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ROSE NOLEN: Independence Day brings memories of great community events

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — For years, I have been hoping to make it through one Independence Day without hearing the sound of a single firecracker exploding. So far I haven’t made it.

My hatred of fireworks began when I was a freshman in high school. I was walking to the school library when someone in a passing car threw a cherry bomb and it exploded when it hit my leg. I had a bad reaction to the injury, and I’ve never forgotten it. As a result, I try to avoid crowds throughout the holiday period, and I get agitated when people are throwing firecrackers.

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Otherwise, my most enjoyable Independence Day celebrations were spent in the same city where I was injured. By the time we woke up on the Big Day, the city authorities would have already come around and roped off our neighborhood streets. The American Legion post around the corner would host the festivities. The men would set up picnic tables, which they brought out of the post’s building and decorated them with white sheets and red, white and blue ribbons. The women would stack the tables with platters and bowls filled with food, and each table would sport its own flag flying from the center.

The post had its own band, complete with a superbly talented drum major who provided much of the day’s entertainment. The day’s festivities would begin with an old-fashioned parade, led by the band and featuring most of the politicians who lived in or near our neighborhood. These politicians would deliver patriotic speeches periodically throughout the morning. Our neighborhood school had a girls' chorus that sang the national anthem and other appropriate songs.

A play area was set up for the younger children where they could pitch pennies for prizes or have double rope-skipping contests. The older kids played “Kick the Can” in the roped-off streets. Food was provided from noon until dinner time. I think the important thing for me was that holidays like Independence Day qualified as community events, which the entire neighborhood celebrated collectively.

Long after we moved away from the city, I have been struck by the sentiment people in small towns express about city ways. Some who have never lived in the city believe that people there live as strangers. That’s actually not true. I’ve never experienced the sense of unity and community in any small town the way I did in the city, especially on national holidays.

That’s probably not the same today as it once was because our entire perspective has changed as a people. But I’ll always be glad that I grew up in a simpler time, when the differences between our government and other governments around the world could be explained in everyday language, and a time when our historic documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the preamble to the Constitution could be recited and respected for the masterpieces that they are.

That’s why I believe so strongly that the preservation of history is so important. Every generation should be able to relive the events of the past generation, so that they can examine and review the changes that occur from generation to generation and are not tempted, as so often has been the case, to throw out the dishes with the dishwater.

Certainly not everyone agrees, but many feel that we have sacrificed some important values in the name of progress over the years. I know that I don’t feel the same way about Independence Day as I did all those years ago in the city.

No, I’m not one of those people who wants to turn back the clock. As a matter of fact, I want to make the 21st century of American life memorable as the time when we came to grips with the mistakes we made and began to rectify them.

The world is still safe for dreamers, isn’t it?

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at nolen@iland.net.

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