The auditorium curtain was pulled, and there we stood, about 30 second graders, dressed in red, white and blue. Blue pants for boys, blue skirts for girls, white shirts or blouses, and red kerchiefs made by our teacher around our necks. In our hands we held small American flags. Our second grade teacher, the late Mrs. Virginia J. Daniel, gave us a nod and a wink, and played the introduction on the old Baldwin upright piano in our auditorium and we sang with gusto:
“Said Washington to Betsy Ross, ‘A flag our nation needs To lead our valiant soldiers on to high and noble deeds Now can you make one for us,’ to which she made reply, ‘I am not certain if I can; At least I'll gladly try.’ Chorus: “So she took some red for the blood they shed Some white for purity, Some stars so bright from the sky overhead Some blue for loyalty, And sewed them all together, For loyal hearts and true, And hand in hand as one we stand For the red, the white and the blue. “Said Betsy Ross to Washington, ‘Your country's flag behold!’ And through his tear-dimmed eyes he saw the stars and stripes unfold. Then to his breast he clasped it, and looked to heaven above. ‘Oh may it ever stand,’ he cried, ‘For rights and truth and love.’”
I sang that song over five decades ago, and, for some reason those lyrics reverberated with me for the past several weeks. I began to think about the little song in connection with the Fourth of July.
The Fourth of July, Independence Day, Red, White, and Blue, Fireworks, Cookouts, Good times.
Let’s go back to the little song learned during childhood and reflect on those words for a moment.
“So she took some red for the blood they shed.” American blood was shed for our nation’s independence, and, to maintain that independence, is still being shed today. Don’t ever lose sight of that. As you celebrate, try, in the midst of grilling hamburgers and hot dogs, and making sure the watermelon is ice cold, to focus a little on “why” we can celebrate. You may want to engage in a bit of storytelling. Put down your cell phone and demand your children do the same and tell them the story. It doesn’t have to be epic. It does need to be true, and that truth involves the hundreds of thousands who died and who continue to shed that “red” blood for the freedom and independence of this nation.
Now let’s move to the white for purity. The purity of that white, in my mind’s eye, had to do with the pure idea of maintaining independence. It was and, still “is,” a single-minded purpose that requires tremendous grit, determination and sacrifice. It can’t be sullied, muddied, nor made anything else other than what it is. Now, there are some folks who are plainer spoken than others. I think about the famous American General John J. Pershing, and his entry with the American forces into Paris, France, following its liberation from Germany at the end of the First World War. Everyone expected a long oration, a drawn out speech, and I am told he stood up, he spoke up at the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette, who aided this nation so much during the American Revolution, and said: “Lafayette We are here!!” and that was it. What more could be said? Freedom had arrived in its purest form. One of the lines of an old African American spiritual “Free At Last, Free at Last. Thank God Almighty I’m Free at Last.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to learn those lines, and they are very pure in meaning and expression. “In God we Trust,” pretty self-explanatory and pure, and it’s still on the money in the most real sense. By the way, “In God We Trust” is the motto of the State of Florida, too. Pure, not contaminated, not muddied.
Let’s think about the stars, 13 on our original flag for each of the colonies, now 50. Stars, they offer brilliance in our darkest hour, they guided navigators on sea journeys, and they guided a number of special visitors to a manger in Bethlehem. Don’t underestimate stars. The sun is a big one, and we need it to provide light and life. I think since our Revolutionary War provided a chance for light and life for many; the stars are appropriate symbols on our nation’s flag.
“Some blue for loyalty.” Loyalty is a virtue that often is not held in the esteem it deserves. We can learn a lot from loyalty from our four legged friends, our pets. If we take care of our pets, treat them well, and provide them with the opportunity to enjoy life, in most cases, most cases, we can expect unconditional loyalty. The United States of America, despite its many faults, provided many, many individuals with those famous words expressed in the Constitution, remember them. LIFE, LIBERTY, and the PURSUIT of HAPPINESS, and the fact we can pursue happiness is, and of itself an opportunity that, to me, at least merits loyalty. There are so many places in our world where happiness cannot be pursued, and I won’t go into all the places and circumstances, but as we approach this 243rd Birthday of the Republic, we can still worship as we please, travel without having to stop at the border of another state and receive permission, read the newspaper, listen to the news, and we have many opportunities to pursue and if we work hard enough, achieve so much that in many parts of the world is unattainable.
Now, I am going to sew this up, as Betsy Ross did our flag in the little childhood song. I don’t have much sense, but I have sense enough to know I don’t have much. What I observe, though, is there are thousands risking their lives trying to come to the United States of America all the time, and I don’t see a mass migration from this country to so many other nations. Maybe that’s arguable, and I am sure it is. Some folks could argue with a hollow stump. I am old enough I can walk away when they start too, and, at least on the inside say “Bless Your Hearts.” And on the inside, too, I might think the lyrics of an old Merle Haggard song “If you don’t love it, leave it.”
The little childhood song of Washington and Betsy Ross learned many years ago was just a song with one of our classmates dressed in a wig made out of cotton balls looking like Georgie Washington that brought laughter when he put it on, and another classmate wearing spectacles and a long dress to resemble Betsy Ross. At the time, I never thought of the deeper meaning. Like everyone else, I was having a good time singing and, more than singing, thinking of the cupcakes and punch we had coming as a reward for singing.
As I reflected on that little song, though, I can truthfully say our teacher gave us an indelible gift. I can still remember all the words of it, as well as the tune and, it taught us a history lesson, and, as it reverberated in my mind over the past couple of weeks, it caused me to think more about that song, so, indeed, let’s celebrate and let’s concentrate on those lyrics, and let’s really pray and try to concentrate on that one line:
“And hand in hand as ONE we stand for the red, the white, and blue.” Keep that line in mind more than anything from the song. Keep that line in mind and practice it.
The hand reaching out to you when you need it may look different than yours, and it may not have reached before, but, as Americans, we need that hands holding, supporting, comforting, caring, now, more than ever, and one more thing, I mentioned laughter. We need the wonderful gift of laughter often. We need that now more than ever before too.
So, on the Fourth of July when you wake up, think silently or say aloud “Happy Birthday, America. I love you and hand in hand as one we stand for the red, and white and blue.”
From the Eight Mile Still on the Woodpecker Route north of White Springs, wishing you a day filled with joy, peace, and, above all, lots of love and laughter. Have a Happy, Safe, and Blessed Fourth of July!! God Bless you. God Bless America!!