It is a very different July 4th. The coronavirus pandemic has curtailed activity for many. The country is attempting to understand and deal with the political and civil turmoil activated by the death of George Floyd and protests led by Black Lives Matter and other civil rights groups. It’s the fourth year of the Trump presidency, an election year, and Trump fuels a culture war that keeps the nation divided.
I want to have a good day. I want to feel proud of the United States. I want the sun to come out.
I’ll start by trying to forget that the President celebrated last night with a speech ignoring the pandemic and the 130,000 deaths, attacking his critics, swearing to stop the BLM movement and leftist who are destroying our country’s history by demanding the removal of statues/monuments, many of Confederates and others who contributed to the oppression of people of color. This happened in case you missed it at Mount Rushmore in South Dakota amid fireworks, no social distancing and few masks.
I’ll also try to forgive or forget those who ignore and sometimes defy public health guidelines demanding an “opening,” a return to normal, haircuts, open bars, indoor dining, crowded beaches, gyms, political rallies, and fireworks when new cases and hospitalizations are spiking in most of the fifty states.
For the record, I object to the banning of Huckleberry Finn and I don’t think every objectionable statue should be torn down. Although I admit I was glad to see Frank Rizzo removed from Center City Philadelphia and the Confederate flag removed from the Mississippi state flag and NASCAR. I’d also prefer sports teams don’t call themselves “redskins.” And I believe schools should tell the full Columbus story and that some of the founding fathers had slaves. But there is a place for a statue of Robert E Lee and other Confederates, as long as they aren’t used to support and promote White Supremacy attitudes. Washington and Jefferson were great presidents but they had their faults and made mistakes.
And for the record, like those demanding personal freedom (liberate us from . . . ), I want a return to normal but it doesn’t happen because we close our eyes and deny reality or chant “it will fade away.” I want a barbershop haircut, love to dine out but will enjoy take out and outdoor dining until it’s safer. I’d love to go to the beach and I’m still hoping I feel safe enough to go to Cape Cod for our August visit. But I will accept stay at home, social distancing and wear a mask until public health officials say it’s over. And I suspect that it won’t be soon.
But for today, I’ll remember positives, significant events and good July 4 experiences. It will help me celebrate my personal and my country’s independence. Yes, we are a “great nation” with many faults. I don’t need a reality show star, huckster, phony to tell me to “make America Great Again.” My baseball cap is an over 20 year old faded Nantucket red.
I may have learned my first July 4 lesson with my father. He had a jewelry, watch business and almost weekly traveled to Jeweler’s Row in Philadelphia. During the summer and days off school I’d go with him. We’d drive to Bridge Street and take the El. After visiting various suppliers and shops we’d have lunch at Horn and Hardart’s on Chestnut. I loved the automat.
Most afternoons we visited Independence Hall. During the 1950s it was being restored as part of the new National Park. I learned about historic preservation watching workmen remove layer after layer of paint looking for the original color. I learned about the Declaration of Independence and bought a brown parchment like facsimile in the gift shop. I learned about the delegates, the debates, the declaration (July 2) the ratification (July 4) and eventual signing (in August), Franklin’s chair with the rising sun, and quill pens, John Hancock’s signature, the first reading by John Nixon on July 8th.
We’d stand in front of the Liberty Bell which was in Independence Hall at the time, hear the story that it was just the State house bell that had cracked, been recasted, and cracked again in the 1840s but that there was no certainty about exactly when. I learned the Bell had become a powerful symbol of American freedom, used by many groups demanding freedom and civil rights. Years later I bought a small replica of the Liberty Bell to use in teaching about American Independence. I had a shoe box with the replica, the Declaration facsimile, a quill pen, a booklet about the Bell, map of Independence Park, and related postcards.
I don’t know if I will watch the fireworks on the National Mall in DC this year. Lots of controversy there. But I have fond memories of many other fireworks. As kids growing up in Bristol, fireworks happened in the Levittown Shopping Center. We piled into my parents aqua and white Chevy wagon and drove up Route 13, stopping along the road for the show. This followed a barbecue/picnic at my Mignoni cousin’s house in Winder Village or on the porch/deck of our Mill Street apartment. Hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, slaw, and corn I’m sure.
In the 1970s we attended fireworks with the Pagliones over the Delaware River in New Hope-Lambertville. We’d sit on the Lambertville side. One of the best shows I remember was a Boston Pops concert and fireworks along the Charles River. I think it was the fabulous 1976 concert conducted by Arthur Fiedler (it May have been his last July 4th concert). The fireworks accompanied Tchaikovsky‘s 1812 Overture. I think I was visiting my sister, Vicky and husband Ted who lived in Boston. What a show. What a memory.
There were years we attended a fireworks display in Philadelphia. Some were over the Art Museum, sitting on the Parkway. Others were over the river. One year we took the NJ River Line with Taylors to Camden. We then took Patco to Philadelphia for dinner and returned by taxi to Camden to watch the show. Another year I was scheduled to sail on the Gazelle, the tall ship out of Philadelphia. On July 4th there was a parade. I watched from the corner of 3rd and Chestnut. Then returned to the ship where we took part in a parade of boats followed by a fireworks display. We shipped out the next morning and I was lucky enough to be given the wheel (an experienced crew member and river pilot stood next to me as we made our way to Delaware Bay where engines were cut and sails dropped, wow.)
More recently our fireworks destination has been Tinicum Park in Upper Bucks. There is a concert by the Riverside Symphonia, followed by fireworks. Most bring picnic dinners but the amazing part is the formal set ups — tables, white table cloths, crystal glasses, candles, we don’t get that elaborate but it adds to a festive family atmosphere. This year Tinicum is cancelled.
I don’t remember specifics about July 4th barbecues or picnics. We might watch some of the Philadelphia parade on TV ( now it’s a multi-day celebration branded WaWa Welcome America, this year it’s virtual). We sometimes played music, the Pops Overture, or John Phillips Sousa (we had several albums).
In teaching about American Independence I always enjoyed John Adams comment in a letter to his wife, Abigail, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. —I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.” And then there is the coincidence that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died in July 4, 1826.
This year I’ll enjoy some personal reflections. Look for the Souza records. Maybe find something to read. This afternoon we’ll join our daughter, Jenny and the grandkids for an outside picnic. I’ll enjoy independence and take pride in my country.
If I remember correctly we took