Once upon a Fourth of July

Sep 2014
Las Vegas NV
The Fourth of July, hidden behind a weekend, sneaked up on me this year. Of course, a lot of people are in town for the long weekend celebration of the birth of our nation. They will line the Las Vegas Strip for the spectacular fireworks show that I am lucky enough to see from my retirement apartment.

This one holiday, however, always triggers in me nostalgic memories of a more idyllic time – a time before we heard xenophobic rhetoric of those who would build walls of hate around America, before ignorant people imbued in false patriotism shook angry fists at those whose skin was not white. It was a halcyon time when my cousins and I rollicked in the backyard planted with miniature American flags for the annual cook-out. In my once-upon-a-time world, the Fourth of July was a family affair that soon morphed into a neighborhood event. The neighbors came over from up the street, down the street, and across the street to say ‘’Howdy-do.’’ Mrs. Cooke brought over potato salad; Mr. Mickowski offered the Rolling Rock beer while Mr. Goldstein came with Iron City in hand; Mrs. Schneider made snickerdoodles; and Mrs. Tamburelli cooked up her macaroni salad. My mom baked apple pies, and my dad bought the hotdog and ground beef for hamburgers. Aunt Florence whipped up her renowned red-white-and-blue Jello, and Uncle Iggy supplied all the Nehi grape and orange the kids could drink with charcoal-grilled hamburgers and hotdogs. Our backyard became a microcosm of the world’s melting pot.

What fun it was! In the morning we cheered the parade along Lawson Avenue, a block over from where I lived. In the sweltering afternoon, typical of summer in the Ohio Valley, we kids frolicked in those rubber blow-up wading pools and romped through lawn sprinklers to cool off; and at twilight there were those magical lightning bugs to chase, catch, and put into empty jars as trophies for the darkened bedroom. As the grown-ups sprawled out in lawn chair hoping not to be eaten alive by mosquitoes, we kids were bedazzled with sparklers when night fell. Then, at 10 PM, we sauntered with blankets or lawn chairs to the grassy field at the top of Cedar Street to watch and wonder with ‘’oooh’s and aaaw’s’’ the splashing of fireworks that rocketed up from the distant golf course at Bellevue Park before calling it a day.

I think it was the only time in Steubenville, a working-class city divided into proud ethnic communities, when people from different backgrounds put aside their Old World pride and prejudices to be American, even if just for one day. That backyard cook-out represented a pursuit of happiness for all who came together to celebrate the ideal stated in the Declaration of Independence. It was a reminder that ethnicity in America is a reflection of where we are from, not where we are going. All nationalities made America great. Therefore, the Fourth of July is a Mexican holiday, a Polish holiday, an Italian holiday, a Scots holiday, a German holiday, a Japanese holiday. It is a holiday for all people who dream, who have dreamed, and who will dream of coming to this land of opportunity to build a better life. Every part of that special day in my memory is a Norman Rockwell scene of a holiday that is uniquely American and should never be lost in the tawdry rhetoric of a low-life peddler in bigotry and fear.
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