It’s the Fourth of July! For Americans, it’s the day we celebrate our Independence – it’s like a big birthday party for the whole nation. Instead of cakes and balloons, we celebrate with fireworks and red, white, and blue desserts – thank goodness for blueberries, strawberries, and whipped cream! Neighborhoods celebrate with parades – strollers and bicycles and wagons all decorated with flags, streamers, and more red, white, and blue. Here on Tiki Island, where many residents get around via golf carts, there is a big golf cart decorating party and parade. I guess we never outgrow our love of patriotic pageantry and parades, do we? Pops orchestras and community bands all over the country will be playing John Philip Sousa marches and traditional American songs like America the Beautiful and God Bless America, and of course, we’ll hear more renditions of The Star Spangled Banner than one would imagine possible. Barbeque grills will be smoking all weekend – burgers, hot dogs, ribs, chicken, steaks, brisket – All-American fare will be shared around tables covered in red, white, and blue. It’s summertime, and friends and families gather to spend the day off and try to stay cool while doing it. But everyone’s favorite Fourth of July activity happens when it finally gets dark and the fireworks light up the night sky. We have a perfect viewing point on our back deck – we will be able to see multiple fireworks displays without having to fight traffic or even leave home.
My hometown of Paducah, Kentucky, is a river town. At the foot of Broadway, the Tennessee River meets the Ohio River, and together they travel another 45 miles or so before they meet up with the mighty Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois. Due to the close proximity of the rivers to the heart of the city, there is a floodwall that surrounds the town center and protects it from rising waters. The town side of the floodwall is covered in beautiful murals that depict the history of Paducah, telling its story from discovery to today. You can imagine that a favorite pastime of Paducahans is to ride downtown and admire the murals, and we can even drive through the floodgates and drive or walk right along the riverbank. But the best day of the year is the Fourth of July, when barges on the river become the launching pads for a fantastic fireworks display! Oh, how my children loved it when we managed to find ourselves in Paducah on the 4th – which oddly enough happened quite often!
So that’s the story of how we celebrate our Independence Day in my part of America, but I think that sometimes we forget the stories behind the celebration. Today, it’s hard to imagine that early Americans were ruled by a king in a country an ocean away, in a time where communication was by letter and letters arrived on boats that had sailed by wind power alone across the Atlantic. I have to remind myself of the bravery of those explorers who first set out across the sea, with no real clue where they would land, or even IF they would survive at all. I consider the Pilgrims – families who left their homes, friends, and extended families behind because they wanted to live in a place where they were free to practice their beliefs. Would any of us today be as courageous as they were? Are we willing to give up what we have in order to have what we want? And then I remember the high price of freedom, and of the many, many wars that have been fought and lives that have been lost to protect and preserve our way of life in America.
On my walls, I have pictures of men who risked their lives to preserve our freedom. One is of my mother’s great-grandfather, who fought in the American Civil War. It’s a tintype, and I’m not even sure which side he was on. Given that he was from East Tennessee, it could have been either one! Another photo is of my mother’s father, dressed in his long doughboy coat and funny Pharrel-like hat and his not-so-shiny boots, posed in front of a pleasant but faked background of flowers as he left to fight in the trenches of World War I. I remember playing with his gas mask and helmet that we found in the basement of my grandparents’ house when we were kids, and looking through his box of Army propaganda about the war “Over There”. Grandpa didn’t tell us war stories, though. I can’t imagine that they were things he wanted to remember or to share, but now I wish he had. And finally, I have a picture of my dad, probably about 19 or 20 years old, looking very serious and small under his giant Army hat but very handsome in his brand new Army uniform.
Daddy didn’t tell many war stories, either, when I was a child, but long after I was married, he started going to Army reunions where he reminisced with his old buddies and raised a glass to those who had died. And then one day after Daddy had died, I was at my mom’s house and my sister brought in a big box of photo albums – scrapbooks, actually, that I had never seen before – three completely filled scrapbooks telling the story of my father’s time in the US Army, from the day he enlisted to the day he came home. One was on black paper, and Daddy had meticulously written in white ink – timelines, captions, and even paragraphs about his experiences in Europe. His boot camp book and the book about crossing the ocean and training in Scotland and England were on khaki-colored paper. All of them held timelines of what was happening in the war, both in Europe, Africa, and in the Pacific and at home in America. When I think about my dad as a young man, straight from the dirt farm of West Tennessee, going off to Jackson to enlist, hitchhiking to Memphis to take the train to New England and boot camp, meeting “boys” (he always called them boys, even when they were over 65!) from all over, learning how to shoot a gun and make a soldier’s bed and march with a pack (and wearing boots – I’m sure he spent most of his days barefooted as a boy!), riding in a cramped ship (Daddy ALWAYS got seasick – ugh!) over the Atlantic, living in a strange country eating strange food (but having three meals a day was probably a treat!), learning how to build landing strips and drive jeeps and do bookkeeping, and then actually FIGHTING IN A WAR – I just can hardly believe it, but it’s all there in his scrapbooks. He went to the Swiss Alps, and he marched through Paris on Liberation Day. One of my favorite entries in his scrapbook: “Every man should see GAY PAREE!” followed by, “Desperate people do strange things. People spat on us when we first arrived, and then they cheered us and hugged us when they realized they had been liberated.”
So here we are, back at that thing called freedom – independence – liberty. Not only is it worth fighting for, it’s worth recording the stories behind it! How will our children know what sacrifices have been made for them if we can’t put it in words and pictures for them? Your stories are so important! Our goal at pixels2Pages is to show you how and inspire you to bring your stories to life. It’s your legacy, and it’s your children’s and your grandchildren’s heritage – make it count!
Here are some of my favorite ‘freedom’ pages:
This first one is one of my all-time favorites, and I made it long before I started noting what kits and fonts I used. It’s part of the title page from one of Daddy’s Army scrapbooks, a photo from the book, the envelope he used to mail home his Mother’s Day greeting in 1945, and the transcript of that letter to his mom. And because I think the letter is so dear, and it IS the story, here is what it said:
May 13, 1945
Today is your day, that, every boy and girl in America and overseas knows and at sometime during the day most of us will think of you, Mothers, who are at home fighting every minute of the day and night to remain cheerful and to keep us who are away from home the same way. This is the third Mother’s Day I have missed being home for, but I believe I will be there for the next one. Major Keane, our commanding officer, has given every man who wants it a half day off in memory of our Mothers and Mother Nature has done her part in sending forth a very beautiful day. There is not a cloud in the sky and early this morning I got up and walked out on the runway admiring the snow-capped peaks of the Alps in the distance. I gave thanks that I had been among the lucky ones who have come through this war safe and unharmed, and that my Mother is still back home waiting and praying for me to come back. There are many boys who will go home but it will no longer be home because his best buddy, his Mother, has been called away. Those are the boys who I feel sorry for today more than anyone else. There are many of them because in my small section of 8 men 2 of them have lost their Mothers since coming over seas.
Mother there is so little I can say, for the millions of things you have done for me, never tiring, always ready and there when I needed help, nothing was ever too good for me, and last but not least you always taught me to do the right thing. I guess the best I can do is try to live the way you want me to and say thanks for everything. You have been the best Mother a boy could have especially through the last three years of my life. You see that I always have a letter from home on the way, you are always in high hopes and feeling sorry for everyone but yourself and you still believe in me with undying faith.
To you Mother goes my hopes and prayers on this day, your day, for the best a Mother can have in this world. You are the best Mother in the whole wide world and one of these days I will be coming home to prove to you I mean every word I have said.
Lots & lots of love,
This page was made using content from Faded Glory by Cottage Arts and America – God Bless by Little Feet Digital Designs. Font is 1942 Report, and the original Blueprint was Argyle Dad, altered a good bit! These are the three photos of my heroic ancestors that I mentioned above.