You Don’t Have to Know Your History to Celebrate July Fourth -but it’s interesting

Flag Fireworks

Sparklers are typically the “gateway drug” to children’s fascination with fireworks. Diamond Sparklers in Ohio is the sole manufacturer of sparklers remaining in the United States. Every year we celebrate our nation’s birthday with both public and private fireworks celebrations that feature displays that primarily are manufactured in China.

When I was in elementary school I recall that often our lessen plans followed the calendar, which meant that we annually learned about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln around their birthdays, near Valentine’s day. The classroom bulletin boards would reflect this trifecta with profiles of the presidents stapled to white doilies onto the corrugated paper and surrounded by hearts. To an inattentive student like me this left me with the idea that George Washington (despite chopping down the cherry tree) maybe had a big heart and maybe Abe Lincoln (though honest) appearing pretty dour was a great lover?

My point being, we were not in school over July 4th and therefore Independence Day was never part of the school curriculum. Sure, I grew up knowing it was our nation’s birthday and fondly recall the Bicentennial in 1976. The Bicentennial coincided with a presidential election and the summer Olympiad. Everything from pancake mix to ketchup bottles were emblazoned with some sort of Red White and Blue label or commemorative design. Commercialism being as patriotic as a John Philip Sousa march!

The thing about being a kid is that time is a difficult concept. By the time I got out of elementary school, if you had asked me for a history of the United States, I may have told you that the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Rock, George Washington got off and after planting a plantation at Mount Vernon invited some Indians (yep, didn’t start using the term Native American until I was in high school) over for some corn on the cob and turkey with mashed potatoes after the harvest. Everyone loved him, so he became our first president. This is likely no reflection on my teachers, more of my own mind that tended to wander and as noted earlier a lack of concept of time.

If any others have this warped sense of history, let me share with you that the Mayflower set sail in September of 1620, it was the autumn of 1621 that is denoted as the origin of Thanksgiving to celebrate the first  harvest. George Washington’s great grandfather was not born until ten years later and it was 1656 before he crossed the ocean and settled in Colonial Virginia, he had a son Lawrence, who had a son Augustine who sired George. This makes George third generation living in what would be known as the United States of America, on my mother’s side I myself am just second generation, my grandfather having arrived from Ireland ninety years ago this year. My daughter is currently deciphering a small leather bound calendar he carried as a journal that year. He has noted dancing as a popular activity and when he wrote letters to a particular young lady (not my grandmother) a family he dined with regularly and then hopeful thoughts that another young lady would be at dancing (my eventual grandmother). Not much of his crossing is documented and one gap is explained with his good fortune at having found his diary along the roadside. Police raids and other notations remind us that teenagers around the world aren’t always doing what they are supposed to be up to. So my own maternal side of the family arrived over 300 years after the Mayflower and more than 250 years after Washington’s descendants. To a child, that seems like around perhaps dinosaurs and Moses era which were close, right?

So July Fourth, a time for social gatherings, boating, picnics, parades and mattress sales commemorates what? Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in June of 1776. July 2nd of that year Congress voted to declare our independence. It was not signed until August 2nd of that year. It was delivered to Great Britain in November of 1776. You may have noticed that none of these events occurred on the fourth day of the seventh month. Well politicians then, much like now, did not always agree on everything. As the result, it took a couple of days for the Continental Congress to approve the final wording. July 4th commemorates the day that the changes and edits were finally approved.

You may be imagining that this led immediately to annual celebrations, backyard badminton and pool parties. It wasn’t until 1870 that July 4th was commemorated as a National Holiday. You also might be thinking that George Washington was president when all of this occurred. George Washington was not elected president until February 4th of 1789. He was twice unanimously elected by the electoral college to serve four years. If you wonder what his wife Martha wore to the inauguration that took place in New York, you might be surprised to know she did not attend but stayed home to manage Mount Vernon. George was reluctant to accept this newly created position because of how the young nation was divided among partisan lines. A lot has changed, yet much remains the same.

Whether you fly the flag, light fireworks or simply take the day to relax, it’s important to remember that since its inception this country has been a nation of people that come from different places, different belief systems and differing opinions. Yet we all can contribute and it’s a relatively safe place to share ones opinion, even when you don’t agree with your neighbor or perhaps the actions of your government. When hosting an immigrant family for Thanksgiving a number of years ago, the father commented how much he enjoyed our table conversation, as even in a private home gathering with family in his homeland, one could not speak freely for fear of government retribution. He makes his home here now with his wife and son and when his parents come to visit their government holds all of their assets as an assurance they will return. A former employee who went through the naturalization process after graduating from college and whose parents remain as college professors in his native land told me “Despite other countries criticism of the United States, most parents around the world wish that their children could live here.”.

I heard a young man the other day comment “I’m an American but I’m not proud of it.” and I thought about all of the people who had made sacrifices, simply so he could say that. I thought about what might result if he were to publicly utter such a thought in another country. While no place on earth will ever be perfect, the vision of those who took a risk and came and the others who shouldered the work of trying to lay out a plan for how to incorporate and tolerate the desires of such a wide array of opinions is something worth celebrating.

So raise a Coke or grab a beer and celebrate our nations birthday! Make a new tradition with family and friends. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the United States remains in the growing pains of a young country. A tradition for many is a pound cake and Cool Whip  cake decorated with blueberries and strawberries to look like an American Flag. To the young, that’s ALWAYS been a part of July 4th. You can wait until July 5th to let them know that Cool Whip was not invented until 1966. Why spoil a good party?

Cousins July 4th

childhood, Uncategorized

The Letters

Recently I came upon some letters while looking for the right sized box to mail a package to my son at college in. The letters were not written to me, most of them were addressed to my mother. Quite a few of them were “Aerogrammes” received from Ireland in the early ’70s after my grandparents had suddenly passed away within hours of each other. There are also some from South Africa where her cousin has lived for most of his life. I must have tucked it in the basement cabinet after my mother died, with the intention of looking at them “some day”. My mother passed when my eldest was in her first week of middle-school and my senior in college was still an elementary student. “Some day” ended up being last week.

The box not only contained letters to my mother from friends, there was a copy of my father’s autopsy and a thank you letter regarding him being an organ and tissue donor. There was a letter on camp Ihduhapi letterhead postmarked from the summer of ’43 that my father had written to his parents. A letter that pretty much was a template for “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh. Here I am at Camp Granada.”  a song that was not released until twenty years later. There was a very formal letter from my grandfather, clearly in grief over the death of his own father that thanked my mother for her kind words to him in a previous letter. There was also a telegram telling her that her grandmother had passed and instructing her to share the news with family. I discovered a war bond book with carefully placed stamps from my mother’s youth.

The biggest gem in the box was physically the smallest. A tiny leather bound journal, a calendar from 1924, with space for a couple of lines to be recorded each day. A Belfast Ireland address is in the front cover, and also a Minneapolis address. I passed the treasure along to my daughter, who intends to write out the contents of it. It appears to chronicle the year my Grandfather immigrated, with details of dancing and “police raids” and a notation that reads “lost this book for a while – Found on road”. My grandfather lived in over thirty homes in his less than 70-year lifespan. How this small book survived the multiple moves around the US and back and forth across the ocean is somewhat miraculous.

Taking the time to look at these items caused me to do some reflection. How will a great grand-child “know” their deceased family members from this era some day, down the road? So little it actually recorded in a manner that will be preserved. Social media has taken on the role of a journal to document the highlights of life and Tweets, posts, text messages and rare emails are the efficient method of sharing our thoughts with others.

I feel like there is something different and introspective that occurs when a person takes the time to write a letter or compose a journal entry. There is a sense of permanence and thoughtfulness that is used when choosing the words or attempting to convey a sentiment. A person is required to stop, think and actually feel the emotions that a situation, event or person evokes in them. Without that catalyst, are people unintentionally less thoughtful as the result of those muscles not being flexed?

In my garage is a box that contains correspondence from friends and letters written on graph paper by my brother, that closed with stick figure drawings and “fill in the blank” lines for me to solve with a phrase reminiscent of our childhood. There are also letters from my husband chronicling our seven-month courtship. Reading them takes me back to that time where it seemed positively illogical that we get married but also captured the struggle it was for us to be apart. Receiving mail once meant more than bills and advertisements and the occasional greeting card.

I’m thankful for this box of insights from the past and I also appreciate that my children learned to read and write cursive. If the letters I have written and received last another generation or two, I wonder if they will simply look like scraps of paper with scribbles on them or if anyone will be able to decipher the messages we had taken the time to share.


Let Us Be Civil as We Disagree

Getting Along

I am politically, as I am socially. I am fiscally conservative and more liberal regarding social issues. This means I will host a party where I allow my Catholic and Protestant friends to mingle among my atheist and agnostic acquaintances but choose to prepare the food myself and not use a caterer. I’ll buy the beer in cases because it’s cheaper per ounce than 12-paks and stock the bathroom with toilet paper that came in a bale and not a convenient (but costly) 4-pack. It also means my initial preference for President of the United States has been out of the running quite awhile now.

When I say I’m conservative, I am not saying that I am a supporter of the KKK. Which is a current inaccurate notion that frustrated people are sharing. I did however spend a year in a town where the Klan met Tuesday nights out at the levee. It was during that time that I was labeled a “black sympathizer” by some people who had apparently never seen a white woman treat black men and women in the same way as folks she looked like. I had simply always judged people based upon their actions and behavior (things they had control over) and not an arbitrary feature like pigment, shade of hair or eye color. A number of white people in the community did not share my open minded approach to life. I chose my friends wisely that year and no, they did not all look like me.

I raised my children with the belief that they would be better equipped to make choices about how to spend the money they earned than someone else (even their elected officials) could.  We talked about infrastructure, roads, bridges, electricity and plumbing. We would  discuss education and amenities; schools, libraries and parks. Investments that were shared by all, that benefit the population as a whole. I relayed the need for politicians to be good stewards and choose wisely in how funds should be allocated and invested. I also acknowledged the generosity of the wealthiest among us when taking advantage of local theater, museums and galleries. I would point out the names of donors; individuals, families and corporations who chose to contribute financial support or family collections to allow access to all. I reminded my children that those donations went further not going through political channels.

One does not have to be wealthy to support what they believe in. This may be the greatest lessen to come out of the Bernie Sanders campaign. He amassed his funding through the small contributions of a great number of supporters. That’s an excellent example of the power of the individual. At age ten my son grew his hair for an entire year to raise money for St. Baldrick’s (a Cancer research organization that shaves heads in public places to raise funds) and also donated to Locks of Love (which accepts human hair and creates wigs for Cancer patients). He’d witnessed the loss of a family member to Cancer and chose to raise money and awareness as a tribute. Knowing his Godmother had needed multiple blood transfusions (after complications related to childbirth) he chose to run his schools blood drives throughout high school. His sister opts to support wildlife and animal causes that appeal to her. Being fiscally conservative is often mislabeled as lacking compassion. That is not the case at all, it means actually investing of your time and money in the areas that you are passionate about. These are issues many parents simply ignore when raising their children, things they don’t want to take the time for or think about. Topics they would prefer to simply have their government handle.

While I recognize that as taxpayers we don’t get to pick and choose what programs to opt out of due to our personal opinions, I do prefer making my own choices whenever possible. I stood on my deck one summer night with a very liberal Democrat who was telling me how compassionate he and his fellow liberal friends were. After listening to his opinion, I asked him “where are they?”. He was taken aback a little and then began naming neighboring cities and suburbs and then I stopped him. This man was a veteran, his family was from Puerto Rico, he’d lived in New York after his father died during the Vietnam War. He had given up his apartment when he anticipated being deployed with his Reserve unit, which then did not occur. Realistically, he was homeless and unemployed. We had been housing and feeding him for six months while he looked for work. My real question wasn’t about the address of any of his liberal friends but more literally “If your liberal friends are so compassionate, why are you staying with us?”. They didn’t want to help him, they wanted to have a program help him, let the government take care of it. That’s like buying a machine to pet your dog. It was an experience that my children weren’t taught at Sunday school, didn’t read about in a book or discuss in class, they simply lived it.

I had caught the evening news last night regarding Ted Cruz dropping out of the presidential race after Trump’s victory in the Indiana primary. I was interested in seeing what social media might look like this morning and the diverse opinions did not disappoint. This entire election cycle has been unlike any in my recollection and again today I see the threats to move to Canada, by the same people who made that empty promise when GWB  was elected. That may seem harsh, as it may be they did not qualify due to lack of language, employable skills or family sponsors. It may be that they simply don’t understand that the United States is not the only country that wishes to guard their borders and have policies in place designed to protect their citizens. These laws are not designed to be mean or punitive, they are established criteria to help ensure safety and well being of all, a bureaucratic necessity. Typically these are the same people that don’t realize that Americans with the desire to move to Mexico have to provide similar proof of employment and ability to be a contributing member of society if selected for admission.

The banter will go on until the November election and regardless of the outcome will continue for years beyond that. It looks like the candidates will likely be a non-politician businessman vs. a candidate whose own party identified eight years ago why she was not worthy of the candidacy. I have lived half of my adult life with someone in the Oval Office who was not of my choosing. I have survived.  On some occasions I have felt the impact of poor leadership more than others. Yet, this is my country and I choose to remain. I think this election cycle we have seen greater disrespect from our news media, from the political leadership, even from the candidates. We have a process, the people are participating and as we have done for a couple of hundred years, we will choose a new POTUS.

I believe what we have witnessed during this last year is the American People saying that we desperately need a change from what we have had. Though I will acknowledge that there are some among my circle of friends who have relished in the workings of the government these past seven years. Most of them not experiencing the un(der)employment status I have endured during the last forty months. Many more among my friends valuing the symbolism of our current president but owning their disappointment in his meeting of their expectations.  What has surprised me is those I know who have supported  Bernie but  have never spoken with someone from a Socialist country.  They tell me “not that kind of Socialism”. As the result of having opened our home for Thanksgiving one year to a family that was raised under a Socialist regime, I know they appreciated the ability to have a discussion over dessert about politics that they were unable to have in their home country (due to the possibility of family turning on family under fear of their government). If they wanted to live under Socialism, they would not have made sacrifices to leave their country of origin for the freedom of the US. I wish more Americans would take the initiative to engage with people who can share this sort of firsthand insight, instead of simply relying on their computer screen and television to gain information.

I was reminded in a posting today regarding the opinions of individuals around the world (regarding our candidates) that all eyes are on us. Internationally people have opinions about our politics and often it is because of the financial support we offer, military security we provide and humanitarian involvements we have. While our nation is built on our willingness to be tolerant of discourse, I am embarrassed by the increasing level of violence by protestors who are apparently too inarticulate to express their opinions peacefully. I’d like to think we are still a country whose majority can’t be swayed to come over to the views of the violent out of fear of more violence.

There has been a lot of commentary during the primaries over the “educated” choices and insights from political “experts”. Their predictions have been mostly inaccurate. If you are a citizen over the age of 18 in this country you can vote. Period. The vote of a person with a Doctorate carries no more weight than that of a drop-out. The Most Likely to Succeed from your graduating class has a vote equal to the one of your class bully. Your religion, skin color or how long you have been a citizen do not impact the strength of your vote. So callous commentary about any voter isn’t particularly valid because the neighbor who you love and agree with on everything, has a vote worth exactly the same as the KKK member who you despise has. Tolerance is not about acceptance of people who you approve of, it is actually a lot more about accepting those who are nothing like you; those who you oppose, the people you don’t understand and ultimately the ones you can’t stand.

We are a country where our neighbors can put a sign in their yard stating their political views, put a sticker on their car letting others know who they worship, all without concern over their home being torched, their car being bombed or experiencing some other act of reprisal. We share communal meals at block parties without fear we will be poisoned so our neighbors can obtain our land. We don’t all have to agree but it is sure nice when we can all be civil.