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Happy 4th of July

Screen Shot 2018-07-04 at 6.40.02 AMTo celebrate our independence we wear red, white and blue, gather with friends and family for backyard picnics, light firecrackers, and watch community fireworks shows. Is this the way our country’s birthday has always been celebrated? Why do we shoot fireworks? Who decided hot dogs are eaten at picnics?

While researching, I discovered that maybe we should be celebrating two days earlier since on July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted for independence and declared the legal separation of the thirteen colonies from Great Britain. It took two more days of debate for the delegates to agree upon the Declaration of Independence and have paper copies printed to distribute to states for ratification. Because those papers were dated July 4, 1776, the date was adopted as our country’s beginning.

Historians claim that only two people signed on the 4th: Secretary Charles Thompson and John Hancock, who was the president of Congress. About a month later, August 2, all fifty-six congressional delegates had signed their names on the document.

One of our founding fathers, John Adams, wrote, “The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.” He was right that we Americans continue to commemorate this significant event and we can give him credit for the tradition of fireworks. He wrote that America’s birthday should be honored with “games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.”

The holiday has always been celebrated with loud bangs and fire. On July 4, 1777, the first celebratory fireworks to mark the Declaration of Independence were set off in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Cannons and explosives left over from wars were part of our country’s earliest celebrations. By 1783, fireworks were easily available for public purchase and this year about 14,000 fireworks displays are planned nationwide.

It’s estimated that 150 million hot dogs will be consumed during the 4th of July week. And it’s no surprise that July is National Hot Dog Month. According to urban legend, Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island began on July 4, 1916 when four immigrants challenged each other to a hot dog eating contest to prove their loyalty to America. Whoever ate the most hot dogs was the most patriotic.

But there are no records to prove this contest’s origin. The competition continues and now there are separate events for men and women and the contest is televised.

Like many of you, Husband and I will celebrate in all the traditional ways. I’ll eat only one hot dog and sparklers are my choice for backyard fireworks. And maybe we should all take time to include a reading of the Declaration of Independence as was done during the earliest Independence Day celebrations.

A copy is available at http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/ or listen at https://learcenter.org/event/dramatic-reading-of-the-declaration-of-independence. It’s worth fifteen minutes.

Happy Birthday America!

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Patriotism at Its Best

imagesThe 4th of July.   Our country’s birthday, when Americans are most patriotic. We hold parades and concerts and backyard picnics. We wear red, white, and blue. Eat watermelon. Decorate bicycles with crepe paper streamers. Watch fireworks.

I’ve been right in the middle of such celebrations, but the most patriotic event I’ve ever attended wasn’t to celebrate our country’s birthday. Ten years ago, Son and Daughter-in-Law met Husband and me in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for a long weekend visit. It was mid-July, time for the local rodeo. Since we didn’t have Friday night plans, a real western rodeo seemed like a fun evening.

As we got out of our rental car in the parking lot, we laughed that we weren’t dressed appropriately. White tennis shoes, wrinkled blue jeans, and tee shirts identified us as tourists. Other people wore spit-shined cowboy boots (many with silver spurs), long sleeve western shirts, and jeans with knife-sharp creases. Black, brown, and white cowboy hats with rolled side brims put Husband’s and Son’s caps to shame.

We bought our admission tickets, took a few steps into the arena, and I had one of those frozen-in-place moments. The arena was pristine. The rusty-brown colored ground in the center ring had been smoothed in a circle pattern. And America flags flew from white posts around the ring. It was the beauty of the flags that stopped me.

As we made our way to grandstand seats, cowboys stepped aside and tipped their hats. An usher led us to open bleacher seating and suggested we sit high so we could take in the show at its best. People already seated moved closer together to make room for us and nodded a welcome.

At dusk, floodlights dimmed and everyone stood. Riders on horseback and dressed in military uniforms presented the American and Colorado flags and two others I didn’t recognize. The horses raced around the arena and then stopped dead still in the center.   Old Glory rose above the other flags. All hats were held over hearts.

A traditional rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was sung, and not just by the singer holding the microphone. It seemed that every person standing sang. The red and white stripes waved. I wiped tears of pride.

I knew we were at a real rodeo. What I didn’t know was that the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, which began in 1937, supports the military. Rodeo proceeds support service members and their families in the Pikes Peak Region. Colorado Springs is home to the United States Air Force Academy, U.S. NORAD/NORTHCOM (home to the American and Canadian joint forces), Air Force Space Command, Shriever Air Force Base, Peterson Air Force Base, and Fort Carson. The community is proud of its partnership with the armed forces.

The Facebook page for the Pike’s Peak or Bust Rodeo recognizes the event’s volunteers.

“What makes the rodeo work is the over 300 community and military volunteers who give their time to ensure we provide our community with a great rodeo. More importantly, it assures we can continue our tradition and #1 purpose of giving back to our military and their families. That’s what it’s all about and why we do what we do.”

And no doubt, that’s why a rodeo that we just happened to take in was the most patriotic event I’ve ever attended. It recognized the courage and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.

And, oh yes, the barrel racing and bareback bronc riding were the two most exciting competitions.

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4th of July

 

Bicsearchycle spokes laced with crepe paper streamers.  Red, white, and blue balloons tied to the handlebars.  American flags taped to the back of bicycle seats.  Daughter wore blue shorts, a white t-shirt decorated with stars and stripes, and a red ribbon was tied around her ponytail.  Son put on his red shorts, white socks with blue stripes, and a t –shirt with the words Happy Birthday America written with magic markers across its back.  My children and their bikes were ready for the 4th of July parade!

 

It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it’s been more than 30 years since the neighbors on Flatt Circle threw their annual 4th of July parties.  Small-town style.  They invited many families to celebrate our country’s birthday, and they blocked off their cul-de-sac street.  We neighbors and friends showed up carrying our lawn chairs and funeral home, cardboard fans.

 

What a grand event!  Anyone could enter the parade, but mostly children came decked out to march the two-block parade route.  My children’s bikes were decorated that morning, but it was obvious that some families had planned ahead.  Parents and children wore matching outfits, complete with holiday hats.  Painted signs and red, white, and blue banners were taped to the sides of Radio Flyer wagons in which toddlers rode.  We all waved American flags and patriotic music blasted during the ten-minute parade.

 

Our hosts loaded buffet tables with barbeque, hot dogs, cole slaw, baked beans – perfect for a hot summer day picnic.  Blankets and quilts spread on the ground were the dining tables.  After eating, the children raced their bikes and trikes and skateboards up and down the street while we adults talked and laughed and shared stories we’d told time and time again.  As darkness fell, everyone found a place to watch the fireworks show.  Young children settled in their parents’ laps, and big kids got as close to the fireworks as was allowed.  Bright, sparkling fireworks shot higher than the houses’ rooftops, and then the grand finale – red, white and blue flashes burst toward the sky.

 

When the party ended, we adults gathered chairs and blankets and children, who were too tired to ride their bikes home and begged to be carried.   Friends and neighbors hugged and shook hands and promised to get together more often.  After all, we lived just down the street from each other.

 

Our friends on Flatt Circle certainly knew how to host a party.  A parade and lots of fun and food and fireworks.  But looking back, the best thing about that celebration was that neighbors and friends gathered together.  It reminds me of the cookouts in our backyard when I was child.  Mom called her cousins and sisters who brought bowls of potato salad and fresh green beans and platters of sliced tomatoes.  Dad fired up the charcoal grill and cooked hamburgers. It was a big family social event. We young cousins played tree tag and hide-and-seek and eventually sat with the adults to hear the stories they told time and time again.

 

Let’s celebrate our country’s 238th birthday on July 4th with family and friends. Fireworks aren’t necessary, but there has to be food for any good southern celebration.  And there’s sure to be laughter and more than a few stories told.