In “The End of The Innocence,” Don Henley sings of “the same small town in each of us.”
For me, the holiday that brings out that small-town essence is the Fourth of July. Little burgs like the one I grew up in are the heart of Independence Day. Most folks are proudly patriotic, and you see flags flying from just about every corner. There’s a respect for America and a love of country that comes through in the people as they celebrate our nation’s independence.
In most places, the Fourth of July is THE big parade day. Everybody from little kids to aging veterans lines the streets waiting for the procession to start. Fire trucks and police cars start the parade, sirens wailing. Beauty queens, marching bands and dignitaries riding in open cars draw cheers.
Then there are the Shriners. In many places, my hometown included, it’s just not a parade without Shriners. They bring fun and festivity to the party. They celebrate silliness with calliopes, clowns and cars so small the driver can barely sit on them. Everybody loves the Shriners.
But nobody ever forgets the real meaning of the day. The biggest cheers and applause are reserved for the veterans and active duty military personnel who march or ride through Main Street, visible reminders that freedom is won at a cost, and bears a continuing price to keep it. The men and women who sacrifice so much — sometimes everything — to defend our freedom are hailed as the heroes they are.
Later come the fireworks. This is the big payoff of the day for children of all ages. Some of my favorite memories of childhood are Fourth of July evenings spent on a favorite aunt’s front porch, watching fireworks over my little town.
For the ultimate fireworks display, however, there’s really only one place to be — the National Mall in Washington, D.C. There’s no way to adequately describe the beauty of watching fireworks burst into stunning colors over the Washington Monument. It’s simply breathtaking, guaranteed to stir patriotic feelings in the heart of even the most jaded cynic. It’s something every American needs to experience at least once in his or her life.
Here’s an example from this year’s celebration (give the video a few seconds to load):