Celebrating July 4th, then and now

A Fourth of July parade in Lakeside, Ohio.

As a youngster, I remember having mixed emotions about the Fourth of July. It had nothing to do with my patriotism, and everything to do with my youth.

I joyously anticipated the fireworks displays, wherever and however we got to see them. The reality, though, was that this red, white, and blue holiday marked the halfway point of the year. More importantly, it meant in my young mind that we were already halfway through the summer. Schools would be starting before we knew it.

When my four siblings and I were young, we would gather on a starry July 4th night on the edge of the hill a block west of our brick bungalow. We would anxiously look south and wait for the sparkling pyrotechnic patterns.

On rare occasions, we talked our father into driving closer to Meyers Lake Amusement Park, where the fireworks were ignited to explode over the lake. To avoid the parking lot traffic jam, Dad chose a side street that afforded a decent view of the aerial show.

The fireworks tradition continued into my adulthood when my wife and I started our family. From our home on County Road 201, we could see fireworks from various towns north, east, and southeast.

The summer of 1988 may have been the best time for fireworks for our family of four. Flying back from a vacation in California, we left Chicago’s O’Hare airport right at dark for the last leg of our trip. We looked down from on high as multiple fireworks displays erupted until we landed an hour later at Ohio’s Akron-Canton airport.

Nature’s fireworks over Holmes Co., Ohio are just as impressive.

Years later, friends built a beautiful home high on a hill overlooking Millersburg. They had the perfect view of the fireworks shot from the safety of the former county fairgrounds location. Our friends made it a grand occasion, inviting one and all. A plate of food to share was the price of admission.

I enjoyed the fellowship of friends, former students, and some people I had only just met. We oohed and awed together once the colorful and noisy celebration began.

That’s one tradition we left behind when we moved to the heart of Virginia’s lovely Shenandoah Valley. Our city launches its fireworks display from a local park. We have enjoyed the show with our grandchildren on more than one occasion. Not this year.

A local resort, Massanutten, also holds a festival that features fireworks. However, like many locations across the nation, that won’t happen this year because of the pandemic. Officials were wisely concerned about keeping physical distances, which is much harder to do with crowds of people.

Massanutten Mountain, Harrisonburg, VA.

Some localities canceled everything, while others like Massanutten, canceled the festival. The fireworks will fly as usual.

These are the times in which we live. We need to accept that we are in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century. The viral repercussions range far beyond silent, darkened skies on the Fourth of July.

Declaration of Independence, U.S. ConstitutionOur Founding Fathers created the most daring democratic republic experiment ever attempted. It’s entirely up to each of us to make sure our democracy endures for all peoples to exercise each of their first amendment rights.

Whether watching fireworks live or on TV, let those symbolic rockets red glares and bombs bursting in the air be a rededication to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Can the sparks ignite a new fire of freedom for all the nation’s people regardless of race, color, creed, or religion? Isn’t that the intent of the First Amendment?

Only then can freedom truly ring.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2020

The real reason to celebrate July 4th

D.O.G. Street by Bruce Stambaugh
Many of the tenets of our democratic republic were formed in Williamsburg, VA along D.O.G. Street.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Watching starbursts of fireworks from five miles above the earth was an unexpected treat.

My family and I were flying back from vacation late on July 3, 1988. Our hour-long flight path took us along the southern shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. Shortly after we were airborne, the sky began to pop with burst after colorful burst of fireworks.

Parade by Bruce Stambaugh
Parades are just part of the annual Fourth of July celebrations in the United States.
All along the route towns large and small expressed their jubilation for America’s Independence Day holiday with pyrotechnic displays. From high above I imagined the various sparkling bursts reflecting the broad diversity of folks that comprise this great country. Necks craned skyward, people from many cultures, races and religions in urban parks, county fairgrounds or on their own back porches had to also be admiring their local kaleidoscope of explosions.

As the last sparks flickered, I had to wonder then, as I wonder now, if the real meaning behind the celebratory fireworks is fully understood. As they picked up their chairs and folded their blankets to return home, what were they thinking? Was it just another fireworks display or did they truly comprehend the meaning of the day?

Those are questions that needed to be asked then just as they need to be asked today. Remembering our historic roots helps us to focus on where we are now and where it is we need to be going tomorrow.

Fourth of July decorations by Bruce Stambaugh
Homes like this one in Lakeside, OH will be decorated for the Fourth of July all across the U.S.

As we celebrate another Independence Day in the United States, here are a few historical facts that cannot be changed, though some have tried to distort the truth. The Continental Congress actually declared its independence from Great Britain on July 2, 1776. The revolutionary document, penned by Thomas Jefferson, was signed July 4, 1776, making the radical pronouncement official.

At great risk to their fame, fortune and reputations, these bold men, and they were all men, set down the groundwork of a new nation. That foundation was based on one essential notion, freedom.

A few years later that central idea wove its way into the heart of the U.S. Constitution in the form of the first 10 amendments commonly called the Bill of Rights. They itemized specific freedoms, including the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, and the freedom to gather, among others.

British flag by Bruce StambaughThe people of the American colonies wanted to shake the hold of Great Britain’s rule and run their own lives. This great document announced a new form of government for all peoples. Without it, anarchy would have ruled.

Since its initial adoption the Constitution of the United States has been amended to appropriately represent rights and freedoms for all of the country’s peoples, regardless of gender, race or creed as the population and society’s mores have evolved. To be sure, that evolution has had its civil rough spots to say the least.

From our present perspective, it can be easy to think that some things always were. “In God We Trust,” for example, was added to our coins and currency in 1864 at the end of the Civil War. The phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was not added until 1954 during the McCarthy communism scare era.

The altitude at which we enjoy the July 4th fireworks isn’t terribly important. The attitude of appreciation and a clear understanding and application of how and why our basic freedoms exist, however, are essential for appropriate social discourse.

As the fireworks explode in honor of this July 4th, what will you revere about Independence Day?

Amber waves of grain by Bruce Stambaugh
Religious freedom was the primary moving force for Amish immigrating to the United States, where their amber waves of grain still roll today.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2012