Saturday, July 7, 2007

Small Town Third of July

As you probably guessed from my post on the actual Fourth of July, I consider myself a patriot. I do very much love this country and wake up happy every day to be a part of this nation. Not that I don't frequently roll my eyes in exasperation at things our people say and do, both publicly and privately, but overall, I feel pretty much like I won the lottery being born here instead of, say, here.

In my capacity as Senior Anonymous Paper Shuffler for a cog in the Great Military-Industrial Complex, I work at the largest inland naval installation in the country. We could never figure it out either, and it certainly baffled the Cubans in 1962, who thought submarines were being built there and floated down the Mississippi River.

Of course, that wasn't the case--actually it was a training base for both sailors and Marines in various avionics and aviation fields. At the height of the Cold War, there were more than 8,000 students at the base training for careers as pilots, technicians, air traffic controllers, and other specialities.

With the post-Cold War base realignment, the mission is much different now, and the base is smaller --both in size and personnel. It's situated in a small town about 20 miles north of the urban jungle I call home, and I drive past fields of cotton, feeder corn and soybeans to get to work and back home each day.

Nobody celebrates Independence Day like a small town, and when you couple it with a resident branch of the armed voices, you have a mix of the very best in Americana. The small town is home to the training grounds for the United States Olympic baseball team, and hosts collegiate and service academy tournaments every year. A NASCAR speedway appeared about a decade ago on the edge of a beanfield next door to a tiny fixed-wing airport. There's a restaurant in town that serves cheap and delicious crispy-fried catfish, with sliced onions and homemade fried-green tomatoes. It's like time stopped, and in a rather nice place.

The town and the base collaborated to celebrate Independence Day, albeit on the third of July, on the shores of Navy Lake. Now, Navy Lake hold a special nostalgia for me, as one of my sisters and a few of my friends used to go up there on weekends (we still had to get a pass to get on base--more on this another time) and hang out with friends we'd met while out dancing or listening to bands, drink a beer or two, or rent a canoe and paddle around. These days, the lake looks a lot smaller than I remember and there are signs posted everywhere telling us to beware of snakes.

I took Dear Daughter, Best Friend of DD, and their Best Friend-Boy up to the celebration on the evening of the third. We staked out a blanket and a couple of lawn chairs in front of the bandstand, and, being teens-and-'tweens, the three kids promptly abandoned me. I settled down in a chair to watch the Navy swing band play some World War II-era favorites in the late afternoon sun. A while later, the Navy rock band, appropriately named "Freedom" came on. While it is arguably difficult to be hip and funky in summer whites, these guys definitely gave it a shot. I would suggest perhaps they devote some manpower to recruiting a songwriter or two, but the energy level was high, the musicianship was excellent and the crowd loved it. People walked by drinking lemonade or the occasional beer, families on blankets surrounded us. A call went out asking us to sign a banner being sent to troops serving overseas. Kids played catch. Balloons drifted away. I could smell corn dogs and cotton candy. I was in heaven.

As dusk fell, the kids came back (DD had distinguished herself by throwing up her dinner on the merry-go-round as it was frantically spun by an adult, but she seemed no worse for the wear) and sprawled on the blanket drinking sodas. The band changed to the Navy brass marching band and the musical menu switched to service anthems and a steady diet of John Philip Sousa.

We lay back to watch as the fireworks suddenly began over the lake. As the mortars flashed and boomed, I was reminded of John Adams' words in a letter to his wife Abigail after leaving the debate in the Continental Congress, where the decision was made to declare the fledgling nation's independence from the tyranny of England:

The second day (sic) of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.

Sitting there with these three lovely children admiring the shows and illuminations celebrating the courage of Mr. Adams and his peers, I breathed a sincere prayer of gratitude that I am who I am, when I am and where I am. I was born in the U.S.A. And that is certainly something to celebrate.

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