Over the years my family has celebrated the Fourth of July in many different ways, including picnics, and extravaganzas like the one held by the Carroll County Farm Museum. We’ve gone to rodeos, watched fireworks, and — perhaps best of all — have sat quietly in our own backyard with burgers on the grill and friends and family nearby.
No matter what we choose to do on this day, it is one of celebration. Not just because it is a federal holiday in the United States, but because of what it stands for. On this date in 1776, in the Declaration of Independence of the United States, our Continental Congress declared that our 13 American colonies were no longer subject to the monarch of Britain and were now united, free, and independent states. It was the start of a nation that we must care about and be proud of.
Thinking about the many ways each of us celebrates our independence reminds me of the beauty in diversity, and how we all do not need to be the same in order to live together. We only need to have respect and tolerance balanced by a kind heart and a strong belief that we are in this together, no matter how different we may be.
For most of the years since my husband and I married nearly 39 years ago, we have gathered to have a family picnic in our own yard. There were ponies and a small 4-foot pool for the kids to keep cool. In our younger days, stellar games of volleyball took place with no prize other than the flagship of glory and of having a good time together.
We always had a big pot of crab soup. There was corn on the cob and watermelon, burgers and hotdogs and always — for my husband — deviled eggs to go with myriad salads and desserts.
Then, one year, a good friend slipped and went down on his knee. We knew something was wrong the moment he hit the ground. The resounding pop was louder than the volleyball hitting the ground. It took several men to carry him to the back of a van to be transported to the hospital. A week in the hospital with surgery and a long recovery period followed.
My husband was unnerved and the Fourth of July cookouts ended.
We carried a sense of guilt because this incident happened on our watch.
Over the next few years, we experimented with new ways to celebrate Independence Day. We went to the Carroll County Farm Museum where we enjoyed the music, the food, the fireworks and all the activities, but my husband Dan isn’t big on crowds.
The next year, we downsized. We attended the Fourth of July Rodeo and fireworks at River Valley Ranch. The event, which no longer runs, was a beautiful one. As a rider cantered her horse around and around the ring, the United States flag she was holding billowed out behind her — vibrant red, white, and blue unfurling in the wind. There were fireworks, and voices rose to sing the “Star Spangled Banner.”
It was a powerful and moving celebration that made us think about the freedoms our forefathers fought for.
I remember a time in this country when people from opposite parties agreed to disagree peacefully. We recognized there is beauty in our differences and that we do not need to think alike. Majority ruled and we respected that. There was no name-calling or retribution for those not having the exact same theories on how our country should be run.
I pray those days are not disappearing.
A few years later, when my daughter’s band performed at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor for the Fourth of July, we tromped into the city to see her band and to watch the fireworks in a heat so sweltering that it seemed to bounce off the sidewalks and simmer inside every air molecule.
It was the hottest Independence Day in my memory, and one we did not repeat.
There were trips to Baker Memorial Park in Frederick during the years my daughters settled into married life. And then, the grandchildren were born, and it only seemed right to bring the picnic home again.
So, for the past eight years or so, we have gathered in the backyard. That first year, we were without a pool, but we had an empty horse trough and we filled it up for the kids to cool off in. Between the trough and the water hose they seemed to have more fun than they’d ever had in a pool. We laughed at them and at each other, and we realized that we had missed these family picnics.
In the years to follow, the pool came back. Then, we added steamed crabs to the menu. That first year we had only our daughters and the grandkids, but slowly, the picnic has grown again to include some friends and other family members. Each year, as the day wears on, we see the kids run from pool to ponies, to eating again, then back to the pool.
These days, instead of volleyball, we dress up the miniature horses and bring them out to meet everyone. By the time we break out the watermelon and desserts, lightning bugs are sending love signals in flickering lights of gold, and neighboring fireworks are splashing the sky with color. We gather around the fire pit and roast marshmallows, ending the night with sleeping children in our laps.
There is something so special about Fourth of July and what it means. That independence gave us the opportunity to raise our families in peace and to share with them our own family beliefs. It gave us a safe environment to gather for picnics and hugs and to share our love. It gave us a solid document telling us we were free to earn our living — enabling us to pay our own way in life — with freedom to believe what we choose without dictatorship.
This year, I am celebrating all of that again. And I am praying that we never lose the rights our forefathers fought so hard to secure.