Friday, July 4, 2008

A Fourth of July Retrospective

Fireworks (handheld)Today, I write about the excitement of the Fourth of July, when Americans celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence for the Eastern seaboard European colonies of America. I love to listen to patriotic music, watch movies, grill outside, make ice cream, talk to relatives and shoot fireworks. For instance, here is a trailer from one of my favorite American patriotic movies, I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy, a biography of George M. Cohan.

Other Americans celebrate in similar ways from "sea to shining sea", and I am glad to share in their excitement. My post today is a bit of a flag waver, since my family has been in this paradoxical, yet steady love affair with the United States of America for centuries. When I talk of historical events, it is from my American perspective, so I hope you will understand. I am very thankful for my friends and colleagues all across Earth.

To many who live in countries other than the United States of America, our never-ending quest for freedom probably seems like a willow o' wisp, a hope or a goal as ephemeral as lights created from swamp gas.

In literature, Will o' the wisp sometimes has a metaphorical meaning, describing a hope or goal that leads one on but is impossible to reach,.... (Wikipedia entry for "will-o'-the-wisp"[#8])

While some of my ancestors were already here, many of my ancestors came to this continent from European countries with rules and traditions that excluded them, even killed them. For instance, one of my ancestral grandmothers, Catherine Transue Mast, was an American colonist of Huguenot ancestry. All one has to do is say the word, Huguenot, in the United States of America and most will know of their struggle. It is a shared story in our American history. These incidences happened centuries ago, and I am thankful that these Huguenot families were able to make it to what is now the United States of America.

My Huguenot ancestors survived to travel to North America and live in what is now known as Pennsylvania not just because they subscribed to the idea of freedom from "priestly kings". They believed that leaders should be elected from among their group, so people needed to be educated and involved in the socio-political affairs of the day. These ancestors believed in freedom to work for yourself and to receive pay for your own personal work.

They lived this ideal of equality among those who work for themselves, even before they helped start the American colonies. Today, they would be part of what we call the middle class. They were craftsmen, blacksmiths, farmers and teachers. They passed on such a strong devotion to the middle class that it is strongly entrenched in our familial psyche, from the moment we begin to learn.

Our family tries diligently to remain in the middle class. We believe it is the socio-economic level where most people recognize that personal choice in areas such as: work, love and honor among free individuals will always be guiding principles. I believe that our family will continue and prosper in the United States of America while there is a strong middle class ethic of freedom with responsibility to support our shared government, our democracy. Support most often means voting, paying taxes, providing guidance to our elected officials, getting an effective education and fighting together when needed.

I love the Fourth of July, and I was raised to love being an American. As Americans I will be the first to acknowledge that sometimes fall short of our ideal, but we pick up ourselves up, dust ourselves off and head for the ideal America, where freedom with responsibility prevails.

Here are some favorite songs and films. Some are stirring songs of patriotism, like the the ancestor of all American patriotic songs our national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. Actually written by Francis Scott Key after the survival of Fort McHenry, near Baltimore, MD. The story is detailed here in this video:

This recent favorite is clearly sardonic, yet totally American. Randy Newman sings, In Defense of Our Country.

I hope I began to express the paradoxical, yet hopeful nature of my idea of modern America. Americans are trying to do their best to continue to grow as a nation and as a people.


Tina Steele said...

Thank you for this wonderfully patriotic post. I lived overseas as a young girl -- in Libya, Argentina, Norway, Ghana, and traveled to many other countries. I can honestly say we are truly blessed to live in the USA! I thank God for the troops and their families who fight for our freedom and to keep us safe in this grand land!

Simon Brown said...

Thanks for this thin-section view of your life. As an Australian, I believe that we owe a lot to the U.S. for our freedoms. Although our struggle has not been so intense by comparison, we will always remember the dark desperate days of 1942-43 when Americans stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Australians against aggression during the "Pacific" War.

Sheryl said...

Sorry for this late response. For some reason, my first responses were deleted. What's up with that?

Thank you Tina! I appreciate your thoughtful comments. I can't help being a bit of a Yankee Doodle Dandy. Can I say it's my family's fault? Just kidding! I know others live in wonderful countries also, but the 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays.

I have never had the experience of actually living outside the country, but I listen, read, look and learn. I appreciate your observation about living in those other countries.

For instance, when I was a little girl, my aunt, uncle and cousin barely escaped the deadly rampage of Khadafi's takeover and nationalization of the oilfields.

Sheryl said...

Sorry for this late response. For some reason, my first responses were deleted. What's up with that?

Simon, I love Australia and Australians. I guess you figured that out by now. Your country really had to pull itself up by the bootstraps, and now look at Australia: healthy, vibrant and growing.

Australians have always been very brave. One only has to Remember Galipoli to know that.

Now matter what a person thinks of former Prime Minister Howard, I think he did get it right when he said in 2005, "...the Anzacs had 'changed forever the way we saw our world and ourselves, they bequeathed Australia a lasting sense of national identity, they sharpened our democratic temperament and our questioning eye towards authority'." taken from the BBC report, Galipoli Remembered At Dawn

Again in WWII, brave Australians fought in desperate battles with the Allied forces towards victory in the Pacific.

Thanks for your comments on America's birthday.