Hi there, Dear Reader. It is late morning in Lithia, Florida, on Monday, July 4, 2022. It is a hot, sultry summer day in the Tampa Bay area. Currently, the temperature is 83°F (29°C) under sunny skies. With a becalmed wind and humidity at 86%, the heat index is 90°F (32°C). Today’s forecast calls for thunderstorms to move through the area. The high will be 95°F (35°C). Tonight, we can expect scattered rain showers, and the low will be 76°F (24°C).
Here in the United States, it is the Fourth of July, which is the 246th anniversary of America’s declaration of independence from Great Britain. (If you want to get didactic about it, the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 2, 1776, but it was made public two days later.) Traditionally and officially, the Fourth of July is a federal and state holiday, so most Americans who don’t have “essential jobs” have the day off, whether they’re in the U.S. or are Americans working for U.S. companies overseas.
This, of course, lives up to John Adams’ prediction in a letter he wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776:
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.
For most of the 50 years since Mom and I (and later, my half-sister) returned to the States after living in Colombia for almost six years, I used to enjoy the Fourth of July. I can’t say I went to a lot of public gatherings in all that time; I think I attended the late Democratic Congressman Dante B. Fascell’s Fourth of July picnics in Miami a couple of times when I was a Cub Scout/Boy Scout, but I don’t remember a single instance of seeing a live fireworks show on Independence Day.
I do remember that my mother and I would watch, as regularly as clockwork, the two concerts that PBS airs on the Fourth of July: A Capitol Fourth! performance by the National Symphony Orchestra (which was led by the late Erich Kunzel, whose main “gig” was conducting the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra until his death in 2009), and the Pops Goes the Fourth concert from Boston, featuring the world-famous Boston Pops Orchestra.
When, exactly, did Independence Day lose its luster for me? I honestly can’t remember exactly when my enthusiasm for the holiday began to wane. Certainly, it was when I still lived in Miami and was taking care of my mom, knowing that her health was in a steep decline due to various illnesses that hit her all at once, a Perfect Storm of a long, complicated, and ultimately fruitless recovery from back surgery, heart issues, kidney issues, and, of course, dementia.
Mom and I watched the two PBS Independence Day concerts with varying degrees of enthusiasm under these difficult and heartbreaking conditions from 2010 to 2014. This was only possible because Mom’s cognitive capacity deteriorated slowly – but surely – during those four summers. Also, my half-sister Vicky (a woman who only reluctantly became an American citizen at the same time Mom did during the Clinton Administration) was still working at the now-shuttered Metropolitan Hospital of Miami (formerly known as Pan American Hospital); she usually chose to work on July 4, so she was not able to discourage my mom from watching Pops Goes the Fourth.
I don’t remember July 4, 2015, all that well; by this time Mom had gone to Kendall Regional Hospital due to problems with her kidneys and heart several times, and she was already in hospice care after her last trip there. I don’t recall watching either A Capitol Fourth or Pops Goes the Fourth, by then Vicky was a retiree, partly by circumstances – her place of employment had closed by then, and even though she was not yet 65 years old, she only made a half-hearted attempt to get at least a part-time job to maintain her standard of living but did not really want to work – and she did not enjoy the patriotic ambiance of either concert, so she probably vetoed one or both of the concerts so she could watch a telenovela on Univision instead.
I stopped watching the Fourth of July concerts in 2016; at the time I was in the middle of the Miami-to-Lithia move, with one foot figuratively in one place and one in the other. That week – on the seventh of July – I had to be in Miami for the dreaded hearing in Miami-Dade’s civil court before a probate judge regarding Vicky’s bogus claim that Mom’s last will and testament were “lost or destroyed.” I was in Lithia on the Fourth of July that year, but obviously, my mind was preoccupied with that hearing, so I was in no mood to watch any concerts.
And, of course, ever since Donald Trump was elected as President in 2016 and his Make America Great Again cultish followers appropriated the American flag, the bald eagle, and even the word “patriot” to self-identify as the only true Americans, I don’t feel like celebrating the Fourth of July. It’s hard to feel good about being an American at a time when the land where I was born resembles Germany in the 1930s more than it does the idealized version of the U.S. that I cherished when Mom and I got off that Lockheed Electra turboprop airliner that conveyed us to Miami from Bogota on a spring day 50 years ago.
For me, this will be just another humdrum day in hot, humid, and quite possibly stormy Florida. I’ll probably eat a late brunch, take a shower, get dressed – even though I’ll go nowhere – and try to get through the day as I always do. If I do anything remotely related to the Fourth, it’ll be something like listening to America, the Beautiful, a digital album that features the Boston Pops Orchestra performing classical music and traditional American songs with a patriotic bent.
Okay, I’ve prattled long enough, so I will just close here. Until next time, Dear Reader, stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things. Unless, of course, it’s raining. In that case, I’ll hold an umbrella to keep you dry.