We can’t seem to get along with each other, in good times or bad. The optimists amongst us, try as they might, can’t convince the pessimists of the gracious abundance that surrounds all of us.
And the pessimists can’t find words strong enough to prove the dreadful state we’re in. So for just this one day, can we all be on the same team, “one nation,” and celebrate the commemoration of the date of our nation’s birth?
Our Fourth of July should be filled, not with campaign speeches and fiery oratory, but with solemn words of thankfulness and boisterous songs of praise.
A collage of images comes to mind to remind us of those elements that are uniquely American, that unite us rather than divide us.
Old Glory waving lightly beneath a powder blue sky; an apple pie on a window ledge; a Coca-Cola ad on an old barn wall; a head bowed in prayer; a hand over one’s heart as the pledge to the flag is recited; a hand raised to the tip of a sharp military cap in a brisk salute.
Perhaps because patriotism was at an all-time high when I was in elementary school, my favorite scene in my mind’s eye is a classroom with wooden desks and a black chalk board filled with practice cursive writing lessons.
There are open windows, and the standard George Washington portrait, unfinished, by Gilbert Stuart, hanging in plain view of every pupil. That was probably a Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell.
Other scenes come to mind, causing us to want to burst into song, belting out every verse of “America the Beautiful.”
The spire of the Washington Monument rising toward the heavens; Abraham Lincoln, carved from Georgia marble, speaking eternally to us from his hallowed abode in our nation’s capital; waterfalls and beaches, rivers and canyons, mountain tops and deserts; the Statue of Liberty, and Mike Luckovich’s weeping Statue with the Twin Towers reflected in her eyes; the Liberty Bell; and our beloved Eagle, symbol of virtue and strength and all that is good about our land.
And here in Georgia, those thousands of runners on Peachtree, making their own Fourth of July memories, stating their independence, each in his own way … and hundreds in Woodstock doing much the same thing.
All over America today there will be watermelon seed-spitting contests, greased pig events, and homemade ice cream parties.
We’ll eat zillions of hot dogs and hamburgers, and drink tanker truckloads of sweet tea and lemonade … and other unmentionable beverages.
Some of us will attempt to sing the national anthem, and others will try to recite the Declaration of Independence.
We’ll cheer on the Boy Scouts in the parade, and clap with the Sousa marches, and wave our flags when we spot our neighbor on a float.
When nighttime begins to fall, we’ll find a spot with a favorable view of the fireworks, and then work our way home to watch a re-run of A Capitol Fourth on TV, one last hurrah before the day is done.
If the day has gone well, we’ve had an abundant dose of patriotism, enough to keep us inspired for a few days.
We can begin to set our minds toward the voting booth, which brings to mind yet another image from the past. The memory is vague, but haunting. It shows a housewife marking a paper ballot while her child stands within the folds of her dress.
The ballot box, with a slot in the top, rests in plain view on the table. The voter has made a personal choice, with a pencil, on a real ballot.
The poll worker does not seem burdened with paraphernalia. It is democracy at its best.
No mechanical thoughtlessness, no computer screen to be lightly touched, no lengthy questionnaire, just a simple act of participation in a government system that the voter trusted.
It might have been flawed in more ways than one, and we may have advanced in many ways since then. Either way, it speaks of just one of our many freedoms.
No one stood behind the voter forcing her to vote, a freedom many of us abuse.
Once, in our nation’s infancy, she could not have voted at all. In this, as in other matters, we still have a lot to learn.
But today? Let’s be united.
All together now, “God Bless America, my home, sweet home.”
Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.