The wedding vows had all of the usual stuff … “for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, ‘till death do us part.”
Nowhere were the words, “Celebrate America vigorously each July.” We figured that out on our own.
So for nearly all of our 40 years together, yours truly and my wife, Martha, have hosted a Fourth of July party for family, extended family, friends, acquaintances, cats, dogs and the occasional drifter.
What started small with our close friends, Jeff and Kathy Fulks, and our four children (two ours, two theirs), has grown into an annual blowout of yard games, music trivia, sparklers, hot food and cold beverages.
It is our favorite day on the calendar … this year, more than ever.
There was no party last July, ending a streak of more than 30 years. The COVID-19 pandemic was a major factor. So was the tragic death of our nephew’s 3-year-old son, Jett Brown, who died on June 27, 2020. Our family and his community of Carthage, Illinois, were still mourning his loss on July 4.
He will be with us in spirit this year as we celebrate our country and his memory. He has shown himself frequently over the past 12 months via rainbows arching through the sky. We choose to believe it is his way of saying, “I’m here, I see you, I love you.”
There will be a toast in his honor. We have toasted many things at the party over the years, from newly married couples to newborns, retirees to loved ones we have lost, and, of course, to our country. It is an annual group hug that is centered around America, but encompasses much more. It’s why last year was so difficult.
We missed each other and the tradition of it all. You wear and/or see get-ups specific to the day … clothes that hang in closets or lie folded in drawers for 364 sunrises, waiting their turn to shine.
An Uncle Sam outfit with a long blue coat, a red, white and blue hat and red and white striped pants. It was purchased a few years back at another Bloomington-Normal tradition, the Third Sunday Market.
Priced at $45, the whole thing was secured for $30, a shrewd business deal to be sure. It has paid for itself many times over for the party hosts, who have turned it into patriotic attire for two.
That’s how much we love this day. We feel a need to look the part, and are willing to look silly doing it. Guests are encouraged to do the same.
There are no rules, other than this: Politics are not allowed. There is no screening for Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. All are welcome. The day is about America and that is plenty, especially following a year of disease, civil unrest and political/social discord.
The playlist annually includes Lee Greenwood’s 1984 hit, “God Bless the USA.” We began playing it long before it became politically aligned. When Greenwood croons, “I’d gladly stand up, next to you and defend her still today,” we stand up. It has become tradition.
So have red, white and blue stars spray painted in the backyard, the brainchild of the brains in the family, my wife. A hastily sketched outline becomes the perfect patriotic playing field for Jarts tossers, bag throwers, etc.
We also have had themed “floats” built on small red wagons, pulling them parade-style down the street.
Is it a bit much? We sure hope so.
Our combined families have had a father, brother, uncles and cousins serve our country. We celebrate freedoms they fought to protect. If our annual response seems over the top, so be it.
Here’s hoping you also have a festive Fourth of July. Celebrate a country that, for all its warts, is still terrific. Celebrate the ability to celebrate. Coming together was among many things we took for granted pre-pandemic. Embrace it like never before.
We vow to do the same.
🎆 From the Archives: Fourth of July in Central Illinois
State Rep. Dan Brady during Fourth of July Parade in Downs
Tim Phillips of Lincoln walks with American flag
Annual parades with local school bands
Captain Rat greets fans at Normal's Fairview Park
Youngsters perform during "Celebrate America"
Organizers hope to repeat the event every Fourth of July
The McManus family celebrated the Fourth
Sites for Sounds
Fourth full of fun options
Fourth of July marked by OpSail 2000
Fourth of July to be given gay observance
A park celebration for the Fourth of July
Matt Hedeman showed his colors during Fourth of July Parade
Relaxing picnic fare for the Fourth of July
Randy Kindred is a columnist and retired sports editor at The Pantagraph. Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: pg_kindred