As a kid who had parents who’d shlep my brother and I all across the country every summer break, I have been lucky to celebrate the 4th of July in some pretty spectacular settings. I think the most memorable being a Civil War reenactment of the battle of Gettysburg, just a few miles away from where the battle took place. Fireworks and fake cannon fire really added to the drama and drove home the true meaning of this holiday and what this celebration is really all about.
That summer was our Revolutionary and Civil War-themed summer trip. We drove across the country from California to the East Coast to visit some of the most famous battlefields of each respective war. I was only 7 at the time but I still have very vivid memories of the places we visited; Manassas, Yorktown, Antietam, and the Appomattox Courthouse just to name the ones I can remember. But it was Gettysburg, where we spent the most time, that had the biggest effect on me at that summer and still does today.
I had an extremely active imagination as a child, so when we’d be walking or driving around the battlefield, my mom or dad reading from the National Park brochure, my brain was doing its best to conjure up the whole scene right in front of me. Trying to picture the armies of blue and grey marching across cornfields and fruit orchards, scrambling up hillsides and through creeks. My young brain trying to wrap itself around the fact that 23,049 people died here in three days. The significance of that battle, and the war itself and how it shaped the country I lived in. It’s not an easy task at that age, especially because I didn’t have a ton of background (I distinctly remember tackling American history the next school year as I was the annoying girl in class who would constantly call out ‘I’ve been there’ with all of my classmates rolling their eyes).
Out of all the places we saw at Gettysburg, there was one particular place that truly felt hallowed, and I can still recall the way I felt when we were there; Devil’s Den. Maybe it was hearing that the small stream that ran through it turned red for awhile during the fighting or maybe it was the eeriness of the rock outcrop that was a contrast to the gentle hills and forrest around it, but I still remember walking around in that space and feeling a sensation I’ve really only felt a few other places in my life. I believe there are places on this earth that are truly haunted by the events that took place in the past.
Walking through old battlefields, touching wagon wheel ruts from settlers’ wagons (yea, we did an Oregon Trail-themed trip the next year), scampering though the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde as well as many other experiences all over the country cultivated a truer understanding my identity as an American and connected me even more to this land and the people who lived and explored here before me.
I recognize the beautiful and ugly facets of my country’s past and I always want to believe that, as a collective whole, we are continuously working together to strive to make this country the best it can be for all. I understand this sentiment is incredibly naive and probably the reason I don’t have the heart to keep up on the day-to-day news. I make sure I am informed and I vote always, but what is going on now, the extreme polarization and the ugliness towards one another because of our differences is honestly just hard for my heart to take on a daily basis. Not to mention the current issue with separating tiny children from their parents. This, plus the added perspective of having lived abroad for several years, I have had a pretty negative view on how I see ‘my country’ for awhile.
Thankfully, yesterday, I was able to remind myself that even though there are truly awful things going on, there is also a lot of beautiful things happening to.
We had friends visiting from Italy who happened to be in town for the Fourth. We met them in the Marina District in San Francisco and spent the day eating, talking and walking our way around the beautiful city. It is so fun to experience where you live through they eyes of people visiting for the first time. The wonderful things they said about norther California: its people, its scenery (even its food- an coming from Italians that is HUGE) really did make me proud be from here and call this place home. We still have a lot of work to do, but I appreciated the opportunity to be reminded of the fact that I am proud to be an American. I am so thankful of being able to have, along with my immigrant husband, started our lives over here, just 4 year ago and made a wonderful little life for our family. It was also my husband’s first Fourth as a U.S. Citizen so it was especially poignant to have this little love-fest with my corner of the country that day.