Saturday, July 5, 2008
Happy Birthday to Us
I feel differently about the Fourth from how I feel about Memorial Day. The Fourth, to my mind, is straight celebration. We were fortunate to have a group of earnest, intelligent and learned men together and thinking along the same lines at the same time, at a moment in western history when it was both necessary and possible to try something new.
Always remember that what they began is an experiment. It need not succeed, and if it does succeed, it need not be on their terms alone. It will be on our terms; your only obligation is to participate.
Ashland, NH, put on a very nice small-town parade--the antithesis of Portland's anemic Memorial Day parade. Yes, that means hokey: the local "Jazzercize" class danced their way down Maine Street. The local bank had a float. Jeremey Hitlz Excavation showed off his 7 new dumpers (a little excessive, Jer). Cons: only the 8 or so firetrucks who assaulted all present by running their sirens pretty much non-stop. Fellas, those things are designed to move people out of the way. 5 straight minutes of them within the confines of Ashland's small streets is painful. By the time they were done I wanted to punch a fireman in the face (sorry, Pete).
Pros: Grand Marshall Alex Ray of the Common Man restaurants, resplendent in red, white and blue, and refusing to honor the time-honored Grand Marshall tradition of riding in an open car. Instead, he circled the parade continuously on his antique high-wheel bicycle.
Other pros: a parade of old cars, including a string of immaculate Rolls-Royces; 2 brass bands pulled along on trailers and playing traditional patriotic fare (King and Sousa); a high school marching band dressed intelligently in khaki shorts and polo shirts; horses (and riders); a pooper-scooper on a bicycle; kids on bikes decked out in colored foil and streamers.
One of my father's hobbies is the New England brass band; he was on one of the floats. After the parade we went back to house for a cookout and, later, mom's strawberry shortcake. Yum.
Later on, I drove over to Long Lake to enjoy the fireworks. As the sun set, boaters began to populate the lake. By dark, the red, green and white dots of their running lights lay sprinkled up the length of the lake, beyond sight. It was beautiful. So were the fireworks.
Side note: the Fourth was also the day after the great battle of Gettysburg, when Lee retreated and Meade failed to follow--probably extending the war by at least a year. I would argue that the Civil War, the reconstruction and the Civil War amendments were at least as important to our identity as a nation -- if not moreso -- as the Revolution. To celebrate that, I'm re-reading bits of "Soul of the Lion," a biography of my favorite American, Joshua Chamberlain: professor, college president, four times Governor of Maine, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, citizen-soldier of the Union army chosen to receive the surrender of the Confederate infantry at Appomatox Courthouse, where he "startles the world by calling his troops to attention to salute the defeated South."