Sharon Randall: Cause for celebration

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 3, 2011

How do you celebrate the Fourth of July? What will you teach your children and their children about its meaning?
Growing up, I knew that I was blessed to be born in the United States of America, the greatest country on the face of the Earth.
I knew it, because I was told so repeatedly by my parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, preachers and passing strangers and anybody else who felt the need to remind me.
ěIn America,î theyíd say, ěanything is possible. You are blessed and don’t you forget it.î
I never did. They never let me.
Itís a wonderful thing to feel privileged about your place of birth, especially if you don’t feel privileged in other ways.
In the í50s, in the rural South, many families were ěpoorî in income, but we werenít always aware of it. Textile mills didn’t pay much, but work was steady. Food was plentiful, thanks to backyard gardens. And shelter, such as it was, was relatively cheap ěacross the tracksî or downwind from a cow pasture.
Most families that were ěwell offî had the grace or good sense not to flaunt their wealth or let their children do so. We all had about the same ó enough.
That was true, at least, for white families. If you were poor and white, you didn’t have to look far to see that poor and black was a lot poorer.
I remember in those days of racial segregation, riding the bus to school in the pouring rain and passing black children waiting for a bus to take them to an all-black school miles away. Once I asked my mother why those children couldnít go to my school. She pressed a finger to her lips and shook her head to hush me. I didnít argue until years later, when I was teenager and argued about everything.
But I do recall wondering: Did those children ó waiting hours in the rain for a bus that showed up late or not at all ó feel theyíd been blessed to be born in the greatest country on Earth?
Never could I have dreamed that in my lifetime a black child would grow up to be president.
The summer I was 10, the mill where my stepfather worked a different shift every week hosted a Fourth of July wingding for its employees and their families, with a barbecue, fireworks and a hotly contested tug of war between the weavers, who ran the looms, and the ěfixers,î who tried to keep them running.
My stepfather was a weaver, a big man, strong and proud. Just when it seemed the weavers had won, his foot slipped and he fell, losing his grip on the rope and ripping ligaments in his ankle.
He was out of work six months and, for us, poor got poorer.
Santa didnít make it to our house that year, but a lot of good people did, dropping by for a cup of coffee and leaving behind a ham or a sack of pinto beans. I remember in particular a church deacon, who said the Good Lord had laid it on his heart to take the tithe he always left in the offering plate and leave it instead on our table.
We got by. And somehow in the end, we were richer for it.
Iíve celebrated the Fourth of July lots of ways, lots of places: At hotter-than-the-gates-of-hell picnics in Carolina; bundled up on a foggy beach in California; soaked to the skin in a leaky tent in the rain; and in recent years, on a hill near our house, looking down on Las Vegas, watching fireworks over the Strip.
This year, I hope to hold my first grandchild and see the fireworks in his eyes and cover his ears from the booms.
I will tell him he was blessed to be born in the greatest country on Earth, a nation that is great not for its wealth or power or perfection, but because of the goodness of its people, the freedom it assures us and the promise it makes to one and all, great or small, regardless of who we are, the color of our skin or which side of the tracks we call home: In America, anything is still possible. And that is something to celebrate.

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