“You’re a grand old flag,
You’re a high flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave.
You’re the emblem of
The land I love.
The home of the free and the brave.”
“You can march to that with your chest out as far as you can put it,” declared one participant of Reminisce Roundtable. Reminisce Roundtable is a program I lead at a local senior community. It's an enjoying time for seniors as they share memories and a fascinating time for me as I hear some amazing stories.
It's clear that the 4th of July is near as the community is thoroughly decorated with flags and patriotic colors. But the sentiment of the seniors isn't manufactured, Independence Day resonates strongly with these residents. For these folks, many of whom lived through the Great Depression and multiple wars, this is their country and patriotism runs deep.
As we sit down to discuss the meaning of July 4th, there is a special military pride and an appreciation of the sacrifice of Veterans. “I’m glad I’m an American. I gave four years of my life for that flag.” Just outside the main lobby, the walls are adorned with photos of residents who served. One gentleman guesses the number to be around forty. These men and women heeded the call of duty and lived to tell about it. As is often the case, they are humble when thanked and are more likely to defer any praise to those who died in battle.
Veterans hold a special place in all our hearts but July 4th is not a military holiday per se. When asked what distinguishes this holiday from others, the common theme is “It’s what we stand for. It’s what our country is all about.” There’s pride in that statement and a bit of discouragement too. A
re schools teaching basic history today? Are children expected to read and learn about the Constitution? Perhaps that is happening but the general sentiment of the group is that it’s not. The perception is that patriotism is waning. “Back in the day,” - and you can deduce that that was many years ago – the residents recall flags lining the streets of every neighborhood. Nowadays it is somewhat rare to see Old Glory affixed outside homes. A flag, in and of itself, does not make an American but the flag as a precious symbol holds high regard with this audience. Their perspective is shaped by their experiences and those experiences are often weighty.
Mixed with the reverence of the day are also the lighter memories – July 4th picnics, parades, and fireworks. Many folks knew somebody, who knew somebody, who knew somebody…who lost a hand or a finger lighting fireworks. Fireworks are dangerous and you could hear an earful on that when it came to protecting their grandkids or great-grandkids but did they light off firecrackers and cherry bombs themselves when they were young? You betcha!
The most amusing tale came from a 97-year-old resident from a small country town. When he was just four and his brother was six, they got caught lighting firecrackers out back of the barn. They were discovered because they set the barn on fire! In a panic, the 4-year-old mischief-maker sprung to action and attempted to smother the fire. Unfortunately, the material he chose was straw! Luckily relatives nearby were quick to act and the damage was minimal. When asked if he got in trouble for the antic, he replied, “No, my brother did. He got the blame. I was the good kid.” Looks like sibling rivalry has been alive and well for some time!
From memories of fireworks to watermelon seeds to war, Independence Day is a unique American holiday. However, perhaps not as unique as the memories we hold about this summer day. Our nation’s birthday is a time to celebrate with family and friends and show gratitude for the country we all hold so dear. And, of course, it’s also time to make some new wonderful memories. Just don’t light your firecrackers near a stack of straw!
“Ev’ry heart beats true
‘neath the Red, White, and Blue…Keep your eye on the grand old flag.”