RED, WHITE AND A LITTLE BLUE
The bunting is draped on porch railings and Old Glory flutters from every Victorian-style lamppost along Colorado Avenue. One of my favorite celebrations is right around the corner, and even though I have to work, the festive air that imbues Telluride for the Fourth of July is impossible to resist.
It’s a feast for the senses and an apple pie slice of small-town wholesomeness. The aroma of the fireman’s barbeque smoking away in Town Park has had our mouths watering for days and the clopping of horse hooves on the street is a throwback to Telluride’s mining past. The firemen dole out chilled slabs of watermelon, cold cans of American-made cheap beer, heaping platefuls of delectable chicken and sliced beef and all the summery sides, and the kids games are those we’ve been playing since we were young and spry enough to hop across a field in a burlap bag. At night, a stunning display of explosive Chinese ingenuity will light up the night sky, the reports echoing across the canyon. Post-fireworks, a miles-long river of taillights streams from the valley. I imagine exhausted kids sacked out in backseats and the sound of ice water sloshing in coolers around every bend in the mountain roads between here and wherever home is.
The Fourth of July is one of my favorite celebrations. Reasons to take joy are numerous: the vision and passion of our Founding Fathers; the childlike delight I take in the summer season; the plein air painters that pop up like wildflowers everywhere you look; sparklers (it’s silly how much I love them); the freedom to peaceably assemble; our local veterans who head up the parade; the pride and unity we display on this star-spangled day.
I wish that unity would remain year-round. I always find myself clinging to our one day of bedazzled wonder at the magnificence of this country, warts and all. Even as tears of gratitude pour down my face as our veterans march down Colorado Avenue, I lament that their numbers grow, rather than diminish. It speaks to our never-ending wars. Of late, the horrific conditions endured by asylum-seekers fleeing violence, drug cartels and corrupt governments, are inescapable. The selling off of our public lands for mining, gas and oil exploration, and the rolling back of the protections of our air and water make me wonder — for the umpteenth time — what kind of world we are leaving for ensuing generations. Why do we not resist the power of the gun lobby as our children fear for their lives in schools? How is it that people avoid medical treatment because they can’t afford it? Where, I wonder, is the kindness?
Because that’s what it comes down to. Kindness. We have become America the unkind. The uncharitable. The intolerant. Imagine that, a nation of immigrants intolerant of immigrants. Consider this passage about immigration in the years 1851-1900 from the Library of Congress website: “Social tensions were also part of the immigrant experience. Often stereotyped and discriminated against, many immigrants suffered verbal and physical abuse because they were ‘different.’ While large-scale immigration created many social tensions, it also produced a new vitality in the cities and states in which the immigrants settled. The newcomers helped transform American society and culture, demonstrating that diversity, as well as unity, is a source of national strength.”
That’s what I long for in this country — diversity and unity as a source of national strength. We all came from distant shores, save for the indigenous people of this country. I know my ancestors wept with gratitude when they landed in New York all those generations ago. We weren’t documented. We just got off the boat and went to work.
There’s still work to do. As a unified nation, we can solve the problems that face us. We can confront hate with love, violence with peace. Call me what ever you want, but I call myself a patriot. This is a country of unimaginable possibility even though it gives me the blues. But I won’t give up on it.
Happy Fourth to you all.
FIREWORKS, FEAR AND THE FOURTH OF JULY
For many, the Fourth of July means fireworks. Since the birth of America, pyrotechnics have been used to celebrate freedom and victory over the oppressive British forces.
Founding father John Adams wanted it that way.
“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival,” he wrote in a July 3, 1776, letter to Abigail Adams. “It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
We Americans always did like a party, and that’s exactly what the Fourth of July is. Growing up in rural western Pennsylvania, my extended family would hit up as many local firework shows as possible after boozing and barbecuing all day. As a young child, fireworks fascinated me, until I was almost blown to pieces — at least that’s what I thought was happening at the time.
I couldn’t have been more than 6 years old when, during one such show at Renziehausen Park, several embers fell onto our blanket, causing a commotion of stop-drop-and-roll antics that resulted in me being wrapped up in the blanket, mid-show, believing I was trapped and burning alive. My aunt’s boyfriend, Kip, was the hero who threw my sister and I out of the way and decided to make a burrito out of me. We cried until my parents were so embarrassed they had to take us home.
My aunt and Kip didn’t last much longer, but my phobia of fireworks persisted. Fourth of July became a holiday I dreaded. Neighbors would launch professional-grade fireworks as I cowered in my basement, thinking it was the safest place in the house to withstand the bombardment. When I was 8, we took a trip to Florida’s Disney World. What a magical place, until the nightly fireworks at Epcot sent me running for my life. Even now, decades later, my parents still like to tell the story of how I suddenly disappeared from their side and hid behind a Viking ship in the Scandinavian section of the park. Again, I embarrassed them in public so bad that we left.
We regularly skipped Fourth of July parties due to my cowardice during those dark years. I can’t recall exactly when I got over my fireworks fear, but it had to be around the time my neighbor Mikey scored some M-100s from his older brother Matt. We ran into the woods and blew up small logs and anthills. After that, I was a full-blown pyro. Fireworks, outside of sparklers and smoke bombs, are illegal in Pennsylvania, so everyone skipped the state line to Ohio, where you could buy any firework known to man. Mortar shells. Bottle rockets. Roman candles. Firecrackers. Cherry bombs. At least Ohio is good for something. During my teenage years, my dad and I would make the annual trip West and spend several hundred dollars on these combustible items. Our street became the place to be on the Fourth of July since we always had the best fireworks. There’s a certain satisfaction in lighting the fuse of a Skyrocket and watching it explode in a multi-colored cascade in the night sky. Yeah, burgers, beer and bottle rockets, baby.
Thinking about it now, those good times seem so simple, yet that was our way of celebrating America’s independence. But even today, there’s still a small part of me that shudders whenever the fireworks start at dusk.