July 4th happened several days ago. Apart from its historical meaning and significance, the 4th also seems like a quintessential American summer day, an affirmation of life in the middle of summer’s informal beginning (Memorial Day) and end (Labor Day).
Childhood 4ths during the 1960s shine in my memory as loud and hot. Our hometown had an annual fireworks display at the high school football field, but my childhood home sits close to the high school--a five or so minute brisk walk--and we could watch the local fireworks from our front yard: oo, ah! Being hot outdoors or indoors was little difference, since we didn’t have AC, just a fan in the back door and every window open. One year we set up lawn chairs on the front yard and watched the display.
My friends, cousins, and I liked to set off fire crackers. I’m surprised we still have all our digits, although we did try to be careful. One summer we blew a half-dollar-sized hole in my parents’ picnic table with an M-80 fire cracker. M-80s, cherry bombs, Roman candles, bottle rockets, and sparklers were among our favorites.
Store-bought fireworks reminds me of a neighborhood picnic in the 1990s. We enjoyed the gathering until a neighbor set off bottle rockets. I was barefoot and our daughter, who was the youngest child there, became scared---the rockets were flying very wildly, after all--so we went home early.
Like Christmas, July 4th has a “true meaning” that we might neglect. Even when I was little, however, I wanted to fly the flag outside our home. Two of the most meaningful 4ths for my family and I occurred when we visited naturalization ceremonies. In 1985 or 1986, Beth and I attended the ceremony at Monticello. I think we both cried; what a wonderful setting for this amazing occasion in the lives of these new Americans. I forget which year in the early 00s, Beth, Emily, and I visited Put-in-Bay, Ohio on the 4th and witnessed the naturalization ceremony at the War of 1812 memorial there.
The bicentennial 4th was of a different class of all the other 4ths because it was a once-in-a-lifetime observance. I was 19; that day, I cheerfully watched the televised coverage of national events, innocently recorded the coverage on my old reel-to-reel (and never listened to them again), and participated in local festivities. July 4th is kind of like World Communion Sunday, in that you know, cognitively, that people are celebrating the Eucharist that day, but you don’t always feel in your heart the convergence of shared sacrament, just as you don’t always gain a sense of shared pride in our country if you’re only attending your own fireworks displays (or blowing up your parents’ picnic table). In 1976, you couldn't miss the commonality of being American citizens!