Thursday was Independence Day! It iwas celebrated all across this great nation and today I’ll share with you some past and present observations about this grand American holiday, the Fourth of July! In small towns, White Springs as well as Jasper, Jennings, Live Oak, Mayo and Dowling Park, we do it a little differently than our cousins in the big cities. Our 4th of July has a little more of a “home grown” quality, while theirs is often grander and flashier, more expansive and expensive. Neither way of celebrating is the “right way” or the best way, both ways being appropriate to their place and circumstance, but “home grown” celebrations are probably closer to the origins of the holiday, when America was vastly rural and most towns were small towns. The original 4th of July was reflected upon by another small town newspaper, the Virginia Gazette, on July 18th, 1777, with these words. “Thus may the 4th of July, that glorious and ever memorable day, be celebrated through America, by the sons of freedom, from age to age till time shall be no more. Amen and Amen.”
Ever since we gained out independence we have been celebrating on the fourth of July but, interestingly enough, it wasn’t declared a legal Federal holiday until 1941, just in time for me to be able to celebrate it every year of my life. And I have it on good authority that a celebration tradition is a good thing, perhaps more so now than ever, for Winston Churchill said, “A love for tradition has never weakened a nation; indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril.”
Reflecting on this holiday, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you, some new, and some worth repeating. Our Fourth of July, Independence Day, is now celebrated in ways never imagined by our founding fathers but I believe that they would approve of most of what we do. As I grow older and much more appreciative of tradition, something that I really appreciate about this holiday is that it is one of the few constants in my life. Unlike some traditions, I can still recognize this one. I still know what it really means, and the celebration on the Fourth of July is still today what it was when we all were children and what it will be when we are long past earthly celebrations. Thank goodness!
In keeping with maintaining and preserving this tradition, it is my privilege to share with you the recipe for the No. 1 celebratory dish served and enjoyed on the Fourth of July all over the country. My family has enjoyed it for generations and it tastes better each time you serve it! Take one Declaration of Independence, a Constitution, and some carefully crafted amendments. Add as many American flags as you can along with a liberal dose of family, friends and food. Throw in a few games and stir in some inspirational music. To give it substance, add an ample quantity of honor, respect and duty, and to really spice it up and make each serving unforgettable, add plenty of fireworks. Serve once every year on July 4th and savor its meaning for the rest of the year. Preserve and protect this recipe at all costs and pass it on to each and every generation for the years to come, until time shall be no more!
So enjoy your Fourth of July celebrations but, please, celebrate with some common sense! Mark Twain once said; “July Fourth. Statistics show that we lose more fools on this day than in all the other days of the year put together. This proves, by the number of fools left in stock, that one fourth of July per year is now inadequate.” Said with humor, but a very serious message. Don’t be a Fourth of July fireworks fool!
The very idea of tradition itself has grown in importance to me over the years, partly because it provides the comfort of continuity, a strong sense of belonging, and it gives me a thing of permanence amidst all of our changing lives and times. Independence Day! It has such a nice ring to it. But the word “independence” is often taken out of context today, and many people don’t even refer to its celebration as Independence Day, but rather just as the Fourth of July. It seems strange to me to call a holiday only by its date. For instance, wouldn’t it be weird if we started calling a certain religious holiday simply, “The Twenty Fifth of December?” I am interested in the meanings of words and names, the original meanings that they had, and the purpose they serve. I do find that some folks focus too much on the word “Independence,” thinking that the Fourth of July is a day for them to celebrate a fierce independence from everything and everyone, as if only to emphasize their ability to stand alone. It’s an admirable trait, but it is not what the holiday was created for.
Independence Day was declared to celebrate the declaration of our independence from Great Britain, not from each other! After many peaceful but failed attempts to forge a more mutually beneficial democratic relationship with the mother country, the colonists had no choice but to declare their independence. The colonists did so, but at the same time they realized that having gained independence from Britain they were now, more than ever, dependent upon each other. Independence is only one part of the holiday, because the mutually dependent relationship that we created is something to celebrate too. Mutual dependence means that we can depend on each other to carry our share of the load, to lend a hand when needed, to look out for each other’s welfare and well-being, to be fair and kind and good. We depend on each other in times of need, when we need help to stand up to an adversarial situation that is bigger and more powerful than we can take on by our “independent” selves. That’s why you don’t see many folks bragging about how independent they are when they are dialing 911, or when they are hungry or sick or dying. We thank God for the folks that we are dependent on in these situations, the folks who run toward trouble and danger instead of away from it! On the lighter side, we depend on each other to celebrate the good times too. It would be a lonely birthday or anniversary or yes, Independence Day, if we couldn’t depend on each other to share the joy about how independent we are, not from each other, but from fear and oppression and tyranny.
As in many a small town, some of us in White Springs, and indeed the Town of White Springs itself, struggle to make ends meet, to keep on track, to just be able to be someone or something that others can depend on. We want to know, we NEED to know, that we can depend on each other. Though it may seem ironic, our mutual dependence is well worth preserving and celebrating this Independence Day too.
So today, even as we celebrate our independence, we depend on each other to have opportunities to grow and learn and prosper! Along that line, Project HOPE's STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics) summer camp is in full swing, with campers engaged in many activities since HOPE opened its doors in Stephen Foster State Park on June 17. UF/IFAS 4-H Agent Beth Kerr has completed her “ecology and the natural environment” course, culminating on Friday, June 28, as campers "cooked" their "smores" in their solar ovens. The day before, on Thursday, June 27, campers took a field trip to Big Shoals State Park for a guided nature hike. Transportation was provided by the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority. Campers were joined by park rangers and experienced volunteers who provided detailed commentary about the state lands and their inhabitants adjacent to the Suwannee River. Since no keepsakes can be collected from state park grounds, a local "rock collector" offered fossilized coral specimens to each of the campers. Before heading out to Big Shoals, campers were educated about snakes the week before — those friendly and those not so friendly — by internationally-recognized snake enthusiast Ranger Jim Ellis and snake wrangler Park Service Specialist Peter Shanks. At the snake Meet & Greet, campers were introduced to a captive community of Ball Python, Boa Constrictor and Corn Snakes. STEM in the Park celebrated Independence Day on Wednesday, July 3, with a BBQ cookout presided over by White Springs' own celebrity chef Teddy Bear Marshall. Special guests of honor were the Stephen Foster State Park rangers who have extended great hospitality to Project HOPE and the STEM in the Park staff, campers and their parents. Yes, the kids celebrated their independence, but they knew that they could depend on Helen Miller and all the other folks who made the Hope STEM camp possible!
Well, once again I’ve said enough but, as always, I do want to remind you that if you have news you want to share, you should let “Life in White Springs” help. We’re always glad to hear about goings on in the community and will be glad to share anything that is appropriate for this column. I join you in celebrating our independence, but at the same time I am thankful that we can depend on each other, and I hope that we can continue to feel proud of who we are and where we’re headed, and that we all appreciate how White Springs and its surrounding region is a very special place, to be honored and protected. As always, I look forward to seeing you out and about, enjoying your community and your life in White Springs.