(Host) It’s Independence Day – a day when communities all over the country gather to celebrate the ideas that launched the United States.
Those ideas have always been a work in progress, complicated by conflicts, political debate and the urgencies of any given moment.
But that’s never stopped neighbors from coming together over fireworks and strawberry shortcake, as VPR’s Susan Keese reports.
(Sounds of sheep)
(Keese) The “Old Vermont Fourth” activities at Woodstock’s Billings Farm museum recall the holiday as it would have been in the 1890’s. That’s complete with cows to milk and heirloom sheep to feed.
The museum’s David Miles says people would have gotten their chores done early to go to town for the big celebration.
(Miles) “You could argue that the fourth of July was the most important American holiday throughout the entire 19th century, that people anticipated the fourth the way we anticipate Christmas today, and that it was a more important holiday.”
(Keese) Local festivities were laced with political speeches and debates, which museum staff re-enact for the occasion. Miles says one thing people were debating in the late 1890s was U.S. expansionism and whether we should go to war with Spain.
(Miles) “And there were people who felt that war was the right thing, and other people who felt it was the wrong thing. And it’s always been that way right up through World War II.”
(Keese) One of Miles’s favorite Fourth of July readings is from a letter written by John Adams during the Revolution. Adams says he must study politics and war so his sons would have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. And his sons must study navigation and commerce so that their sons can study art and poetry.
(Linnehan) “Do you think it’s really worked out that way though?”
(Keese) Mike Linnehan of Whitingham is a medic in the Air Force Reserve. He’s also the newly elected president of the Deerfield Valley Troop Support group. For the fourth year running, the group is serving dessert at the fireworks in Wilmington, to raise money for the boxes they send to local soldiers overseas.
In 2003, Linnehan spent the Fourth on active duty in Germany. He helped set up and maintain a hospital for soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also helped to organize an Independence Day celebration at the hospital with barbecue and watermelon and pie.
(Linnehan) “And we all thought of being back home – thinking of what it was like to have Fourth of July in Vermont, .or what it was like have Fourth of July in California or Texas. Everyone had a little bit of a different idea. Just something as simple as burgers and hot dogs and playing The Star Spangled Banner and realizing that you are a part of the Fourth of July now, you know.”
(Keese) Also working in the booth with Linnehan is Ginny Cunningham.
(Cunningham) “This Fourth of July is very special to me because for the first time in a long time I have all my four sons home for the Fourth of July. They’re all in the Army or the Army Guard. And they’ve been over to Iraq and Afghanistan and Bosnia and Kuwait. And then one of my sons has gone to Afghanistan four times. And he just got back. So it’s amazing that he’s going to be here.”
(Sounds of a blender)
(Keese) Over in Wardsboro they’re thinking about the troops, too. But they’ve got work to do on the home front. Yesterday the strawberry shortcake committee, headed by local resident lee Miller, picked 378 flats of strawberries for today’s festivities and parade.
(Leigh Miller) “We have rescue truck and fire truck, all shined up and beautiful, floats that’ll just knock your socks off.”
(Keese) Miller says it all adds up to something.
(Miller) “That life goes on. Even though our boys are not here with us, we celebrate our freedom.”
(Keese) For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.