HAPPY BIRTHDAY US
This is a night to celebrate our American birthday, and to celebrate us.
There are fireworks on television — live from downtown and slightly delayed, from D.C. and New York City.
I used to live in a nine-story downtown apartment building. It had a swimming pool on the roof; the area around the pool was a deck — perfect for hanging out and watching the fireworks. We could see the flashes, feel the booms, and hear the symphony — “1812 Overture” with its crashes and fanfares — better somehow, when shared.
One memorable year, I was in D.C. for the 4th of July celebration on the National Mall. We were not quite on the mall itself — we stretched out on our backs in the grass just across the sidewalk from the mall. We could see the fireworks exploding over our heads; we could hear the music from the main stage, extending out from the Lincoln Memorial. We could see the lights of the stage, but could not make out the tiny figures on the stage. Glad there were jumbo-trons!
On another special July 4th in New York City, several families gathered on a terrace. We watched the fireworks, being fired from a barge on the Hudson River, reflect off the tall and shining buildings around us. One of the group had an appropriate “play list” on his phone; the track I remember best is Jimi Hendrix playing his iconic version of the “Star Spangled Banner” at Woodstock. I get tears now, remembering that night and that music and those friends.
I was in Independence Hall in Philadelphia as a child, on a family vacation, and again many years later to watch the finals of a national high school oratorical competition. I still can’t quite picture the congressional gathering, the discussions, the presentations, the signing, the announcement.
And a woman signed the Declaration? Whaaaat? It’s right there. Mary Katherine Goddard. She was the type-setter, entrusted by Congress to prepare copies of the document for distribution. She included her own name along with all those of the representatives, and she signed the Declaration! Mary Katherine Goddard’s name is at the bottom. (Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Continental Congress & Constitutional Convention Broadsides Collection)(Library of Congress).
In the neighborhood tonight, lots of kids and big kids were setting off an amazing array of fireworks. I walked around, listening for the booms and looking at the brightly colored flashes cross the sky. It’s been a great day of celebration and of memories.