remembering “Fourths” of long ago

There may be nothing more American than the Fourth of July. There isn’t a lot of patriotism left in this country, but there are memories left in this old head. When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, the Fourth of July was serious. People went out of their way to celebrate. Everyone had some variation on the theme of the American flag. Some were big enough to fly high. Others were small and stapled to a round stick. Those were the ones kids carried to a parade.

I remember decorating my bicycle by putting red, white and blue crepe paper in the spokes, and a small American flag on one of the handlebars. If you did that, you could sneak into the parade and while they pretended to care, they really didn’t.

Patriotism in my world was a by-product of World War II, when ordinary men who had just performed extraordinary feats of valor, returned to their families and jobs and picked up where they left off. They brought with them a new pride in this nation. Some of them donned their uniforms and marched and children could be seen saluting. Back then we were taught respect for anything American military.

Our respect pecking order was easy. Our highest respect went to those in the following order: ministers, member of the military, veterans, teachers, your parents, and any adult in your neighborhood. You owed all of those people your respect and you always displayed your manners around them.

At home, mom made creme soda floats with vanilla ice cream as our treat. If we had a handfull of sparklers or even an M-80 if you had a little more money, those were set off much to the delight of all the children in the neighborhood. Family games were played and people just sat around and talked about the greatness of America, and eventually dozed off for a few minutes.

There was no television and no video games. There was only imagination and imagination is what we lived by. We played soldiers, cowboys, and hide and seek (or as we called it in the east end of Portsmouth – hide and go seek). We could create an entire scenario on our own. We played from the time the sun came up until you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.

If you had the time, a trip to downtown Portsmouth was a treat. Every building was full and doing business. Marting’s, Kobackers, Bragdons, Kresge’s, Macks, Wolff’s, the list goes on and on. You could go to a movie theater and see three full-length motion pictures, 21 cartoons and a travelogue, for the price of 20 cents. So if you could sell an old car battery and get 50 cents, you were set for the day, because it would get you into the show and buy your soda and candy or popcorn.

The Fourth of July was special. It was a day in which you could show your pride in America. We were ranked first in everything in the world. We were respected everywhere, and we were benevolent both at home and abroad.

Can America be great again? It remains to be seen. But we have come a long way since great men gathered together to form this nation. This is my favorite story because it is about a question we need to answer again.

The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. The answer was provided immediately. A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

So let me ask – “can we keep it?”

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By Frank Lewis

[email protected]

Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.

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