When I woke this morning, the first thing I heard was a young child in the street yelling, “It’s the Fourth of July, everybody!”
That instantly brought back memories of my own childhood and the excitement of July Fourths past.
That’s where the reminder ended, however. That child was instantly shushed, by a parent, I presume, and the neighborhood was quiet the rest of the morning.
In the town where I grew up, by midmorning on the Fourth of July the residential neighborhoods would be beehives of activity getting ready for the annual Fourth of July parade. There were final touches to be put on floats (each block made one), costumes to be put on, instruments to tune and routines to practice one last time.
Then, an hour before the parade, everyone would start walking, not driving, to the community pool and clubhouse, which was the center of the day’s festivities. Everybody young and old, even the disaffected “cool” teenagers, wore red, white and blue in some combination. Most were adorned with tinsel, hats, pompoms and other patriotic accoutrements. Young children rode on shoulders, older children ran or skipped as the mood struck them, and old or sick people in wheelchairs didn’t complain when their young helpers steered them along at “race car” speeds.
A half-hour before the parade, there would be the inevitable scene of Mr. Miyakusu or Mr. Saunders barreling down the main boulevard at the wheel of a flat-bed truck with the neighborhood straw-hat band hanging on for dear life whenever a bump was hit. Somehow, everyone got to their place in the parade lineup by start time, and then the parade would wind up and down the local streets lined with appreciative residents waving flags and blowing horns.
By the time it was over, the entire community retired to the pool or clubhouse for a day full of swimming, volleyball, sack races, tugs-of-war, grilled hot dogs, burgers, steaks, chili and sodas (beer and margaritas for the adults). The party lasted the entire day, finally culminating late at night with the communal fireworks display.
It wasn’t one of those shows with huge fire blossoms in the air, but it was grand in its own way. The homeowners would have all pitched in to buy the biggest batch of fireworks that could be bought, with the local fireworks stand throwing in some special surprises as co-sponsor.
Once it was done, that wasn’t the end of the day. Residents would all hurry home to set up their own shows, employing ladders and sawhorses to display the fiery oohs and aahs provided by jumbo size boxes of fire fountains, piccolo Petes, pinwheels and Roman candles. The Fourth of July wasn’t usually over until midnight, and it often ran well into the Fifth if it was a weekend.
It was good, clean all-American fun, closely supervised by parents so no one got injured and no accidents occurred. But even then, there were signs of impending trouble as there was always a small group of idiots who had obtained some illegal fireworks, from firecrackers to the ear-busting M80s, and they seemed invariably to be obsessed with lighting them in the most dangerous ways possible until the police meandered along to stop them and confiscate whatever remained of their stockpile.
It wasn’t far into my teen years when fireworks were outlawed. The Fourth of July hasn’t been the same since.
It seems as though someone, somewhere had blown his fingers off. Someone, somewhere had accidentally started a fire that burned down a house. So to stop the someones, the rest of us were banned from buying fireworks.
I’m certain there are other restrictive laws that can be pointed to, but the banning of fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July, a tradition that goes back to Revolutionary times, seems in my life to have been a key turning point.
People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both, Benjamin Franklin said. Yet here we were, on Independence Day no less, doing just that.
There are some restrictions that may seem perfectly reasonable — seat belts, helmets, etc. — but they all come with a price. We should have remembered that.
Now we’re banning guns, outlawing foie gras, banning sodas, installing “smart meters,” allowing military drones to fly over cities. … Always for our “safety.”
We’ve traded our freedom for safety again and again. Now we stand on the verge of losing all our remaining liberties, faced with a president who feels he is above the law.
I want the fireworks, and my country, back.