I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect a big Fourth of July celebration. Maybe it’s that Litha was such a big family picnic type event, and it was so recent, that it sort of felt like we’d had our big summer holiday. Maybe it’s just that the Fourth of July is so normal, so much a part of the outside world, that I didn’t think we’d recognize it here. Are we even in America anymore? Or have I wandered into some separate little enclave, some other space?
I may have wandered into a separate enclave, but apparently it is still an American enclave, because we celebrated the Fourth. It was not a huge celebration—there was no influx of outsiders, and no huge feast—but we did have a picnic lunch outside and they rearranged the schedule so we all had the afternoon class block free. And there were a couple of events and talks to choose from, all holiday-themed.
It’s funny, there was very little of the symbols of patriotism, even though they’re usually really big on symbols and ceremony here. Come to think of it—that’s strange, I hadn’t noticed before, but there is no flag on campus. You know how most schools have a group of flag poles, with the American flag, the state flag, and the school flag flying? We don’t. I don’t think we even have a school flag. I’ve never seen a logo anywhere. They must be doing it on purpose, they seem to do everything on purpose, but I can’t think why they wouldn’t raise a flag. And yet, there was more focus on the actual country than at any other Fourth of July celebration I’ve ever been to.
Just after lunch, Greg told the story of the founding of the United States. It took him about an hour, and he told it in a very plain way, no bells or whistles, but it was still interesting. It was like a bedtime story, the kind you hear over and over again until you've half memorized it, except it wasn’t bedtime. He made it seem real, not like it was happening right now, but like it had really happened in the past. I mean, I know it did happen in the past, but I don’t really think of it that way most of the time. I don’t think most people do. The Founding Fathers end up coming off like characters in a book, or civic superheroes, secular saints, not real people who made most of it up as they went along and lived and died. The way Greg told it, they sounded like real people. And he didn’t divide it up into main characters and bit characters, heroes and villains, either. He talked about the loyalists who lost their homes and their country forever, the black slaves who were promised freedom if they fought for the British, the Native peoples who weighed in on one side or the other, trying to maintain their own independence, the women who fought in their own ways or who tried to keep their families fed and safe through the war and sometimes failed…he didn’t choose sides in talking about any of them, he made them all seem real, real and sympathetic, and slightly sad.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard Greg talk so much before, not even in class. He spoke clearly, but not loudly; you had to kind of focus to hear him. He stood there on a small box so we could see him above each others' heads, his hands clasped behind his back, thin and tall, gaunt and old, and nobody made a sound.
And then when he was done telling the story, he told us, briefly, who each of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were, where they came from, why they got involved, and what became of each one afterwards. And then he read off the Declaration from what looked like an actual parchment scroll, a pair of wire-framed reading glasses perched on his nose.
“When in the course of human events….”
After that, we had our choice of talks to go to. They were all kind of short, and all American history-themed. Kit led a discussion on the meaning of the Star Spangled Banner, which of course was not yet written on the original Independence Day but is obviously related. Joy did something with past life regressions, though I’ve heard in previous years she’s discussed the history of horses in warfare. Sadie led a group in cooking historically accurate eighteenth century foods for dinner. There were other options.
So, it wasn't like a holiday in the sense of fun and games or a break from school or work. It was definitely a school day--I think we got credit for it. But the fact that it was serious didn't make it boring, and some of it was fun. Classes here normally are.
In the evening, a group of us changed into street clothes and walked down to the lake to watch fireworks over the water. We weren’t quite at the right angle, because we didn’t buy tickets to get into the proper viewing area, but it was really pretty, the light in the sky and how it shone off the water, and then the smell of gunpowder in the air like when I was a little kid and I used to go see fireworks with my Mom and Dad. It made me kind of sad not to be with them.
So maybe it's an independence day for me, too. My twentieth birthday is coming up this fall. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, I'm not sure why. It didn’t really hit me when I turned eighteen, but something about not being a teenager anymore—I guess I’m really a grown-up now.
And today was the first day we had blueberries at breakfast, so for that, even if for nothing else, it is a day of celebration.
[Next Post: July 8th: Trees Again]