Writer’s Block: Let freedom ring

There’s something about the Fourth of July that rekindles memories of childhood days exercising freedom and independence with carefree abandonment.

My childhood days were spent with adventurous exploration of my hometown Coon Rapids in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Sue Austreng
Sue Austreng

All summer long, the neighborhood kid posse scrambled from house to house – front yard, backyard, garden, garage and street – connecting the dots around the block, our moms all home cleaning house, washing dishes, baking cookies, doing laundry, ironing clothes. And those moms all did it with smiles on their faces, sweetly giving thanks for the freedom to make homes, raise children and celebrate life from the homefront.

But during those carefree days of summertime freedom, we kids would be out all day, building forts, playing ball, hopscotching in driveways, racing around the block, grabbing cookies from Mrs. Peterson’s cookie jar or Dixie cups of Kool-Aid from Mrs. Kuehne’s kitchen.

Landmarks of my childhood adventures included locations still there, but renamed, rezoned, developed and dwindled as demographics and city fathers dictated.

There was the Mud Hole where I learned to swim from shore to shore.

There’s the vacant lot where we’d race to climb the tallest trees and get a bird’s eye view of the neighborhood. That “vacant lot” sits adjacent to the Crooked Lake Library, and dozens of homes now stand where pines and evergreens once stood like royal sentries surveying the grassy acreage below.

There were baseball games in the circle down the street, Annie-Annie Over in Doug and Debbie’s yard, games of tag and Red Rover over at Bloom’s house, and pick-up games of football anytime anyone got the urge for some grassy gridiron play.

During spirited and carefree summertime days spent up at our family’s lake place on the Canadian border, freedom was celebrated more primitively, to be sure. The house was accessible only by water or by air, had no telephone but only radio contact until the early ‘70s. Grandma kept the root cellar stocked with potatoes, hung laundry out on the line to dry, and the outhouse still served as boys’ and girls’ bathroom facilities – and a fine place to hide comic books from parents, I might add.

Out on the wild lakeside frontier, my brothers, my cousins and I would form a posse, hiking through the woods – always wary of hungry bears foraging for blueberries – as we made our way to the sand bar stretching from the southern shores of the lake’s east bay.

I and my cousin Johnny – the bravest and freest among us as I recall – would exercise freedom with a daring plunge from atop a sky-scraping granite ledge into the deeper waters sparkling below.

To celebrate Independence Day, resorts on the far side of the lake ignited fireworks displays and blasts of color spray-painted brilliance in the darkened sky. The best view, of course, was from the water, and so we’d all pile into the boat and motor across to the middle of the lake.

There we would gaze with great admiration at the display, looking up at the night sky, blasting with streaks and kabooms and sharing the awe together.

Ah, the carefree and courageous adventures of those childhood days.

All those activities we could enjoy because we had freedom of choice. We could choose to marvel in the fireworks display. Or just stay inside and play Go Fish.

We could choose to hike through the woods, jump from the ledge and swim in the lake. Or just wade in the water along the beach.

We could choose to climb the highest tree and see as far as we could see. Or just stand on the ground and grumble about not being able to see the forest for the trees.

I think celebrating freedom on the Fourth of July is a choice, too.

Just like we can celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey and pie and forget about gratitude, or party on New Year’s Eve and forget about clean slates and new beginnings, or count birthday candles and forget to count blessings – it’s easy to celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks and picnics and time off from work … and forget all about the freedom.

Let’s be intentional about our celebration of freedom this Fourth of July. Let’s just pause for a moment, celebrate the freedom and give thanks.

 Happy Independence Day, dear readers. Let freedom ring!

Sue Austreng can be reached at [email protected]