Reflections of the Forth of July - Family and Freedom
Class of 2015
(7/1) American history is characterized by the strength and talent of the individual. Everywhere there is proof of the power that single-minded, incredibly individualistic people have had on the culture of our nation. You see it in the textbooks that extol the virtues of such great and different men such as Teddy Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson. This
streak of strong, eclectic heroes can even be seen in our own revolution when American legends like Benjamin Franklin, partnered with French aristocrats like the Marquis De Lafayette and Prussian soldiers like Colonel Von Steuban to forge a new country from the untamed wilderness.
This same spirit of individuality not only survives but thrives in the way we celebrate the birth of our nation on the Fourth of July. Everywhere from New York to Santa Fe, people ring in America’s birthday in an amazing number of ways. My childhood in the tiny village of Abbottstown has taught me that the Fourth of July is a defining experience. The
air here simmers with the heat of one hundred midnight bonfires where old friends and family members gather to share cold beers and stories. When you walk down one of the tiny cul-de-sacs you can almost taste the hotdogs, burgers and bratwurst that roast on grills around town. And when the sky finally turns dark, every member of town breaks open a package of fireworks and
paints the sky in bright hues of red, white, and blue. This massive display of aerial artwork lasts long after July fourth: the skies of my town can be seen from miles away for at least a week or two after America’s birthday has come and gone.
But it is not this kind of celebration that reminds me of the Fourth of July. The memories that I hold near and dear are far simpler than those painted skies, bright fires and tasty treats. No, every year, regardless of where or how, my family seeks to spend the Fourth of July with the ones we love. One of my earliest memories (I must have been three
or four years old) about the Fourth of July takes place in a log cabin in the forested hills of central Pennsylvania. When other people were bringing out the grills and safely-made explosive devices, my family brought out bug spray and sleeping bags for a weekend of camping with my Uncle Tomas and his son Joe. This trip not only provided an excellent getaway from the outside
world but a chance to bond with our Uncle and cousin. At this time my uncle was still struggling through law school, and raising his son kept him a very busy man. My parents both worked in the public school system and two boisterous sons also kept their hands full. This trip represented the one time that year we would see one another.
That weekend, we made the most of our time together and celebrated the Fourth of July in style. There were campfire stories and s’mores a plenty. Hikes through the green woods and a plethora of stick fights between us boys. But the defining event of that trip was to come during our last evening in the woods. We had just finished our final day at the
cabin, and my family was sleeping peacefully. The last embers of the woodstove were dying quietly and the inside of the cabin had descended into darkness, when I was awakened by a sound. I lay there groggily trying to understand what was happening, trying to discern whether or not the sound was real or imagined. But it came again and again. It sounded something like a bag of
rocks being dumped unceremoniously into a blender while a growling dog harmonized with it. My young mind immediately went to a single thought: bear. A bear was in our cabin. I jumped out of bed yelling and screaming "BEAR! BEAR! BEEEEAAAAARRRR!" My parents were awakened by my sudden screaming and flicked on the cabin lights (a practice avoided to keep our camping trips
authentic) and ran to my side to see what was wrong. I pointed out the growling sound and said that it was proof that a bear was truly in our cabin ready to eat us. My parents chuckled and led me to the cot where my uncle lay; still sound asleep despite my screaming. Imagine my shock when I discovered that the terrifying bear sound I feared came from him. We left the cabin
the next day, driving home in good spirits, joking about how we had barely survived our "bear attack."
As I grew older, however, my family’s annual camping trip became harder to plan and attend. Both my parents were rising to new positions in their fields, my father as vice principal and my mom as a successful guidance counselor. Uncle Tomas was finishing his law degree and slated for a great and lucrative career. My brother, cousin, and myself were
busying ourselves with school, plays, and boy scouts, and gradually it became apparent that we could no longer make the annual trip to the cabin. However, the spirit of those early Fourth of July adventures lived on and my family improvised. The next Fourth of July weekend Tomas and Joe arrived at our house as usual armed with camping gear. Once we were ready, we made the
truly arduous trek across our yard where we set up our tents in front of our barn and spent our weekend in a wilderness of our own making. There were no campfires, no s’mores, and thankfully no "bear attacks," but there were dollar-store firecrackers to make us laugh and hand held sparklers to light up the night sky before the larger explosions illuminated the world.
In a weird way I feel more connected to those little moments with the people I love than I ever did or will with the grills, bonfires, and parades that celebrate America’s heritage. Whether it was the almost comedy movie timing that happened when we let a grizzly bear sleep in our cabin, or throwing up a tent in our backyard its these kind of quirky
moments that define my memories of Fourth of July. In the same spirit of the founding Americans; my family has broken with the standard backyard barbecue and bonfire and celebrated America’s birth in our own way. In breaking the typical traditions and embarking on our own version of the summer bash, we’ve made memories that well last far longer than any fireworks display ever
could. And honestly, what better way to ring in such a momentous day then in the same spirit of individualism as our ancestors with the people that mean the most to us. Hopefully all of you can find a moment to cherish an amazing day in your own fashion. Until next time, I’m Kyle Ott; won’t you sit and read for a while?
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