Clellie Lynch: Recalling old traditions, celebrating new, on 4th


EAST CHATHAM, N.Y. — As the sun seeps over the horizon, excited children bound out of bed anticipating the Fourth of July, America's birthday, a day of parades and picnics, fairs and festivals and maybe even a political speech or two a day that ends with glorious showers of sparkling, booming fireworks. Today is the day for all Americans to celebrate the founding of this country, a country created to ensure the freedom and liberty for the myriad of assorted peoples absorbed into these United States.

My great-grandfather, Patrick Henry Killian, an immigrant from Ireland in 1849, came to this country as a young boy of seven. (Amazing that my great-grandfather was born nearly 180 years ago when friends of mine in their early 70s are already great-grandparents! Even more surprising was that he was not named after the American patriot "Give me liberty or give me death!" Patrick Henry.) A decade or so later, Patrick joined the Union Army and fought in a few of the more atrocious battles of the Civil War.

Back in New York City, he had his own way of celebrating the 4th. At sunrise, he would proudly strut out to the middle of his street in Brooklyn and shoot off his musket. Blam! Blam! Blam!

I wonder how many times he fired the gun. Originally in 1776 gatherings honored the country with a 13-gun salute, though now 50 guns are needed to represent each state of the union. Toward the end of the 19th-century there were 45 states. Did he shoot off the gun 45 times?

The 4th or not, the neighbors were not pleased with being awakened by gunfire — the clanging of milk bottles, the clip-clopping of horses, OK, but not the blasts of a gun. "Wait until the saloons opened," they pleaded. "Bunch of damn rebels!" Patrick was said to have muttered. "Bunch of damn bounty hunters!" But every 4th, celebrate he did.

Years later when I was growing up, the morning of the 4th was a scramble to get the hyped-up younger children washed and dressed for the Southampton (N.Y.) town parade (always a feat to get these squirmy, excited sibs ready and into the car at the same time.) Not only did everyone hang out a flag or banner or bunting, we too were dressed in red, white and blue — mostly in summer whites — which didn't stay white for long after sitting on the curb, or chasing one another, or not being quick enough to slurp up the drips from ice-cream cones.

Loud, flashy marching bands high-stepped along Main Street led by flag bearers and baton twirlers; freedom floats glided along often with a green-painted Lady of Liberty queen-waving to the crowd. The North Sea Fire Department would have the noisiest, bawdiest float and invariably used its hoses to dampen the crowd while tossing candy to the kids dashing alongside the slow-moving disguised firetruck. Invariably, the toddler in the stroller ended up with chocolate candy that found its way to face and hands and his no longer pristine red, white and blue outfit.


After watching the parade and visiting friends and acquaintances, we headed home to change into bathing suits for an afternoon at the beach. Dinner was a classic picnic of hotdogs and hamburgers, potato salad, cole slaw, watermelon, and, if we were lucky a real treat: potato chips. In the evening, everyone, tired but wired, piled back into the car, a pale, yellow station wagon with a third seat in the back-back assigned, of course, to the smaller ones. Off we went to Cooper's Beach to get a sandy seat in the dunes to watch the town fireworks, set off over the dark roiling ocean, the booms echoing across the water as one starburst after another floated down and disappeared. Carefully my father would light a sparkler, and then from one sparkler start another one, until everyone had sparklers aglow to wave about like a small battalion of low-flying fireflies. Even the youngest held a sparkler, though very briefly, and with an older sibling holding his hand. At least three of the young'uns fell asleep in the car on the way home.

Over the past few years, to remind us of who we are and to celebrate our country's birthday, Danny and I have been treated to a dramatic reading of the Constitution at a 4th of July Party. It is important to remember that this document is the basis for our democracy that now encompasses all Americans, the people that made this country great — and are still making this country great.

In 1883, Emma Lazarus penned "The New Colossus," to raise money for the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty

"Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

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A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

In time, this sonnet became the most popular poem in America, memorized by thousands of school children, and oft quoted by many adults. It's often read at political rallies for it represents what this great country stood for then and stands for now!

Clellie Lynch is a regular Eagle contributor.


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