I don’t know about you but the 4th of July has always been one of my favorite holidays. As a kid, Christmas was always front and center as the best holiday of them all; but it was a close race for second between Easter and the 4th of July. Truthfully, as a kid, I couldn’t yet fathom the true importance of Easter, but I was all in for the Easter baskets and candy. But having to dress up in my newest Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and comb my unruly hair took some of the shine off the day from a kid’s perspective.
So with that said I believe that the 4th of July had the higher overall kid ranking.
What was not to like? Hot dogs, flags waving, bands playing and fireworks! Think about it, a knothead kid like me could run around in shorts and a t-shirt, stay out past dark, eat junk food and blow stuff up! It was layer upon layer of the best life had to offer for a kid: patriotism, friends, food and explosives!
I have some distinct memories of the 4th of July. When I was younger we would go through south Huntsville and across the Tennessee River bridge to the area that we used to call “gasoline alley” where all of the fireworks stands were set up. Dad would give us each $10 and if we had any of our allowance left we could add to it. With hard cash in hand, we would hit the stands and buy the fireworks of our choice.
Sparklers were just warm-ups and sort of for the little kids. Once we were old enough to strike a match it was a new day and we bought all that we could squeeze out of a $10 dollar bill. Smoke bombs were good for playing Army with friends, snap pops were good for gags, and lady fingers were what you got when you were running out of money. Black Cat firecrackers and bottle rockets were a mainstay, and we were always on the hunt just in case any of the stands had any bootleg M80’s or cherry bombs, which were increasingly hard to get for all of the right reasons. We would buy some and compare notes because there was always that one firework stand that was ten cents cheaper, or the one that would try to undercut the others by giving away a pack of bottle rockets or punks if you spent ten bucks.
Then the fun began! Admit it: how many of you blew up a coke bottle? Or tried to tie a toy army soldier with a handkerchief parachute to a rocket? Or the ever-failed attempt to thread fuses together to get multiple blasts out of one lighting?
When the parents weren’t paying attention we had bottle rocket wars in the street until someone would have a close call and a parent would get wise and shout from a front door. In classic fashion, we would wait five minutes and commence the bottle rocket wars again.
As I’ve gotten older I still carry my love for fireworks. My wife doesn’t get it. She tells me every time that it’s like spending money on something that is literally going to burn … yep! and I love it! And truthfully, so does she.
I also love the big public displays. I previously served on the Board of the Gadsden/Etowah County Patriots Association and helped to sponsor major annual fireworks displays over the Coosa River. I once sat on a boat in the Coosa and literally had to look straight up into the explosions and had the debris rain down on me and it was great! I remember major public displays at Milton-Frank Stadium in Huntsville as a kid or over the USS Alabama at Battleship Park in Mobile! But of all the displays I’ve seen over the years, none of them could hold a candle to the best one I ever saw on the Washington Mall. It was the best for a variety of reasons: the location, the quality, but also the sense that it was being presented at the epicenter of all that the 4th of July was designed to celebrate. In one massive display, there was the greatness of America, the vastness of our blessing, and the depth of what is worth defending.
At that time I was assigned to the Pentagon and it was announced that Pentagon families could bring their lawn chairs and coolers and be given access to what is known as the Pentagon parade field that looks straight across at the Washington Monument. Our son was off at college at the time but my wife, daughter and I got to sit there on the freshly cut grass on the side of the Pentagon - a building that at that time was still under renovations after the damage inflicted by the attack on 9/11 - and join with so many others as we watched in awe as beautiful light displays illuminated the Washington Monument against the night sky. It was epic. It was visually stunning. It was actually very moving.
But I also know that I have developed a much fonder appreciation for the holiday itself. As the years progressed I came to the full realization that Easter has a deeper and more profound meaning that really impacts my life and has moved Easter into second place as a holiday. But I have also come to appreciate that the 4th of July carries such a deeper and more profound meaning itself. The flags still wave, the hot dogs are still good, I love seeing family and friends, but there is a difference now.
Now the celebration of our nation’s independence feels more like a privilege. It has become a day with true sentiment attached to it. There is the imbued sense that it is not just about gathering and having a day off.
On this 4th of July I hope that you will get some time with family or friends. I hope that there is a hotdog and a cold drink for you. I hope that you get to laugh and enjoy it all, and yes, I hope that there are fireworks. But more than anything, it is my sincere hope that you will teach the kids that this is not just a holiday for knothead kids to run around, eat junk food, and blow things up. Teach the next generation that we stand for the anthem with our hats off and our hands over our heart. Teach America’s kids that this holiday is meaningful because we live in the United States of America, a nation that has been a blessing to so many. A nation that is the biggest dog on the international block and the freest country known to history. Tell the youth of this country that the 4th of July is the day that we celebrate independence, and that independence means sacrifice, and that sacrifice means commitment, and that commitment means honor.
And then tell them to be careful with those Black Cat firecrackers and to have a good time.
God bless you all, and God Bless America.
Phil Williams is a former State Senator, retired Army Colonel and combat veteran, and a practicing Attorney. He has served with the leadership of the Alabama Policy Institute and currently hosts Rightside Radio M-F 2-5 pm on WVNN. His column appears every Monday in 1819 News. To contact Phil or request him for a speaking engagement go to www.rightsideradio.org The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.