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Stars and Stripes Forever

Look for our flag to be flying on the Fourth of July!

You’ll smell the smoke from our grill as Charles barbecues a goat. There will be roasting ears, sliced tomatoes, potato salad, baked beans, all on a red and white tablecloth. And plenty of sweet tea!

The children will come. The sound of bikes wheeling around our circle driveway will be punctuated by sporadic firecrackers in the distance, fired by folks impatient for the real show later in the evening.

There will be a passionate prayer of thanksgiving at our table by our head of the house as he talks to God about our precious freedoms. (Well, that will be after the little ones say their blessing of “God is good, God is great, thank you for this lovely day; By His hands we are fed, thank you for our daily bread.”) Charles will also include prayers for our president, his cabinet, and, of course, our military including, very particularly, my nephew Nathan about to ship out for a year in Kuwait leaving a wife and four-year-old-daughter behind.

As I pull out patriotic trappings “getting ready,” my mind rushes to other Fourths.

There was the year we pulled up peach trees at the Lane of Palms. Some of us longed to go to the beach. Or to the mountains. Escape the unrelenting humidity and heat of South Georgia. But Charles was the veterinarian on call and we weren’t going anywhere. Instead, Mama and Papa Graham were coming and we were all, one way or another, going to be involved in pulling up peach trees, a whole little orchard of them!

The peach trees had proven themselves infertile and had been condemned. Our plan was to concentrate on blueberry bushes and have a good place for a badminton court and a basketball goal.

But did we have to do it on the Fourth of July? Our children groaned.

We started early after a big breakfast. It turned into one of our biggest, most heated, funniest, and most memorable of all Fourths. With Papa’s truck, a chain, the shouts of “Pull!” and “Whoa!” those peach trees were all gone in a couple of hours. But in our minds we remember an all-day torture ending with a feast of hamburgers, mounds of fresh vegetables, and a huge blueberry pie. Ever after, our children have remembered that day as comparable to the Israelite slaves in Egypt building the pyramids.

And there was the year at my birth home when we all gathered around for the cutting of a watermelon. It was a volunteer watermelon we’d watched for weeks growing in a corner of Mamma’s garden. She kept telling us it wasn’t ready but on July 3rd she thumped it and decided, a little dubiously, that we could enjoy it the next day. She instructed Stanley to take it to the spring to cool overnight. We all, about eight of us, gathered around it as Mamma prepared to cut it open, our taste buds wild for the rich red juicy texture. The melon opened–and we all gasped in disappointment. It was the first time I ever had heard of a citron, green and tasteless as grass! To this day, I remember the disappointment unappeased by any substitute.

Charles and I have enjoyed many fabulous family vacations at the Gulf, viewing a parade in Demorest, Georgia and watching kayaking through Tallulah Gorge, enjoying the blue Smoky Mountains, roasting marshmallows in the backyard, watching fireworks at Disney World and at Cairo High School stadium with children and grandchildren. There have been gazillion churns of ice cream, delicious indoor picnics at our church–and one year a very quiet trip to St. George Island with our daughter Julie.

Julie couldn’t get out much in those days. She was in pain and discomfort so much of the time due to a neurological disease. On that Fourth (about 2010), we talked her into going with us for a day trip to the beach. We took folding chairs and established ourselves under a shelter. The wind was brisk, as it always is at St. George, but there were no flies, no-see-ums, or mosquitoes. We ate sandwiches, drank ice cold sodas, watched the seagulls and the blue water. I think I took the game Trionomos, one which Julie always won.  But she didn’t feel like playing that day. Charles, always trying to make things better, tried to figure out a way to push Julie in her wheelchair down near the water. Julie stoutly refused his offer, however. She said she never had liked the sand that much anyway. We stopped on our way off the island at an ice cream shop, a traditional stop for our family. Charles and I climbed the steep steps and purchased cups of ice cream for us to eat in the car. We drove home without stopping for fresh seafood because Julie cared nothing for shrimp or fish. It was when I saw how glad she was to get back to her little apartment that I realized she had gone because she wanted to make us happy.

Charles shared an article in Thomasville Times-Enterprise yesterday about our nation’s birthday. We were reminded that it was actually July 2, 1776 when our founding fathers voted to form the United States of America. The first signatures were written on July 4, but it was as much as a month later before all the signers had affixed their signatures on that earth changing document, the Declaration of Independence.  The last paragraph of the Declaration says: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Each person who signed the document had to know it could be his death warrant, pointed out the journalist team writing for the Times. Yet they signed it, imperiling themselves and their families. Freedom meant that much.

Yes, we will be flying our flag on the Fourth. We are free to salute that flag, to praise the Lord for His goodness, to raise our children in peace, to read books of our choice, to sing our national anthem, to object to what we think is wrong, to shoot squirrels that are eating our lawn furniture, to butcher a goat for a feast, to gather friends and family, to vote for our choice of president and to work together if our choice didn’t win the election. We are even free to pay taxes about which we are regularly informed and to enjoy results, such as traveling safely across the land.

What a great country we live in! Thank God for the USA!

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