Thank God that even in the big cities of this country we still celebrate Independence Day the old-fashioned way, as John Adams would have liked. As I sit here writing this, Keith Lockhart is conducting the Boston Pops with the Stars and Stripes Forever and the fireworks are soon to enrapture and delight.
But it is the quaint and wonderful customs of small-town America that thrill me the most. Yesterday we spent the day and evening at my sister Dale's camp on Caroga Lake where her porch and dock have a clear view of the antique Sherman's Amusement Park with its ferris wheel and carousel and ice cream booth and dance hall. The festivities began with the annual parade of boats around the small southern Adirondacks lake.
This is no big corporate-sponsored event. It's just families with their simple watercraft all duded up creatively for the occasion. I'm not sure that there was an announced theme this year as there sometimes is, at least not one that I could discern. We had, for example, a boat carrying what purported to be the "Caroga Lake Symphony Orchestra" which consisted of about five people with apparently borrowed instruments, pretending to be playing.
Then there was the S.S. Minnow with the entire family decked out as the Gilligan's Island crew. In keeping with au courant culture, there followed a boat whose passengers were all dressed in Superman face masks and costumes, while a bald-headed Lex Luthor circled them in his Sea-Do attempting to toss green light sticks (aka Kryptonite) at them.
A cabin cruiser followed converted to a conestoga wagon, complete with a hobby horse precariously attached to the prow. In tow, a dinghy had become an Indian village, tepee and all.
As night fell, another long tradition: every camp around the lake placed and lit an emergency flare or two, forming a neat red circle. Unofficial, and perhaps somewhat illegal (God Bless North Carolina!), fireworks ensued, and at the appointed time, following a live rendition of God Bless America by a band at Sherman's, the official firworks commenced and lasted a full half hour. Each bomb bursting in air caused a low echoing rumble to roll across the still waters, bathed in moonlight.
I loved every minute of it.
Dale inherited the Garage Sale gene from our mother, and the camp, which she rents out most of the summer, is filled with delightful eclecticisms. But I was little prepared for the surprise 4th of July present she had snarfed up for me in a shop in Northville. It was a framed copy of the sheetmusic for our great-great uncle William Going's patriotic march, Flag of My Country.
I had only ever seen one copy of it, owned by a distant relative who lives out of town. Dale had actually bought it last summer, not even knowing Will Going was of our family. It hasn't even been three weeks since I resurrected this very song from oblivion in a Flag Day address, which I have written about in this blog.
I had quoted the text from memory, and did a pretty good job, as it turns out. (I have corrected one minor error.) The music is pleasant and very singable, and the lyrics, I think, far above average. I suspect the 1916 copyright has expired, but in any event, as an heir-at-law of my bachelor g-g-uncle, I actually own a piece of this, so I here and now share it with you:
Flag of my country,
A greeting 'ere I pass thee,
Child of a people who dared to be free;
Born with the birthright of Freedom eternal,
Sponsor of peace, love and true Liberty:
Long may you wave,
Flag of the brave,
Wave over land and sea.
Long may you wave, flag of the brave!
Wave on eternally!
From thy white stars shown the first rays of freedom,
Thrilling, exalting the hearts of the brave.
All hearts turn to thee; oh, all voices hail thee!
Pride of the free man, the hope of the slave.
Long may thy folds bathe in God's holy sunshine,
Ever reflecting the joys of the free.
Long may the songs of thy children ascending
Blend with thy colors in sweet harmony!
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