I’ve always loved Independence Day. As a kid growing up on the East Coast, for me, this holiday usually meant heading down with my family to my grandparents’ farm just outside of Ocean City, Maryland. We’d spend long days at the beach, with my siblings and I staying out in the water for hours until our lips were just shy of blue, our teeth were literally chattering from the cold, and our fingers were so shriveled they looked like they would easily disintegrate when we started to towel them dry.
Lunch meant getting Dayton’s fried chicken at the boardwalk and pairing it with Thrasher’s french fries (in my opinion, still the best french fries in the world, hands down; and, no, my family never used the term “pair” when discussing food—that’s an annoying habit I developed all on my own from reading way too much food –related literature later in life). And, of course, the highlight of the celebrations was coming back down to the beach on the night of July 4th for the big fireworks display. As impressive as the show was in the air, we’d also get to watch the distorted reflections of the pyrotechnics in the water make crazy designs that we could never replicate with our Spirographs the next day.
And as much fun as all this was, the way my family approached this holiday, the topics covered in the talk around the dinner table, and the stories told long into the night put a spotlight on the actual meaning of Independence Day, without my parents, uncles and aunts, or grandparents even consciously trying to do so. These people had all been born in Ukraine, had been driven from their homes during World War II, had suffered in concentration camps, and then had languished in displaced persons camps for years after the war had ended. Finally, they were given a chance to relocate to the United States and start a new life. For them, this holiday wasn’t just a chance to enjoy some time off from work and get together as a family; this was an opportunity to reflect on and be grateful for the fact that the United States is a wonderful country, and we’re lucky to be a part of it. And, although we can all find fault with different aspects of our country today, that basic truth still holds true. So, as we all celebrate the 4th in our own way this upcoming holiday weekend, I urge us all to take some time to reflect on how lucky we are to live in this country, and what we can do to keep the greatness going.