Take a page from history for real fireworks

A friend tells a story about growing up in Chicago in the ‘60s. A neighbor boy he played with was Italian. The entire family was Italian. They spoke Italian, ate Italian and yelled Italian.

fireworksThe Italian boy asked our friend what he was and he said Swedish. By the way, he’s the most Middle Eastern-looking Swede you’ll ever meet – dark hair, dark eyes, dark complexion. Our friend, knowing full well the Italian kid was Italian, asked him what he was.

“American!” the kid shouted.

“No, you’re not; you’re Italian!”

“No, I’m American! American!”

There’s no better time than the Fourth of July to reflect on what it means to be an American. There’s been a move in recent years to encourage people to read the Declaration at Fourth of July celebrations, cookouts and gatherings.

If you’ve found yourself staring in disbelief at headlines about million dollar government conferences and dance videos, abuse of individuals at the hands of the IRS, a rush to make new laws when we don’t enforce the laws we have, and you feel a knot in your gut over diminishing liberties and mushrooming bureaucracies, take a page from history.

If you find yourself wondering if the American dream was just that, a dream, and you question whether the next generation will find jobs that can support them, own homes or be able to experience mobility in employment, it’s time to sit back. Find a copy of the Declaration of Independence, pop the tab on your beverage of choice and start reading. Don’t just read to the familiar, the part about the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; read the whole thing, start to finish.

No other charter of freedom in the entire world is so beautifully written, powerful and inspiring. There is nothing stuffy and staid about the Declaration; it is a document of sweeping passion. It begins nearly apologetic in tone, noting that long established government should not be changed for light and transient causes. Then the crescendo begins. It starts with an acknowledgment that rights come from God, then shifts to a defense of freedom, grows louder denouncing tyranny and, with barely contained rage, enumerates the ways the colonists have suffered.

The grievances come rapid fire: the King has established arbitrary government; forbidden governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance; abolished valuable laws and fundamentally altered the forms of government.

No people lose freedom overnight. Loss of freedom happens incrementally, slowly and silently, like fog slipping in at night. Freedom requires vigilance and voice.

When you hold a copy of the Declaration, you hold your birthright. You hold the very words, the fervor and the commitment to sacrifice that secured your freedom as an American. You hold something else, too—your heritage, your children’s heritage and your grandchildren’s heritage.

Read the Declaration aloud this Fourth. Read it the way it was written—with passion. Read it like your lives, your fortunes and your sacred honor depended on it.

Read it in a group and it’s a guarantee you’ll be talking about more than the weather, ball scores and fireworks.

Y’all gotta read this

I can probably tell where you’re from by whether you say “you guys” or “y’all.” Do you call it pick-AHN pie or pee-pop imageKAHN pie? The pecan pie pronunciation is sticky business no matter how you slice it.

I didn’t turn clairvoyant; I’ve been looking at a series of maps, published by Joshua Katz, a doctoral student at North Carolina State University, illustrating how people pronounce words in different parts of the country.

The maps indicate we are split nearly 50/50 between soda and pop when it comes to what to call carbonated beverage drinks.

Responses were more complex regarding what to call it when several roads meet in a circle and you have to get off at a certain point. The answers were traffic circle, roundabout or rotary—except in South and North Dakota, where they have no word for this. I lived in North Dakota for a year. There is no word for where several roads meet in a circle, because in both of the Dakotas you can drive for days without any roads, cars, livestock or people meeting.

Despite an interesting composite of our lexicons, I am curious as to why researchers did not address the pronunciation divide of all time. Forget syrup, sir-up or sear-up, how do you pronounce my home state of Missouri?

Elections were won and lost on this matter. Adults were shunned at cocktail parties and kids were creamed during dodge ball based on how they said Missouri.

You either pronounced it Mih-zur-ie, (sounds dangerously close to Misery), or — and this was the group the rest of us never fully trusted— you called it Mih-zur-ah, not unlike the University of Missouri chant, “Rah, Rah, Rah, Mih-zur-Rah! Go Tigers!”

Being sincere and ordinary people, my family, friends, my slang imagefriends’ families and my teachers all called it Mih-zur-ie. But every once in awhile, I would pronounce it Mih-zur-ah just to try it on for size the same way I would take my mother’s small lipstick samples from the Avon lady to try them on for size. More than once when I tried what we considered the “puttin’ on airs” pronunciation, someone would look at me and snap, “Take off that lipstick, girl. Where do you think you’re from?”

There was only one answer and it was Mih-zur-ie

There were few regrets when I moved ‘cross country and left the pronunciation woes of Mih-zur-ie behind. But I wound up in Oregon, a state with a name that outsiders often mispronounced and insiders were determined to correct. Cars bore bumper stickers saying, “IT’S ORY-GUN.” If you visit the Emerald State and call it Ory-GONE, you will be regarded as the same sort of hotty totty that says Mih-zur-ah.

Our differences in speech are both fascinating and entertaining. The important thing is that we not become rigid about our way of doing things.

That said, I grew up drinking pop and still do, find that a PEE-can pie sounds suspect, although pick-AHN pie will do just fine, and never circle a roundabout twice, as it makes me nauseous. Or sick. Or ill. Or vomitose. Take your pick.

Cold statistics cry salty tears

More than 24 million children live apart from their biological fathers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That is one in three children in America.

I don’t know what it feels like to live without a father, but I know what it looks like.

I was helping in a first grade classroom when a seven-year-old boy dropped to the floor and started wailing. This wasn’t a soft whimper; it was a chilling, piercing all-out wail.

I coaxed him off the floor, helped him to a chair at the back of the class, and pulled up a chair beside him. He was inconsolable, his shoulders and chest heaving as he gasped for air.

Rubbing his back calmed him down a little and gradually the wailing began to subside. “My dad left,” he said between small sobs. “And my mom said he’s not ever coming back.” Then he sobbed some more, tears gushing. His eyes were red and swollen, his face wet and snot was running out of his nose. “My mom says I’m not ever going to see him again.” Then he broke down again.

We sat for a long while. I broke the silence and told him no one knows the future and that he might see his dad one day. He didn’t buy it. He glared at me, shook his head like I was the dumbest turnip to ever fall off the truck and sobbed some more.

When he quieted down, I tried shooting straight and said everybody goes through hard times, really, really hard times, and that I was sorry his hard time was now. “Sometimes we have to give our mind a break from the hard times so we can function,” I said. “Even in hard times you can find something to be thankful for. Why don’t I say something I’m thankful for and then you can say something you’re thankful for.”

“I’m thankful for a house that protects me from the weather,” I said.

He wiped his nose on his arm. “I’m thankful for my dad – because he taught me everything I know.” Then he threw his head on the desk and started crying again. Now I was fighting back the tears, too. The little guy cried and sniffed, sobbed and heaved, and wore himself out.

What was sitting next to me, leaning up against me, was a statistic with a face on it. When the numbers have faces, when you can see their broken hearts, salty tears and snot-smeared cheeks, they take on a different dimension. One in three on paper is cold. One in three sitting next to you radiates the heat of a white hot hurt.

We’re numb to the statistics. We’re numb to the dismal outcomes that research predicts many of these kids will face. The bottom line is this: If you’re a father, be a father.

Being a father is not just a responsibility, it’s a privilege. You are the only dad your child has.

Thinking outside the window

Between the old air conditioner dying and a new one being installed, we’ve been living with the windows open. The window imageoutside world has tumbled in and our inside world has tumbled out.

The net effect feels something like your mother saying, “Get outside and stay there!” With outdoor sounds now part of every hour, daylight or dark, even our morning routine has changed. We both stumble from bed and beeline to the bedroom window. I don’t know what either of us thinks may have changed during a few hours of sleep, but with hearing the wind, the cars, the sirens and assorted dogs, it seems our duty to check. No bodies, no animal carcasses, no limbs down. Yep, looks the same as it did yesterday.

The low hum of traffic from the interstate, which isn’t necessarily close, wafts over the trees in the morning quiet. Walkers and runners at daybreak seem to pad softer and breathe easier than those later in the day.

By mid-morning the sounds begin to perk up as mothers with baby joggers and strollers pass by and older Russian ladies who have clustered in a nearby apartment complex take their daily constitutionals.

I even know that our neighbor had company the other day. I stepped outside to see if the outside was as stifling as it was inside, when I heard voices and laughter. All was well with the entire world for a moment, as he is a man who enjoys a full house.

The four pale turquoise eggs with brown spots in the nest that the purple house finch built in a fern on the front porch have finally hatched. There’s no missing the yappy little things on the other side of the screen — cheep, cheep, cheep, chirp, chirp, chirp. “I’m on the phone, can you keep it down?” Cheep, cheep, cheep, chirp, chirp, chirp. Every time their mother flies away for food, I wonder if she’ll be back or take the day off so her nerves can recharge.

The guys on the corner are playing basketball. A gaggle of girls on bicycles sail down the middle of the street.

With the door to the patio open, a chipmunk skirting the perimeter of the house is in plain view. He’s the one that has been nibbling on the impatiens and chewing the new clematis. There is no “innocent until proven guilty” here. Disney may have thought you were cute, Chipper, but you won’t linger if you know what’s good for you.

They’re making progress on the fire station remodel at the edge of the neighborhood. We can’t see it, but we can hear it. Echoes of debris sliding into dumpsters bounce off the house and the low vibrations of heavy machinery travel through the floor.

A train whistle blows every night not far from here, sometime before 11. A train at night is a pleasant melancholy. Sorry to have missed it all this time.

We’re getting two more estimates on a new air conditioner. Once it is installed we’ll close the windows, shut the doors, seal ourselves off and rid the house of this heavy humidity. It almost seems a shame.