Thoughts on a July 4Posted: July 4, 2014
Six in the morning July 4. I sit on my deck looking northeast at an ever-lightening blue sky fading to cream. If the sun is up, I can’t see it; it’s behind houses on the next street. Against the sky is a little flag I’ve stuck in a flower pot waving in a cool July breeze. Behind the stars and stripes is a tulip poplar against the backdrop of a neighbor’s roof line. I hear the hum of traffic to the north—could it be from 840? The birds are starting to get excited about the sun coming up. I hear the “drink your tea” bird mixed in with choruses of the others.
I’m wearing my Franklin Jazz Festival ’98 tee shirt. That was such a long time ago. It was the year Molly died, the year Chaeli was born. Charlie and I used to go every year to the jazz festival, and he always bought us tee shirts, and now, that’s what I sleep in. If he were here this July 4, we’d grill. Ribs, shrimp, steak. But he’s not, and I won’t.
I think back to my old neighborhood. Every July 4 there was a patriotic kids’ parade down the main parkway. Children would decorate their bikes or trikes in red, white, and blue, and there was a prize for the best. My new neighborhood doesn’t do anything.
The sun starts to throw its light against the tops of trees behind the eastern arc of Aenon Circle. The sky grows brighter above the steep pitch of a neighbor’s roof. It’s really cool for July. My tee shirt is holding the cold breeze against the skin of my back, and I can feel the chill on my arms. I look at the flag of my country in the pot—dawn’s early light, and it’s still there, waving o’er the land of the free.
I think about my country. I worry about it. It seems we just can’t get things together. We have a violent past, a dark history. The natives who were living on this land when we arrived? We killed them, we ran them west—my own ancestor John Mahaffey was a savage Scots-Irish Indian fighter on the frontier of Pennsylvania and Ohio. He was also a revolutionary soldier. I have part of his original tombstone in my back yard. I’m proud of my fourth great grandfather who made this a country . . . even though it became a country by killing and taking.
Family land that I now own in Mississippi has seventy-five Choctaw Indian graves on it. They used to be marked with red-iron rocks. Now, they are not. My grandfather honored that graveyard, but my grandmother’s brother moved on the farm for a while, removed all the rocks, and plowed up the land. You can’t tell anybody was ever buried there. They’re gone, lost. I have six of those rocks now in my front flower beds. The Choctaws were pushed out of Mississippi and run off to reservations out west.
During the 1860s my great great grandfather who lived on that Mississippi land owned two slaves. Think about it. We had slaves in this country, the land of the free. One hundred years after the slaves became freedmen, they still weren’t free.
This is the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. I was born and raised in Mississippi, one of the hotbeds of the civil rights movement. Three civil rights workers helping register black people to vote were murdered that summer in Philadelphia, Mississippi, just miles from my family land and the home of my grandparents.
We have a pattern in this country of doing wrongs and then overcorrecting. We have become the world’s watchdog because of this.
It now seems that because we did so much wrong, we are trying to compensate by doing what seems right and good—from offering “government money” to thousands and thousands and thousands of people who enter our country illegally to sending our sons off to faraway places to sacrifice their lives and bodies fighting for the freedom of citizens of other countries.
But you can’t right a wrong with another wrong. Somebody needs to fix things soon while that flag is still waving.
We just can’t give any more of America away. We need to hold on to America and protect Americans. The government’s first duty is to protect its citizens—their safety, their rights. We’re not. Where will Americans go when we give America away?
The sun comes up over the top of the tall house behind me.
Wake up, America.