Sunday, July 4, 2010
Remembering Grandpa and Nation
On this day in 1916 our nation was celebrating her 140th Birthday. World War I was already in progress, although the United States wouldn’t enter the conflict until 1917. America still had the majority of the new century ahead of her and so much would be accomplished in that 20th century! However, July 4, 1916 was also the birthday of another kind—as my Grandpa, Howard Blonde was born into this world. He lived a great and successful life and was a smart man. He made sacrifices along the way which helped better his life and his family’s life as well. Grandpa Howie, as I called him, worked hard at many jobs and even at the age of 45 had enough energy to start his own business, selling docks which he had brilliantly designed. He had that business until 1992 when he decided to retire at the age of 76!
Growing up, July 4th was more than this nation’s birthday, it was a day to celebrate Grandpa’s life, and spend time with the family he loved. The 4th meant immediate and extended family coming from near and far to gather at my grandparent’s lake house on Klinger Lake, in Michigan, which they moved into in 1954. Both Grandma and Grandpa had a love for the lake. The appreciation for that special spot we called our “slice of Heaven,” has been cultivated and grown throughout the years as five generations have been able to enjoy it for the past 56 years!
The first thing I remember about walking into my grandparent’s house at the lake each 4th was getting the first glimpse of Grandpa’s American flag socks which he wore each 4th of July. They were kind of like a Christmas ornament which only served a special purpose once a year, and then were tucked away in a safe spot. Even one year when Grandpa was in the hospital because of heart trouble, his socks followed him to his hospital room where he received all kinds of complements from the nurses.
The 4th also meant boat parades on the lake and warm summer heat. It meant watching the sail boats cut across the water and jet skies race by the house. Looking back at the handful of pictures from over the years, I think 99 percent of Grandpa’s birthday cakes were decorated in red, white and blue—again, going back to that dual celebration of nation and Grandpa.
Perhaps the most magical part of the day was watching the fireworks be shot off from in front of my grandparent’s house. Shot from a sand bar in the middle of the lake, the fireworks would explode and send echoes in every direction over the water which looked like glass. When the finale had ended I knew Grandpa’s birthday was over for another year, but with great memories having been made.
Other than 1989, when I was visiting family in Idaho, I have been at Klinger Lake every July 4th since 1985. For me, it’s a holiday which stands next to Christmas in terms of excitement and tradition. It was a special day because it was Grandpa’s day!
Grandpa Howie passed away in 2003 at the age of 86. Since then our family has continued the traditions which became a part of that day. Despite our gatherings though, there was a part of us that just never viewed that day the same way again, and it always felt like something was missing amongst the fireworks and cookouts.
Today is a day for America. It’s a day for her to be celebrated with those who love her the most—the citizens who give her its vitality, ingenuity and drive. For those who protect her, serve her and immigrate to its majestic shores. This day has meaning for all of us and traditions all our families carry out. However, this year, because of my service in the Peace Corps in Samoa, my July 4th is being spent away from Klinger Lake and the family I love. My grandma is now 95 years old and still living in the same house she has since 1954! Our family will gather there with her today and the traditions will continue: good food, fireworks and a celebration of our country’s 234th birthday. There will be more memories made and perhaps some time reflecting on the years that have passed. I will be with them in spirit.
However, this year, I have a whole new perspective on Independence Day, and our country, which I never could have gained if I had stayed within her borders and even if I had stayed at Klinger Lake. Living away from home for nine months now, I have come to love my country in a whole new way, in a way which I never had before, despite the traditions and gatherings with family.
This year I’m thinking of those 4th of July parades taking place all over America in small villages and huge cities. I’m thinking of the veterans who are Honor Guard at the beginning of each of those parades. They are the men and women I always use to stand and salute, but never could quite connect with in terms of sacrifice. The Peace Corps isn’t the armed services, but it is a sacrifice and for that it has helped me feel a connection to their service.
I’m also thinking of those great American cities I’ve visited over the years: New York City, New Orleans, Phoenix, St. Louis, Chicago and Los Angeles. I think of the ingenuity it took to build them and the perseverance it takes to maintain their identities. They are the symbols of our desires to achieve, persist and improve the country which the craftsmen of our nation set in place 234 years ago today.
And so my thoughts turn back to what this day has always meant to me and always will, no matter where I may be living in the world. It means family. I’m reminded of Grandpa’s part in improving America, in helping his children and grandchildren attain that American dream, and sense of accomplishment we all long for as Americans. I think of the chances and risks Grandpa took and how he helped support, encourage and inspire me to do the same. Today is July 4th and as the years continue, this day will always be a day to reflect on Grandpa and our nation’s birth. Happy 4th, 2010!