From the Clocktower – The little things – what it’s all about

By Kathi Bliss



The Fourth of July has always been my favorite holiday. I’m all about Mom, Apple Pie and America. I blame my grandparents. They brought up an incredibly patriotic brood, none of whom were ever allowed to forget that we wouldn’t exist, if it weren’t for the US Marine Corps (true story – my maternal grandparents met during their service, when they were stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., during World War II. Had they not enlisted, none of us would exist). As a result, I, like all of my grandparents’ offspring, bleed Red, White and Blue. It’s a family tradition.
I’m grateful that it’s a family tradition that seems pretty common in these parts.
I had the pleasure, over the course of the weekend, to see Americana on full display. It is one thing to watch a professional fireworks display against, say, the backdrop of Lady Bird Lake, choreographed with the music of the Austin Symphony. I’ve done that, many times, and it’s nice enough.
But it doesn’t come close to six volunteers running around a field in safety glasses with portable cutting torches. It doesn’t hold a candle to a few thousand spectators watching a half dozen Model-T’s puttering through Downtown America (and while an unfortunate health event kept me from the Whizzerville Independence Day celebration, so I can’t comment on it personally – folks of McMahan, please know that I’m talking to you, too!).
Our small-town events are what America is all about.
I had occasion, after the fireworks in Dale were finished on Tuesday evening (and the crew, notably, using weed-sprayers to douse each and every box to prevent a wildland fire) to talk to a friend of mine, a combat veteran who suffers from mild PTSD. That’s been a big thing, the last few years, when it comes to fireworks – and it’s a reasonable point. There are some who suffer PTSD, that I can see being triggered by the sounds of fireworks in their backyard, and we should absolutely be compassionate about that. But despite thousands of explosions no more than 200 feet over his head, my friend wasn’t remotely bothered.
“This is what it’s all about,” he told me. “This is the reason that I served this country.”
He went on to elaborate. He said he was proud to serve a country where a group of volunteers could just get together, pitch in, give of their time and treasure, to build Independence Day celebrations that any “big city” would be proud to have. And when those celebrations are over, volunteers and spectators alike pitch in to pick up the trash, break down the tables, and leave the whole place a little bit better than they found it.
“This is America,” he said. “This is the America that I went into combat for.”
And… he’s right. That’s the same America that my parents and grandparents taught me about as a kid. The America where people don’t say, “somebody should…” and instead ask, “how can we…?” The America where people still listened to President Kennedy’s plea that we should “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Now, I’ll grant you, the full text and context of Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Speech has a whole lot more to it than that – some points that I agree with, some that I don’t necessarily buy. However, in reading it again before I wrote this piece, there were two other paragraphs that jumped out at me.
“So let us begin anew–remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.
“Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”
Never in the course of our history has our nation needed this advice so badly. We live in a society where, if someone doesn’t share our every idea, they are automatically classified as an “enemy,” or an “idiot,” or any one of another million labels we’re so eager to throw upon one another. We live in a society that listens to respond, instead of listening to understand. Discourse has gone the way of the dinosaur, and civility right along with it. We no longer agree to disagree. We must bludgeon one another with our viewpoints; we default to hatred and vitriol if we can’t change someone else’s mind.
And that’s NOT the America I was raised to believe in. That’s NOT the America that President Kennedy spoke of, and that’s NOT the America that my friend risked his life to defend.
We can do better. Right and Left, we can all do better, and I can prove it.
This weekend, right here in Caldwell County… we did better. Every community in this county did better. They came together, they pooled their resources and their talents, and they celebrated the one thing that we all believe in – the dream of a Great Nation.
That’s the end-game, isn’t it? It’s to continue to be the Greatest Nation on the face of this Earth, which we’ve all been taught since birth that the United States is. Isn’t that what we all want, when you boil it right down to brass tacks?
Maybe we should start acting like it, the other 364 days of the year.
But in the meantime, thank you. Thank you, the people of McMahan, Martindale, Lockhart and Dale for reminding me, if even only for a few hours at a stretch, that the America that introduced my grandparents, the America they taught us to love, and the America that my uncles, my fathers (both of them), my friends, my friends’ children, and millions of other men and women that I will never meet have enlisted, fought and died to protect and defend, still exists.
You guys and gals are true American heroes.


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