AMAC Exclusive – By The Gallic
“Eight o’clock, nine o’clock, ten o’clock, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock, MIDNIGHT!” And into the semi-dark of a warm mosquito-filled July evening we ran, looking for the “ghost in the graveyard.” The bugs didn’t bother us, nor the smell of sweat (it was the 70’s after all, and widespread use of deodorant was a few years off, at least for young boys). But despite the fun of our games in the yard, we were all waiting for something: fireworks!
The July 4th celebrations of my youth were star spangled affairs, and none more so than 1976, the bicentennial year. Ford was president, and while we were too young to know how he got there, we held the office in high respect. After all, some of the heroes of our childhood imagination were presidents.
American history was alive; the heroes of Washington’s March on Trenton passed not far from my home on their way to surprise the Hessians. When the time came to re-enact this dramatic scene in our childhood games, one side had to say the memorable line, “I am a Hessian with an aggression!” We could never figure out why, but it was part of “the rules” for the kids in the neighborhood.
With not much TV to entertain us, we made make believe boats and crossed the Delaware, fired on the redcoats at Concord Hill, and fought the noble Indians through the wild forests of north Jersey. The Alamo was once again in play and half the time Davy Crocket and the boys won – heck, history wasn’t the Bible! By seeing ourselves in those heroes of old, we started to embody those traits they held dear. Holding a play axe in my hand, I recalled young George Washington and the famous cherry tree and remembered that honesty is the best policy. We were forced to memorize and perform the Gettysburg Address, and we learned that there are some things worth dying for besides just our family.
Some of our heroes we actually met. The same “George Washington” would show up at Washington Rock and Jockey Hollow (Revolutionary War sites near our home), and tell us about how he weathered the storm and beat the Redcoats. Our bus drivers fought in World War II. Many World War I veterans still occupied park benches and fishing holes. The maintenance men, all big strong Italians in my hometown, were tough men who could crack a walnut in their hands and beat the tar out of the Nazis.
The parades in our town were epic affairs, with fireworks being set off as the procession marched down the street, big noisemakers which reminded some of the old timers of the shelling during the First World War. The pride in our country shown by all was clear – even by those who, we later found out, had received plenty of bad times at the hands of our fellow citizens and sometimes the government itself. Yet they still marched and sang our national anthem with gusto.
When the tall ships came into New York Harbor, when we saw the Statue of Liberty, and when the much-anticipated fireworks lit up the night sky, our patriotic hearts beat stronger.
The lessons of my youth, that some things are worth dying for, that our heroes are heroes for the good that they did, even if they themselves were imperfect like the rest of us, ring true today. Our country is special and blessed and worthy of our time, loyalty, and respect.
So, this Fourth of July, let us all ask God to bless the United States of America, land that we love. And let Him stand beside her and guide her through the night with the light from above.
Happy Independence Day! Let’s make it a great one.
The Gallic is the pen name of an educator with over 30 years of experience, who spends his time helping schools get better at teaching their students and parents happier at sending them to those schools.