Independence Day is almost upon us and most of us will be enjoying cookouts and parties, parades and fireworks. It is the unofficial midway point of summer, though it falls in the early part of the season. This is the middle jewel of summer vacation’s triple crown, the others being Memorial Day and Labor Day. This is the most American of American holidays. This is the day on which we celebrate our American-ness. This single day is the biggest flag-waving, star-spangled spectacular of the summer.
Well, it used to be.
When I was a kid, we would go to the Fourth of July parade in the town we lived in. There were floats and antique cars. There were marching bands playing every patriotic song you could think of. Each time our nation’s flag passed, folks would put their hands over their hearts and salute. When the flag passed, you would stand up from your seat on the curb and salute. After a while, you kids would get tired of sitting down and standing up, but you did it because it was the right thing to do. This was our country and we were proud of it. We waved our little flags on their little wooden sticks. We ate popsicles shaped like red, white, and blue rockets. We caught the Tootsie Rolls tossed from the American Legion float. Paper poppies were handed out on both sides of the street and we all pinned them to our shirts. I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone these days who knows the significance of the poppy.
The Fourth of July is not so much about being a proud American anymore. In some places it is — mostly smaller towns and such — but largely it has become another commercial holiday with more emphasis put on the cookout than the historical significance. Admittedly, it’s hard to convince people to be proud of their country when they are too busy telling everyone how embarrassed they are to be an American. An old man once told me he tells people to leave if they are embarrassed by being an American. I don’t know where these people would go because, from what I can tell by their whiny attitude, they would probably be pretty miserable just about anywhere.
Patriotism has taken a back seat to being political. I have said before in this column that I don’t disclose my politics and I still won’t here. I will say that I am quite perturbed that folks on both sides of the aisle are so hell-bent on forcing their politics on the other side that they seem to forget that the nation was founded on differences and the freedom to express those differences. I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that I contradicted myself just now — and I did, to an extent. Yes, this country was formed on a platform where people did not have to follow the same viewpoints. That has nothing to do with being patriotic. Be proud of the nation you call home and be proud of its differences. Rejoice in the feeling that this nation was founded so you could speak your opinions with no fear of reprisal. The Independence Day holiday is for the celebration of our independence. It’s not about being a Democrat or Republican. It’s about being an American.
Our culture has gotten to the point where we are now all hyphenated. I have friends who are Irish-American, Italian-American, etc. A guy I know laughs when he is called an African-American. He will quickly tell you he is an “American, plain and simple.” He is 80-something, born here in North Carolina and has never been to Africa. I am mostly a Polish-Irish-American. I have never been to Poland and my family has been here for more generations than I can count. My brother lives in Ireland, but he was not born there. We were born in Baltimore, which if you ask some, is its own planet. By that definition, I am an alien. The flying saucer kind, not the born-in-another-country kind.
On July 4, wave the flag. Sing the national anthem. Enjoy the parade. For a day, don’t be hyphenated. Don’t be a Democrat or a Republican. Have your hot dogs and potato salad. Let the kids stay up late and see some fireworks. Be a good neighbor. Be a good friend. Be an American.
Baltimore native Joe Weaver is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.