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Celebrating Independence Day or the Fourth of July

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Dolly Withrow Dolly Withrow
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A retired English professor, Dolly Withrow is the author of four books, including a grammar-based college textbook, titled The Confident Writer. Contact Dolly at dollywith@gmail.com.

It was Independence Day. Hot wind whipped my hair around my face as I stood in the back of our neighbor’s pickup truck. We rumbled along a skinny blacktop road but soon turned onto a dirt road leading to a large field. Flowing nearby, a taffy-colored river offered a swimming hole. Upon arrival we unloaded picnic supplies.

We were independent and could stand in the back of a truck or eat fattening foods in the open field of our childhood dreams and feel no guilt. It was a time when we could pray in schools and on public property. Persons from other cultures were welcomed here, and they were free to worship in their faith, but then it was our culture that endured, and freedom for all was the bedrock that lured people of many cultures to come join us. And they came in large numbers. I do not romanticize the past, however. There were injustices even as there are today. They’ve been twisted a bit, but injustices remain. There is no perfect country.

I was a stick-thin girl of 11 before all the changes, and under my blouse and shorts, I wore a two-piece bathing suit. The flared skirt was to hide my thin legs. It didn’t work, but none of that mattered because while I was in that truck, facing the summer sun head-on, I was a sultry movie star. My imagination replaced reality and provided the oil that smoothed the rough places of youth.

After we unloaded the supplies, we kids couldn’t wait to hit the water. I had learned to swim earlier in the muddy Two-Mile Creek near my Aunt Minerva’s country home. As Esther Williams, I swam with a smiling face, hair braided and gelled to perfection and swim strokes that never ruffled the water. Reality was another story, but I wasn’t in a river; I was in Hollywood with cameras aimed my way.

On Independence Day, I could be whoever and wherever and whatever I wanted to be as I pretended in my tiny corner of the world. In parts of the country, bands played, fireworks flashed, and people waved flags (yes, flag-wavers as some say sneeringly). The day was a celebration of our nation’s birth date, July 4, 1776, with the signing of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, and we were independent.

At day’s end, tired and sunburned, we returned to Brickyard Hill where many families had displayed American flags. As the sun slid behind the hill and a sliver of golden moon appeared, my Grandfather Frame set off firecrackers. I listened to the loud pop of each tiny explosion and watched the small spray of yellow-orange sparks. I didn’t realize it then, but the day had been about America’s freedom and independence.

Since that long-ago time, our country has changed. It is more fitting now to call the holiday a mere date, the Fourth of July. Too many of our citizens are no longer independent. Instead, they depend on a government that has grown too large and too powerful, so much so it reaches into our private lives. Technology permits the government to turn on our cell phones while we sleep. Did you know that? Our every text message can be read by strangers whose motives we know not. Some of our citizens do not see that as a loss of freedom. It is, and it’s happening so quietly we hardly give the loss a fleeting thought.

Our country itself has lost much of its independence. The United Nations was a term coined by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1942, and the organization comprised 26 nations whose leaders pledged their governments to continue fighting against the Axis Powers. (Notice I did not use “of” after “comprised.”) The UN officially came into power in 1945. Since then, it has had more failures than successes. According to Wikipedia, the oil-for-food program was rife with corruption and abuse. Child abuse has been the target of criticism. In a 1996 UN study, titled “The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children,” by Graca Machel, former first lady of Mozambique, the following was documented: “In 6 out of 12 … studies on sexual exploitation of children in situations of armed conflict ..., the arrival of (UN) peacekeeping troops has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution.” Also, according to Wikipedia, there has been criticism of corruption. For instance, James Wasserstrom was allegedly fired for reporting kickbacks taken by UN employees. Upon appeal, the UN was directed to compensate him with American tax dollars in the amount of $65,000 for the wrongful dismissal. In 2004, Dore Gold, former ambassador to the UN, published “Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos,” a title needing no explanation.

The questions we should be asking, then, are these: After 69 years of the United Nations’ peace-keeping missions, is the world more at peace now than it was right after WWII? Does our nation, and we as individuals, have more freedom and independence now than we had in 1945, when our faith was not unconstitutionally abridged anyplace or anywhere, and the government did not spy on its citizens? I would not have thought to ask those questions when I was 11 years old and saying the Lord’s Prayer in the public school.