Saturday, 4 July 2015

Independence Day memories

My first "Fourth"  was in 1975.   That was the summer between my junior and senior years in seminary.  I was hired by the late Bishop Alexander Stewart (of Western Massachusetts) to work with others in arranging vacation bible schools in four different parishes.

Our first gig was at St. James' Church, Greenfield, MA.  After four days we took a long weekend off, since 4th July was on a Friday that year.

A friend  and his wife  invited me to join them at their family home in Old Lyme CT. 

I was driven from Greenfield MA to Hartford CT, there to hook up with my Old Lyme friends.

The aforesaid Bishop Stewart treated us to dinner at the Hartford Club,  (guess who did not have a jacket). I ate my first ever Oysters on a Half Shell (and wondered why some people think of them as a delicacy).

My friend's parents lived in a Golf Course Community, a first for me. 

I had expected some reflection on the importance of the day, perhaps the singing of the National Anthem, and maybe some prayers.

What I got was a lot of food, more gin and tonics than I can remember, and a lot of food.

I ate my first Pringles "chips"  (I think that they are truly awful). 

I have a vague memory that we wandered down to the river and watched some fireworks.

It was all a bit disappointing, it seemed to be a rather less than reflective observance of Independence.  But I've come to accept that this was, and is the American Way.

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I came back to the United States for work soon after Independence Day 1976  ( the Bicentennial),  I was posted to Fitchburg, MA.  A short time after my arrival the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited Boston as part of what Her Majesty stubbornly called a celebration of the Bi-Centenary.

I fancied that they were checking up on me.

I cannot remember 4th July parades in Fitchburg (1976-80) nor in Chicopee, MA,  my next port of call (1980-84), (there must have been some).

The it was off to Pittsfield, MA  (1984-2000).    Pittsfield knows how to stage a 4th July parade.  It is so wonderful that for a number of years Public Television broadcasted it live, and arranged for it to been seen at U.S.A. military installations throughout the world.

The Parade would wend its way around Park Square, passing  my beloved St. Stephen's Parish. That gave us the chance to have a fund-raiser (hot dogs and hamburgers I think) - good old American enterprise on the Fourth.

Pittsfielders will remember if at one time  (and maybe now)  the Parade ended somewhere on Wahconah Street (near the Cemetery?).  I've just remembered that I was an invited guest on the religious reviewing stand,  across the street from the Hospital. 

I was there with (if my memory is correct), Monsignor "Johnnie" Johnson ( a sweet and gentle Catholic Priest who had been the Pastor at St. Mark's Catholic Church in West Street since before Christ); and with Rabbi Harold Salzmann., ( I am certain that he was there).

That good Rabbi and I were never sweet and gentle. Indeed we were just about equals in our desire and ability to be vociferous and highly opionated. It all made for good fun.

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Pittsfield's  Cable Access TV station live-streamed the parade today (4th July 2015) , so I was able to watch a bit of it,  via the internet.  It was a rainy day in the Berkshires, but so far as I could tell no spirits were dampened.

But my very best 4th July parade was in Freeport, ME.  I was in the area for a mini-vacation sometime in the late 1990's  The parade was totally un-staged, slightly shambolic, and short:  and all the better for that.  

It was utterly wonderful to see the locals strutting their stuff, and waving to their friends who lined the street. I caught the  good spirit of genuine patriotism and utter goodwill in small-town America.

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TODAY, the Fourth of July 2015,  I celebrated by:

1.  Hoisting "Old Glory" outside my home.

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2.  Reading the Declaration of Independence, which I do on every "Fourth".

It is a noble document, rooted in an appreciation of earlier democracies;  in "enlightenment" understandings of the rights of man in society;  in the struggles for liberty in "Mother England";   and (I think) in the Puritan/Calvinist teachings about the self-government of the local Church.

(I do not believe that it is rooted in the Christian faith).

It is indeed a noble document, save for this section, which sends shivers down my spine:

 
"He (King George)  has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions"
 
 
Oh what pain these words have wrought.
 
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3.  Having a perfectly wonderful and simple dinner with my friends the wonderful Ron and Charlotte Thompson.  Ron and Char are amongst the most noble humans I have ever met.  We relished each others' company on this, the 239th anniversary of the events which led to our nation's birth.

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