Flags of our great grandfathers and grandmothers
So, proudly fly the U.S. flag, thump an ice-cold watermelon, crank some homemade ice cream and get the family together, it's the Fourth of July weekend, time to celebrate this great country of ours.
When I was a boy -- sometime between the formation of dirt and when the dinosaurs began to trample on it -- Mom and Dad insisted on celebrating the Fourth of July with a watermelon. Not just any watermelon, mind you, but one that reverberated with a hollow tone signaling just the right degree of ripeness. Often they were found bobbing up and down in icy water of giant tin tubs. (The watermelons, not Mom and Dad.)
We'd go down to the lake to pop firecrackers, then return home to bandage sparkler hand burns and prepare for a meal of burgers or hot dogs in the back yard; swatting flies and enjoying our time together on the picnic table Dad crafted out of 2-by-6s and painted a dull purple-red.
Ice cream would follow. And I'm not talking store bought. The Ratliffs knew how to whip up memorable, good-to-the-last-drop homemade vanilla long before Blue Bell's contented cows were around. And, by the way, that last drop more often than not ended up on my shirt. It still does.
We would all take turns cranking, pausing only long enough to add more ice around the shiny silver rotating canister that churned out something better than gold: the ice cream, of course, but also happy family time together, which I now realize was a moment frozen not only in milk, vanilla and sugar, but in time. Time to be cherished and remembered, but impossible to duplicate exactly.
Those were simpler times. Better times. There was no internet to connect us instantly with ugliness unfolding in other parts of the world, no 24-hour news cycle to inform us of impending danger in our own land, or at the airport or around the next corner.
The only thing we had to worry about as we ended our Independence Day family celebration in the 1960s was who would win our back-yard softball game. Our house was modest and small, but the back yard was big enough to actually run the bases. You were out if you hit the ball over the fence, though. That involved stopping the game and apologizing to the neighbors when a certain member of our clan, who could not throttle back the sheer pleasure of going long, would send one downtown.
I have no intention of turning in my cell phone, giving up the internet or doing away with other modern devices that have improved our lives. But have they, really? I suppose they have, but with the good comes the bad. So be it.
On the other hand, let us remember and teach our children and grandchildren that it's not the gadgets, the selfies and instant access to everything making a good or bad ripple in the world that really matters.
It's us. It's you. It's your family. Listen to and value your elders, but the youngsters as well and those in between, who'll be shuffled down to the elder end of the picnic table sooner than they realize. It's our friends, our neighbors. It's the person working at the convenience store on the corner on yet another holiday that we often take for granted.
If you're looking for a movie to watch that might just fire up positive flag-waving spirit in what U.S. pride is all about, I recommend Yankee Doodle Dandy. The great James Cagney won his only Academy Award as best actor for his portrayal of actor-singer-songwriter George M. Cohan. If you can't get your hands on a copy, Yankee Doodle Dandy airs at 9:45 p.m. (Central Daylight Time) Monday (July 4) on TCM.
Tell the kids, yes, it's one of those old ones, from way, way back in 1942. Yes, it's not in color, but in beautiful black-and-white. Yes, it's corny, but it's also bursting with chest-swelling patriotic music and an inspired, inspiring performance by Cagney and others.
And, perhaps most importantly, tell the kids that yes, it's true. The ice cream will only be served after the entire family finishes the entire movie together.
Good luck pulling that one off, and God bless America!