Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Independence Day in Small Town USA

I have the privilege of living in a small city in southern Oregon. "Small" is actually a relative term, since, according to experts, we are one of the fastest growing communities in the state. But even with our growth and progress, nothing equals the annual 4th of July celebration in our "small" community. It is classic Americana!
The morning begins with the 4th of July Breakfast at the Grange Hall...hosted, cooked, and served by the men and women of the VFW. The menu is always the same: scrambled eggs, ham, pancakes, coffee, and juice. The food is good and young and old come in to eat, joke around, and exchange the latest news and rumors.
There's the fun run events, in which I will one day participate after I lay down my burdens and get my knees fixed.
And then there's the parade. Main Street is blocked off and what looks like the entire community lines both sides. The best spot is the by the review stand. This is where the color guard stops and everyone stands as a local celebrity opens the parade with the National Anthem. The parade then proceeds: a diverse collection of vintage cars, horses and riders, civic leaders, and organizational floats. The floats wouldn't win any prizes at the Rose Parade, but they get trophies anyway (last year, our church VBS float won first place!). The fun part is the commentary from the review stand: corny jokes, crack-ups, and familiarity not seen in big city parades.
Booths line Main Street and, after the parade, one can "swim" through the people. Expect a wait in line at the food and soft drink booths, but there will be enough friends passing by and saying "hi" that nobody minds much. Of course, there's the lawnmower races too, souped up engines and all roaring down main street for honor and fun.
And no 4th of July festivities would be complete without fireworks. The same community that came out in sun earlier now assembles at the the high school football stadium. The best spots go to the early arrivals, but there's room for everyone. Families cahtting and playing, the high school concession stand already showing a line, the workers doing final checks on the pyrotechnics.
And then it's dusk and the excitement begins. The first half is the "sponsored" part in which businesses and individuals purchase shells in exchange for a mention. The announcer does a plug, the firework is shot. Another plug, another shot. Okay, it's kind of slow and a little boring. But it occurs to me that these businesses and individuals are an integral part of the fabric of the community. We eat at these resteraunts and shop at these stores and say "hi" to these folks. It's a little like a family coming together and remembering.
At half time, there is "Skydiver Bingo." Folks buy paper plates with their names on them. After the plates are scattered across the field, a group of skydivers parachute through the night, coming into view almost magically into the stadium. They scoop up a plate as they land and the winners get a prize.
The second half of the show is classic fireworks: loud, thrilling, and uninterrupted. It's spectacular and awe-inspiring, one of the best in the region.
The next day, our small city gets back to normal. And aside from the extra number of clean up crews patrolling the now busy Main Street, theonly remant fo a very special day in our city is the stray "pop" from a leftover firecracker.
God bless my community...and God bless the USA.

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