04 July 2005

Happy Birthday, America

Every 4th of July members of the on-air staff at NPR read the Declaration of Independence. And every year I listen quietly, sometimes mouthing the bits I know by heart. Inevitably, I get all teary because so much of what I am able to take for granted today, so many of the rights and freedoms whose definitions and meanings that we Americans bicker over today, come from that one document. Of course, the bible and the Constitution provide a lot of bickering material, too, but this is the one that makes me cry. And even if I get through the whole recitation, I never get past the final phrase - "our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor" - unteary.

When I was active with the First Maryland Regiment, I always looked forward to spending the 4th of July down at the Archives, helping to provide crowd control. We were dressed out (i.e., wearing our Rev War era garb) and would answer questions about the period, the guys (and Mollie) would do a demo of Rev War era drill and weaponry, and then the Declaration would be read by actors dressed as the Founding Fathers.

I would chat with the crowd (pause for audience surprise, yeah, yeah) and let parents know that the cannon (brought by the the First Virginia) would be extremely loud and that the sound would be contained by and bounce off of the buildings, so when they saw the crew members turning away from the piece (which happens just before the blast), they should cover their kids ears. And I'd warn folks with dogs how loud it would get.

One year I was standing near some very nice tourists and we were listening to the recitation which ends with the names of the Signers and their home states, a list I used to know completely by heart. The wife turned to her husband somewhere around John Adams' name and asked "Honey, who signed from Texas?"

I was good. I did not laugh.

The husband reminded her that there were no signers from Texas because the state of Texas didn't exist in 1776. And she spent the next few minutes adjusting her world view to include a United States without Texas.

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