knee high by the 4th of July.” That didn’t sound too impressive to me… heck, I was only 3 foot 6 inches tall at the time, so… knee high corn didn’t seem like such a big deal… No matter what THEY said… no matter who THEY were.
I recall the grandest of spectacles at the old Petrillo Band Shell on the lakefront in Chicago as the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra emoted the passion of Tchaikovsky with the cannons booming away as the “1812 Overture” worked its way to a climactic and thunderous conclusion. My love for classical and symphonic music was born on just such nights.
Then, we suddenly have the sobering thought of being reminded of a man or woman in uniform of our nation in a peaceful moment of reflection occurring in a far away place, where there was no 4th of July music playing, no children laughing and just one lone soldier sitting quietly clutching a weapon in their arms… standing watch at the ready to protect these precious freedoms, the sweetness of which they could not personally taste at that particular moment.
The 4th of July is so much more than just a day off from work, it is a time to recognize that at one point in history in this glorious land of ours, during its formative years, there weren’t any laws and rights and privileges that went with them. There were no United States… just a few towns and villages and far fewer cities to go with a lot of yet unexplored open space.
Our founding fathers created the stories of courage and conviction that fill our history books through their struggles and hardships, sacrifices and determination. They are the ones to be remembered for things like courage in the defense of the truth… or the freedom to believe whatever it is that you perceive to be true and the right to express that belief.
We know them by name… Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, Hancock and Adams… but do we know what they did? Do we know what they said to help shape this magnificent land of opportunity in which we now enjoy the fruits of their labor? If not for these men of courage and character, not a single entry would ever have been placed in our own 4th of July scrapbooks.
Summer nights, holding hands with whomever we wish. Strolls along the beach without fear of enemy attack. Worshipping freely with a prayer of thanksgiving for all of the abundances in our lives. We have the founding fathers of this country during its infancy to thank for all of it.
Yes, the 4th of July signifies many things to many people…
What it means to you… is pretty much up to you. What it is not… is just another day between the 3rd and 5th of July.
Happy 239th Birthday, you old Republic you.
And just like the Stars and Stripes of Old Glory waiving in the summer breeze… We all should pray that she long may… our regal Star Spangled Banner… O’er the land of the free… and the home of the brave!
God Bless America. Happy 4th of July!