Recently, friends on Facebook have been discussing what it was like to grow up in the “old neighborhood.” It’s been a blast reliving those old memories, and we all agree how great we had it. Then, tonight, someone on Twitter (Dina Fraioli, a totally cool woman who, if you don’t follow her, you should. Right now!) asked her “older” tweeps if they remembered the bi-centennial, which I do.
The memories all collided in my head, swirled around, coalesced into a perfect whole.
I grew up in Bellingham, Washington. It was (and still is) a very small “city” about 90 miles North of Seattle. Fantastic schools. Wonderful neighborhood. In 1979, it was named an All-American City, when that was a badge of honor.
In 1976, I lived in a neighborhood on Alabama Hill. There were kids around my age in every house on the street. Behind my house was a huge expanse of empty land, with chest high weeds and grasses. Perfect for kids. You could walk all the way down to a park with a waterfall, which must have been close to a mile.
This was the mid-70’s. Kids still played outside. Kids still walked to school. Kids were still, well, kids. The only video game was Pong, and while it was fun, it was only fun for so long.
Our neighborhood routinely blocked off our street and had a big block party. All the mothers would make food. All the fathers did whatever it was fathers do. Either barbecue, get together to talk about their cars, or provide hours of entertainment for their children.
The point is, it was a magical time to be a child.
In our town, we knew nothing about drugs or crime. In fact, on the school walking routes, houses had stickers in the window: a red rectangle with a big white hand on it. If you were in any kind of trouble and needed help, even to use the bathroom, you could go to a house with that sticker. It was a message: we love our children and they are protected here.
1976 was a very special year. I was 9, going on 10. In school, in churches, on the TV, the whole country seemed caught up in celebrating our special anniversary: the 200th year of our independence.
The city, who always does its best to put on a modest fireworks show, seemed to go out of its way to do something very special. We were alive with history, memories of George Washington. TV networks (of which there were three, mainly) ran specials commemorating our history and our freedom.
I don’t remember every detail. Come on, I was nine.
What I remember most was happiness. Loving being with my family. Loving being in my neighborhood. And, above all, a joyful pride in being an American.
This pride didn’t spring from party politics. It didn’t spring from love or hatred of our government. It sprang from abundance, from freedom, from love. From a sheer enjoyment of life and the gratitude we felt at the founders who had helped start this great country for our benefit.
Of course, I was a child, but my Dad was involved in politics, so I knew not all Americans got along. But, for that year, we seemed to. From my perspective, there were no Democrats or Republicans. There were Americans. There were no whites, Indians (we didn’t know to call them Native Americans yet), or Mexicans. There were Americans.
This weekend, we celebrate the birthday of our great, great nation. The best nation that has ever existed. Despite our problems, our divisiveness, our disagreements, let’s set aside one day. Just one day. To be Americans. To be free, and proud and innocent again, for just one day. To play outside. To barbecue with friends. To quietly reflect on all the men and women who have sacrificed their lives to let us continue as we do.
Trust me, our problems will be here again (still) next week. Our problems aren’t unique to the US, but our strengths are. Celebrating our independence is celebrating those strengths. Celebrating what holds us together.
Back to the trenches on Monday. Sunday, cook a steak (or, God forbid, some tofu), light a firecracker and salute the red, white and blue.
We are Americans, and that is the best thing in the world to be.