On the Fourth of July I went to the New York State Fair grounds for the Independence Day celebration. There was a ceremony to naturalize new citizens. Immigrants from Russia, Libya, Trinidad, Cuba and elsewhere took the oath to become American citizens.
A color guard—three women and two men—from the 174th Air National Guard paraded the American flag. We stood and sang the Star Spangled Banner. Symphony Syracuse played the songs of each military branch while the VFW carried their flags. In the family group next to me, Grandpa stood for the Navy and a young woman with a child clutching her knees stood for the Army.
Grandma and Grandpa had two children. Their son joined the Marines so he could go to college on the military benefits. After his active service, he went to college and joined the National Guard. He was called up to Kosovo, then went back to college. Called again for Afghanistan, then back to college again. His sister,
the tanned young woman with the two-year-old son, is a captain in the Army,
currently studying at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She was in Kuwait and will be going to Iraq. Her husband, also an Army officer, is in Afghanistan. Intermittently, their child lives with her parents in Texas.
Thousands of people attended the celebration—young, old, pregnant, tattooed, toothless—wearing red, white and blue. Americans celebrated being American, then the fireworks let loose. And through it all, I wondered when I stopped loving my country.
My ancestor, John Hope, left England before 1672 because he was a Quaker and the British were persecuting their Quakers. He set to farming in the New World, and sent for his wife and six children. Ten years after Hope arrived, William Penn came and deeded the farm into the Hope family. When the British were twenty miles from the farm, the Hope boys went to fight in the Revolutionary War. We are not the Daughters of the Revolutionary War; we were its mothers.
When I was a child, the hundreds of acres of farmland had been divided. Thomas Hope had the lower farm—the original farm. His sister—my grandmother—and her husband had the upper farm. Their two sisters and their husbands each had adjacent properties for their homes. As sons and daughters married and set up housekeeping, they built houses on the properties. Before my mother married, she lived within walking distance of all thirteen of her cousins. It was all about family, and it was good.
Every year, on the Sunday before the Fourth of July, the Hope family gathered on the farm for a reunion. All the local relatives came, as well as the kin who had moved away—in all, about a hundred people. We gathered after church. We bowed our heads as the eldest male thanked God for our blessings, then we lined up to pass through the house and by the buffet tables. We ate baked ham and fried chicken, potato salad and macaroni salad, deviled eggs and lemon butter, sugar cookies and watermelon; we drank lemonade and iced tea.
After we ate, the men and boys would go out to the meadow to play baseball then a silent moment would come when the men would look at each other and then
disappear. Men who had grown up on the farms then gone to teaching, engineering and banking would join their brothers and cousins in the barns on this one day, and they would milk the dairy herds together. It was all about family.
After the milking, the dinner leftovers—there were plenty—would be set out for a second meal and then, as dusk settled, dozens of sparklers would be lit. Some would be set in the ground between the small American flags that lined the walk to the front door of the farmhouse. It was America, and we were blessed, and I
loved my country.
President Kennedy was shot, and we grieved as a country. President Johnson signed the Civil Rights legislation, and it was good. With grievous labor pains, we were reborn as one integrated nation under God. The Vietnam War was wrong. Defying “Love it or leave it,” many of us stood our ground on “Love it
enough to change it” and the war was brought to an end. Richard Nixon committed political atrocities. Each day I’d come home from work, turn on the television, and be appalled at the latest news from Washington, but the Constitution was strong and held true. The destruction of the World Trade Center didn’t destroy America
either. (To be continued)