Column by Bill Bradberry —
My ears perked up when I heard a gentleman, probably in his late eighties shout from his wheelchair parked against a hallway wall at the hospital, “Well, if it ain’t the Fofa July already ...”
Since his proclamation was aimed at no one in particular and everyone in general, I spent a few moments reminiscing with him; our conversation was short, but full of clues that eventually revealed to me that this man has a deep and abiding appreciation for the meaning of the Fourth of July.
Like me, he admitted few things swell his chest, choke him up and make him giddier than watching excited kids dancing around flaring sparklers, or fully grown adults and children gawking at bright, exploding gravity defying fireworks suspended against the smoke hazed sky, or, better yet, standing with them, all of us mesmerized by a good old fashioned drum and bugle corps ahead of a mile-long brass parade marching up the middle of an otherwise traffic choked street in solemn celebration of our Nations birthday.
There’s something wonderfully warm and fuzzy about the unique smells, the firecracker gun powder, the barbecues, the mid-summer sights and sounds of the Fourth, especially the parades with all of the proud flag waving girls and boys, men and women, patriots all, marching in time to the boom, bang and cymbal crash, baton twirling, syncopated rhythm of a good marching band.
At every parade, and there seemed to be a lot of them back in the day, not just on the Fourth of July, I remember standing as close to the action as my parents would let me on the side of Main and Falls Street.
Anticipation was a big part of the fun as the crowd began to swell. As kids, we were always anxious to get there early, in time to get a good spot where everyone could see everything.
With our neighbors, schoolmates, total strangers and tourists from around the world, we lined the streets six to ten deep; the entire city, and invited guests, it seemed, turned out for the big parades and the celebrations that led up to the fireworks spectacular over the Falls.
Before they came into view, before I could actually hear them, somewhere inside my swollen chest I could feel the deep pounding of the huge bass drums ahead of the woodwinds, oboes, saxophones, French horns, tubas, trumpets, cornets, glockenspiels, timpanis, cymbals and the high pitched flutes, clarinets, and, of course the tingling chimes of the xylophones tickled by the amazing marching musicians in their glittering uniforms.
I just loved the parades, he rejoiced.
Thrilled by the tiny majorettes tossing their batons high in the sky, and then catching them mid-twirl in perfect rhythm with the syncopated beats, inspiring every little girl there (and probably a few little boys) who, like my sisters, added batons, white marching boots and shiny skirts and blouses to their Christmas wish lists, we were for the most part, blissfully ignorant of the real meaning, the real purpose for the celebratory ruckus.
The gentleman, obviously more learned and educated than his feeble body and shabby wheelchair portrayed was a virtual fountain of information; he reminded me that, “technically, Independence Day is the day we celebrate the anniversary of the initial publication of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain in 1776, and that:
• In 1775, people in New England began fighting the British for their independence
• On July 2, 1776, the Congress secretly voted for independence from Great Britain
• The Declaration of Independence was first published two days later on July 4, 1776
• The first public reading of the Declaration of Independence was on July 8, 1776
• Delegates began to sign the Declaration of Independence on Aug. 2, 1776
• The term “Independence Day” was not used until 1791
• In 1870, Independence Day was made an unpaid holiday for federal employees
• In 1941, it became a paid holiday for them
He also recalled, and I later confirmed via the internet that John Adams, in a July 3, 1776, letter to his wife Abigail was probably the first person to describe how Independence Day should be celebrated with “pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations” throughout the new country, but as we may have learned in high school, and long ago forgotten, it took many more years of considerable struggle to get us where we are today.
Coincidently, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both signers of the Declaration of Independence and former presidents of the United States, both died on the same day, July 4, 1826, get this, precisely 50 years after the adoption of the declaration.
I never got the gentleman’s name, the nurses wheeled him away before we finished our conversation (his lecture), but I did get the distinct impression that he enjoys the holiday as much as the rest of us, especially the parades because it reminds him of the joy and relief that comes when we are marching home from war instead of racing into it.
Happy “Fofa July”, everyone!
Contact Bill Bradberry at email@example.com