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Four Years at the Mount

Junior year

Reflections of the Forth of July - Land of the free, home of the brave

Nicole Jones
Class of 2014

(7/1) Itís hard to believe that July is already here when I have yet to entirely unpack after returning home from my sophomore year of college. Home for me is a 23-acre farm in Westminster where everything is at least a 20-minute drive away. While Iíve lived my whole youth in Westminster, it hasnít always been spent in the countryside. My family used to live in an old brick house near the heart of the city, where a ten-minute drive was considered long.

It was easier to celebrate the Fourth of July there. Westminster as a whole is not very festive for Independence Day. There are no parades, decorations are limited, and carnivals are not specific to the occasion. The one thing I do remember enjoying were the local fireworks. At dusk, my parents, brother, and I loaded into the car with a couple well-worn blankets and headed to the Farm Museum. Weíd scour the field for an open spot among the hundreds of other families, and settle in just in time for the opening fireworks. Blue, green, and red lit up the skies for an hour while children marveled at the exhibition of color. I always wished they lasted just a little longer.

Cookouts were, of course, another family favorite. I enjoyed the preparation process: sending out the invitations, making a list of groceries, then running to BJís with my mom and loading up with the necessary goods. Chips, rolls, drinks, and condiments overflowed so that we needed two grocery carts to hold everything. Then there was handling the seating. Picnic tables, lawn chairs, and deck furniture were dragged into the backyard and covered with red, white, or blue tablecloths. My brother mowed the lawn, my mother skimmed the pool, and soon enough, the scene was set.

Tables were littered with dishes, and the front yard lay hidden under the tires of our guestsí cars. Family and friends came for hot dogs and hamburgers, pasta salad, deviled eggs, and typical cookout fare, possibly bringing their own dish to add to the already overladen tables. My dad manned the grill while our dogs weaved among the chairs seeking table scraps. After their first plate of food, guests mingled. The women sat chatting and catching up with one another while the men stood off to the side enjoying a cigarette as they tossed horseshoes. Children squealed and giggled as they ran among the chairs with the dogs, swung on the playground, splashed in the pool, or dug in the sandbox.

By the end of the day, trash bags were overflowing, the front yard was crisscrossed with tire tracks, and the dogs had gained five pounds Ė along with all the people.

When we moved to the farm, the celebrations followed us. Preparations became more elaborate at first Ė we now had the space to display our own fireworks. As the day drew to an end, my dad and a few brave souls would set them off around our pond. As sparks rained down, the black water reflected back their fiery glow before extinguishing them with a hiss.

I suppose itís fitting that we should enjoy ourselves in such a fashion, celebrating our freedom with the loud bang of explosives. Like any holiday, the basis and meaning of our traditions may be lost to the general public over time, yet the tradition itself survives. The first anniversary of our freedom in 1777 was celebrated with 13 gunshots and a dinner for the Continental Congress; fireworks were even displayed. Celebrations havenít changed much since, but the spirit and meaning seem to have faded over the years.

To me, fireworks will always reflect what Francis Scott Key later so aptly described as "rocketís red glare". Weíve captured that in a more festive, beautiful way, of course, but do not let these factors make their true purpose become lost on you. Their loud bangs and dangerous, explosive nature serve as a faux war zone, reminding us of the war fought and won, the guns loosed, cannons fired, and blood shed Ė everything we have and continue to sacrifice to maintain our freedom. A freedom which other nations continue to fight for and we are so fortunate to already have.

I say "fortunate" and not "lucky" because luck had no play in this matter. Our freedom was won by what I believe to be the grace of God and the strength, will, and bravery of societyís men and women. As Iím sure many of the less fortunate would tell us, freedom is something a majority of us born-and-raised Americans take for granted. We forget about the struggles in the Middle East, the Arab Spring, and other incidents of suppression that seem so far away to us. We have become so comfortable weíve lost appreciation for the freedom we have to govern ourselves. Time has desensitized us to this privilege. Perhaps it is that we have been, dare I say, free for too long. We have forgotten what it is like to pay obeisance to someone who does not listen to the voice of the people.

I have to admit, Iím just as guilty as the next person. Itís something I sought to rectify last summer. I went online and joined a group that assigned me to a soldier. I wrote to him, and sent him care packages, but it wasnít too long before school got in the way. A week would pass without me writing to him. Then two. Before I knew it, a month had passed. Iíd write long letters to make up for time and then forget to send them. I lost sight of the real reason I was writing to him: to support him.

While I may not always agree with the decisions and actions of my country, I will always support those who protect it. They lay down their lives on a daily basis. They are shipped around the world, leaving behind those they love, to keep war and danger off our soil. We are able to sleep peacefully in our homes because of their sacrifices.

This Independence Day I want to remember the past and the present soldiers who have made our freedom possible. I resolve to make writing to my soldier a priority, and I urge others to find a way to make a soldier feel appreciated. Join a pen-pal group, as I did. Find out who the soldiers are in your local community or church, and put together care packages for them. This Fourth of July, join me in remembering why we remain, "The land of the free, and the home of the brave."

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