July 4, 2017, Part 2

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!
— William Wordsworth

Oh dear! It seems as if Christmas were only a few weeks ago, and it’s already July 5 as I write this.
There’s a trunk in my mental attic that’s labeled “July 4” from which I pull out memories: watching a fireworks display with my parents and brother’s family out at the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home east of Knightstown. It culminated in a set piece of the American flag . . . thousands of people picnicking at the American Legion Mall in downtown Indianapolis on July 4, 1976, watching fireworks shot from the top of a bank tower . . . parking on E. Michigan St. where Vicki and her chum, Sheila Riley, lay on the hood of the car . . . fireworks shot from a mountainside near Glenwood Springs, Colorado . . . the sounds of children saying, “Ooh!–Ah!“ . . .
Then there was the night at the lakeside home of Bill’s niece, Lynn when a rocket from her huge hoard went backwards and stuck in and smoked up the siding of an expensive home next door whose owners were in Florida. Lynn’s husband was not pleased to have to call them and explain. After that Lynn was limited to setting off her pyrotechnics out on the frozen lake in wintertime.
My best 4th was when we took our twin grandboys to Washington the summer before their senior year and stayed at a hotel from which we could see the Capitol. That morning we listened to a reading of the Declaration of Independence outside the Archives performed by actors portraying Jefferson, Franklin and others. Afterwards we went inside to view the Declaration and the Constitution.
That evening we sat on the steps of the Capitol to listen to the music and watch the fireworks with the Washington Monument in the background. Lil’ Richard performed even though he was so arthritic that they had to help him to the piano.
The huge mall was crammed with all kinds of people — young, old, people of every color and national origin, people in shorts and business suits, fathers dancing with children on their shoulders, lines of friends dancing together, the crowd singing patriotic songs . . . Oh, it was grand to see thousands and thousands of my fellow Americans coming together, celebrating America and enjoying themselves! I unabashedly love this beautiful country and its people.
These days it’s fashionable to say that the Constitution is outdated and brand those who wrote it as racists and chauvinists. By our standards, they probably were those things. What else would one have expected at that time? Is it fair to judge them ? David McCullough, the author of the fine biography of John Adams, points out that they were different from us because their lives were different.
I think that what they accomplished was very special, indeed. McCullough said that by putting their signatures on the Declaration they were potentially signing their death warrants. I compare the life that they sought for people with that lived under the divine-right kings of England where they were tied to land owned by aristocrats and with France where they even taxed salt to pay for Marie Antoinette’s diamonds worth millions.
Some sneer at patriotism, and quote Samuel Johnson who said that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels. However, his biographer, Boswell, said that he referred to false patriotism, not patriotism in general. Others say that tyrants wrap themselves up in the flag and blow the tinny trumpet of patriotism to fool the people.
Some of America’s severest critics are those who’ve benefited the most — affluence, good educations, quality medical care, nice homes and wonderful vacations. Perhaps they should roll up their sleeves and do something tangible to help solve our problems. wclarke@comcast.net