Like most Americans, I have wonderful memories of family picnics on the Fourth of July. When grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and various other relatives got together we’d have seventy-five or a hundred people. Picnics on the farm meant setting up big plank tables under the large trees on the front lawn. It was a beautiful setting. Lots of lilacs, peonies and roses were on either side down to the road. It was a country lane and if someone drove by we always knew who it was, and the chances were that they’d stop by and join the crowd. And the food! The platters and bowls of things seemed to go on forever. And there would be dishes of blueberries and strawberries along with freshly whipped cream, because we had to have “red, white and blue.” We weren’t allowed to talk too much about the whipped cream in front of my grandfather, because that was a sore point for him. We lived on a dairy farm and when the milk was sold to the Cooperative, the price was determined by the level of butterfat content. My grandfather didn’t want us to take any of the cream from the milk, because he was convinced that even a little bit of missing cream would lower the price he could get. My mother or my grandmother would send me out to the milk house where the large cans of milk were kept in icewater, and I was supposed to skim some cream out of one of the cans, “but don’t let your grandfather see you.”
The Fourth was also a day when the family stories would come out, and we’d be reminded by the elders about our own American history. On my father’s side they were fairly recent immigrants from England. Around 1900 they began coming from Norwich where they had been owners of a mustard-grinding mill. Also, a great-grandfather on that side had moved from Wales to London, and then to Canada before coming to America. There were accounts of tough times and the willingness to work at most anything to make a living in their new country. On my mother’s side there were stories which captured my young imagination. It seemed to me they were almost royalty, because we would hear about our Revolutionary War ancestors. My grandmother’s maiden name was Adams, and she was descended from the famous family which produced John Adams, Samuel Adams, and so many other great patriots.
I used to have a copy of the Declaration of Independence on my bedroom wall. It was one of those that looked like the original document, printed on parchment. I convinced my mother that she should wallpaper my room with a pattern which I thought was wonderful. It had small pictures, including George Washington crossing the Delaware, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and other historical scenes. So I grew up with these important reminders around me, along with family links to the Revolution. We were unashamedly patriotic, as were most people in those days. It didn’t take a 9/11 to make the patriotism rise up. And we’ve seen how quickly it fell away afterwards for all too many. No, the patriotism I experienced was simply part of life. We knew we were living in a marvelous country, and whether we were in peacetime or war, whether there was abundance or if things weren’t so good, no matter who was president and no matter what the inflation rate happened to be, we were proud to be part of our nation and we were devoted to it.
And I still am. I love this country. I love it, even with its imperfections. I’ve lived abroad, and believe me, there’s nothing like living here. I can still remember returning in 1978 after five years of living in England, and as we flew into New York, seeing the Statue of Liberty brought a lump to the throat and moistened the eyes.
So our family will be getting together for the 4th. Of course, the people will be different. Now I’m the grandfather, taking the place of my own grandfather who died some years ago. And the only other difference will be that I’m happy to let everyone have as much whipped cream as they want.
ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favour and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honourable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This essay originally appeared here in July 2014.
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