Friday marks one of my very favorite holidays — America’s birthday. I love birthdays. I also happen to love parades, fireworks, and the occasional hot dog, albeit Hebrew National. America is my home, a country I live in because my grandparents left their homes in Ireland and Croatia to seek something different, and they hoped, better for themselves.
I grew up hearing my father say that America was the greatest nation on earth. That we were just and democratic and full of opportunity. I felt proud as a child and fondly remember our celebrations on the 4th. The bicentennial in 1976 involved a hometown parade, a carnival, marching bands, and snow cones from the Italian grocer on the parade route. I remember it well, even down to the denim shorts I wore with the red, white, and blue elastic waist. In high school, I marched in that same parade and remember feeling so grown up and happy, waving at the kids on the curbs.
The block I grew up on in Dolton, a south suburb of Chicago, was a close one. The kiddos all played together long into summer evenings. The parents seemed to get along okay, too. I can still recite the names of the families from one end to another. Around dusk on the 4th, after folks had gotten home from the town carnival, an annual event, we would gather and have a block party. We got to stay up late and watch the dads shoot fireworks in the street. There were lawn chairs and sprinklers and good times and running around and laughter and excitement. The flaming sparklers were always held at arm’s length, as the sparks made me nervous.
I’m not sure what my family will be doing this year. Celebrate, for sure. I bought my boys matching red, white, and blue outfits. Our local park is starting a parade for the little ones in the morning, so we’ll be sure to hit that. I hope to catch some fireworks, but that’s hard when the baby has an early bedtime. We’ll work something out.
I was thinking just how different my son’s Fourth of July celebrations have been from my own as a child. It’s a different thing to celebrate America’s birthday when you live on a block of condominiums full of Orthodox Jews, Eastern Indians, Muslims, Latinos, and a mix of other folks. Not too many of us fire up the grill or break out the cherry pie in their back yards. We’ve traveled to small towns in Indiana and Massachusetts on the 4th the past few years, so this year will bring something new for us.
And I don’t think I could so easily tell my son that America is the “greatest nation on earth,” like my Dad did in the 1970s. We have some issues in America that could use some attention. We’ve lost some civility and after some of our actions around the globe, I’m not certain that we can still claim the title of “most just.”
But still, America is my home and my country and I love it here. And that is something I can easily and happily share with my children.
We are a nation of immigrants, my own grandparents included. Without traveling far at all from my front door, I can eat huevos rancheros for breakfast, wood smoked barbecue for lunch, and an Indian feast for dinner. That’s pretty cool. Our local park is like a mini United Nations and children of all stripes and ethnicities love to swing and climb trees and run through a sprinkler. So many things are universal, at least for kids.
Spending as much time as I do on the Internet has taught me so very much about how very little I know about different cultures, even those home grown cultures here in America. We are different in so many ways, aren’t we? There is a comfort, though, in knowing that on Friday, no matter if we vote red or blue, or own a gun or don’t, or worship in a church or under a canopy of trees, or educate our kids in public schools or at the kitchen table, so many of us will gather with friends and family to celebrate America’s birthday.
Those fireworks are just as awe inspiring to liberals as they are conservatives. Those parades are just as much fun if you live in a trailer park or a North Shore home with lake views. And fried chicken and grilled burgers taste just as delicious if you choose to vaccinate your children or not. I love that folks I know and don’t know, folks I agree with or disagree with, will all be doing the same kind of things.
On Friday, I’m sharing my love of America loud and proud. I will celebrate our diversity and history, eat some traditional favorites, clap for some Veterans and teach my sons to do the same. It’s going to be 78 degrees and sunny in Chicago and you best believe we will be out enjoying all that this favorite summer holiday has to offer. And, yep, I will be wearing my red, white, and blue the whole time.
Happy Birthday, America!