The Fourth of July has always been one of my most favorite holidays. It’s genetic.
Not that I got all that excited about it as a kid. Yes, there were the fireworks we watched from the front of our house in Superior, Wis. The sparklers. And the family picnics.
But it’s the respect that my mother exuded for the American flag that still burns brightly in my memory.
Without fail, up until she was about 90, she attended Superior’s annual Fourth of July parade.
I was long gone from home, but my sister would tell me every Independence Day how she and her husband grabbed a lawn chair for my mom, plunked it down on Tower Avenue and together they enjoyed all the vintage cars, marching bands, beauty queens and occasional floats passing by during that special afternoon.
I still recall as a young child anticipating with great excitement a float featured in most of Duluth and Superior’s parades. It was a huge, silver coffee pot, partially tipped as if it were pouring the rich liquid into a giant cup, courtesy of the Arco Coffee Company. (An Internet search tells me the company has been a Twin Ports business since 1916.)
When U.S. servicemen hoisting Old Glory smartly marched in front of my mother, she would stand tall (she was about 5 feet 2 inches), place her hand on her heart and a smile on her face, emanating the pride she felt for her hometown, Wisconsin and her country.
I have no idea what brought on the rush of devoted patriotism. No one in my immediate family has served in the military. My Uncle Sam did. But that was years ago. To this day, I regret not asking her.
I do know that she would never miss the privilege of voting. When she was too sick to leave the house she opted for an absentee ballot.
I do know that she faithfully hung the flag outside the front door of our house every morning. And when dusk drew near she gingerly carried it inside.
I do know that every time my sister or I left for Minneapolis, my mother would walk us to our cars parked in the back of our house and bid us adieu.
“Come back soon!” she would say.
Then, in a final farewell gesture, she would scurry into the house, grab a large U.S. flag, and run out the front door with it, thrashing the flag back and forth in a grandiose wave, giving us a rather unique and, shall we say, colorful send-off when we circled around the front of the house. A big crescent-moon smile always waxed across her face. Ours, too.
“The neighbors probably think we’re nuts,” she would say.
She gave the rousing flag send-off until she was about 92.
It’s been nearly five years since my mother died. In an act of reciprocity, I gave her a final send-off at her funeral. I waved her precious flag over her coffin. She would have liked that. I couldn’t muster up the smile though.
A few weeks ago, I was going through some of her belongings for the umpteenth time, when I spotted something shiny. It was a vintage, metal lapel pin in the shape of a U.S. flag. I had never noticed it before.
That tiny flag has now made the trip from Superior to the Twin Cities. And it now lovingly rests on the lapel of my blue, button-down-the-front sweater where it will remain… close to my heart.
This year for the holiday, we’ll probably take in the July 3 Northern Symphony Orchestra concert and fireworks in front of Anoka High School. Or we might go to Blaine’s holiday festival. Their fireworks are spectacular. Not sure what we’ll do yet.
Either way, as the fireworks flare and the parades pass by and John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” is played one more time, the vision of you, dear mother, saluting and waving the flag becomes further ingrained in the essence of my soul.
You, my muse, were a grand old mom. Thanks for instilling in me an appreciation and pride for our country. Thanks for your exhilarating display of patriotism.
Happy Fourth of July, everybody. Celebrate like there’s no tomorrow!