Blankets and chairs line the grass, and my fanny is firmly perched on my chosen roost. I anticipate the first phsssstttt…..BAAAANNNGG, knowing it will be followed by an explosion of blinding white, red and green lighting up the night sky.
For the next 30 minutes, I’m glued to the show of dancing, falling, and fading showers of glory accompanied by booms that can stop my heart and make it pound at the same time.
Here on the safe soil of the the Land of the Free, the glare of red rockets and the bursting of bombs in air are cause for joy and cheers, not to mention the requisite oooh’s and aahhh’s. But amidst the excitement, I sometimes take my freedom for granted, forgetting that, while we have a party, a war rages on the other side of the ocean. Explosions and light shows carry an entirely different meaning for my brothers and sisters in uniform “over there”.
This week, my hometown commemorated its 146th annual Fourth of July extravaganza. A parade, cookouts and carnival rides were topped off with the yearly fireworks display. I traversed many miles and many years to spend a week with family and friends and to celebrate the holiday the old fashioned, small town way.
I watched the closing fireworks show this year with my best friend Cheryl and our growing families. We missed our children who couldn’t make it, and we loved on our children present. We doted on grandchildren and nieces and nephews, remembering what it was like to be a kid on the Fourth and feeling like kids again ourselves. The celebration took a sobering turn for me when Cheryl asked her son if he was doing okay with the explosions.
The following is an actual (edited) transcript of a conversation during the fireworks this Fourth of July, courtesy of my smart phone (which not only recorded stunning video, but also captured the audio in stupendous detail):
Child: “I know what these are. They’re artillery shells! There’s these, um, big ones you can buy? They’re really cool.”
Cheryl: “Artillery shells….”
Child: “Yeah. They’re great!”
Cheryl: “Blake, how ya doin over there? Does it make you a little jumpy, or are you over that now? Since you’ve been back?”
Blake: “You never hear the boom. If you hear the boom you know you’re okay.”
Child: “What did he mean by that?”
Cheryl: “He was in Iraq. He was blown up 11 times by the time he was 25."
Child: “Blown up?! What does that mean?
Cheryl: “He was in a car ... or a vehicle ... and was blown up by ... a bomb. When he was at war ... at war in Iraq.”
Child: “Wouldn’t he have died?”
Cheryl: “No, cuz you’re in armored cars. But it doesn’t tickle. There’s no doubt he’s got some BRAIN issues. Heh heh heh.”
Blake: “They only put me on a bird for one of them anyway, and that was the concussion.”
Cheryl: “Blake, just because you wouldn’t tell them your brain hurts and it rattles doesn’t... that means nothing. I know you can talk your way out of anything. You always have; you always will”
Blake: “Mom, I’m fine. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
Cheryl: “Yeah, nothing you’d fess up to.”
In America, when we celebrate the Fourth of July we are celebrating our freedom. When the Color Guard leads the parade, marching proudly down the paved streets of hometown America, and the citizens lining the lawns and sidewalks rise to their feet, the men remove their farmer caps, and all present declare love of country by placing a hand over the heart, and tears form in the eyes of veterans, widows, and waiting mothers, we are praying for a loyal band of soldiers across a wide ocean marching in sand to defend the downtrodden and defenseless.
O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife
When once and twice,
for man’s avail
Men lavished precious life!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
God shed his grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee! *
God, bless the USA.
From “America the Beautiful”, Words by Katharine Lee Bates, Melody by Samuel Ward
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