So how did people celebrate the Fourth of July when fireworks weren’t available, all wrapped up in fancy packages and sold by the box loads in parking lot tents?
With an anvil and gun powder. And a level of audacity.
At a recent family reunion, my family members learned we come by our pyrotechnic tendencies naturally. As one of the first settlers in Hyde Park, Utah, great-great-great grandfather Ole Julius Hansen built a prosperous blacksmith business. To show his deep-seated patriotism for his beloved country, he annually heralded the Fourth of July in a big way. He laid a paper filled with gunpowder on his large, sturdy anvil, then dropped a heavy rock on it. Several times. Very early in the morning. Even before the farmers were up. He was likely the most admired and loathed man in town every July 4 morning.
Ole wasn’t born an American. He emigrated from Denmark with his family in the late 1800s when he was just two years old. They spent several weeks at Ellis Island — the legal gateway for thousands of European migrants back then. They were part of the Mormon migration — people persecuted for their faith who moved to America to find religious freedom. Ole’s family found it in Hyde Park, and appreciated it enough to heartily celebrate each Independence Day.
Ole’s patriotism runs deep in my family. From examples of parents and grandparents, we don’t think twice when the national anthem plays or the flag goes by. We’re on our feet, hand over heart, and eyes fixed on that flag. So are our children and grandchildren. It’s been that way as long as I can remember.
That’s probably why I’m annoyed when I see disrespect for the flag, both intentional and casual. Recently a news photo featured five football players kneeling during the national anthem. A lone police officer stood behind them, at full attention, saluting the flag. The esteem I instantly felt for that man in blue softened, somewhat, my disgust for the athletes. The irony, of course, is they were disrespecting the nation that grants them the freedom to do so. Most athletes worldwide wouldn’t dare do such a thing. Many would gladly trade places with the boys on the ground. To those boys I say, if you’re that dissatisfied with this country, find one that better suits your demands. And good luck.
Casual disrespect for the flag is mostly a mark of forgetfulness. And some laziness. For some, it’s just so hard to get up out of that chair when the flag appears. But at last year’s town parade I observed an ancient veteran use the arms of his wheelchair to struggle to his feet and give a soldier’s salute to the flag. Inspired by his determination, the entire crowd around him was on their feet by the time the flag went by. How could we not be?
These summer months will give us many opportunities to respect the flag and the anthem. The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) website offers these simple flag etiquette reminders: “When an American flag passes: Stand up, Remove your hat, Place your right hand over your heart, Stop any conversation you are having.” The site adds that flags carried in an honor guard or a grouping of other flags should be saluted, but it’s not necessary to salute every American flag that passes. “Do not salute small hand-held flags carried by parade attendees and participants.” The information concludes, “Teach your children to respect our nation’s Flag. If they are given a small Flag, please do not throw it on the ground or in the street.”
That’s good advice. We can be that person, the one who jumps out of our chair, encourages all the kids around us to do the same, and holds our hand over our heart before the flag gets to us and long after it passes.
This country has lots of problems. But for all of that, most of us wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Let’s be proud that we live in the best country on the planet, be proud to be an American, and be proud to show it.