I spent my teenage years during the 1970s in a house my parents had built for our family on St. James Road in Lincoln, Nebraska. One of my fondest memories of the years there was the neighborhood Fourth of July celebration. In the morning, all the neighborhood kids participated in a parade that followed the length of the development’s main street, Lincolnshire. Bikes, trikes, wagons and pedal cars were decorated with streamers, balloons and flags in the requisite colors of red, white and blue. Every year, bringing up the rear, Mr. Hans would drive his riding lawn mower down the route, dressed in stars and stripes, an American flag attached to the back waving in the breeze.

After that came the annual Fourth of July picnic. Every imaginable summer delicacy was presented on tables in the middle of the street. Fruits, salads, chips, beans, potato salad and enough cakes and brownies to feed a virtual army were shared. Burgers, brats and hotdogs sizzled on any number of grills. Lemonade and pop for the kids, and adult beverages for the grownups.

Once sufficiently stuffed, residents with pools in their backyards opened them to the neighborhood for a cool dip on a hot July day. Like every Fourth of July observance, the day ended with fireworks. We generally had a display in the backyard, others headed over to Holmes Park where the city of Lincoln shot off fireworks over Holmes Lake. By the time the last fireworks had exploded against a black velvet sky, the air hung heavy with acrid smoke that kept the annoying mosquitoes at bay.

Our neighborhood celebration was no different than millions of others across this great land. It was a community coming together as one in recognition of the definitive event of America’s founding. Only a few years before in July 1969, American astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became to the first humans to land and walk on the moon and return safely to Earth. There was a sense of optimism and excitement that America could accomplish anything it set its collective mind to.

It wasn’t a panacea, of course. The Vietnam War and Watergate divided the country. Racial inequity, women’s equality, the sexual revolution, drug use, increased crime, socioeconomic disparities and many other issues we continue to deal with today were present then too. The difference seemed to be that the idea of attacking our democracy wasn’t the issue it is today.

Greatness can bring complacency, which becomes destructive. Perhaps I recall these neighborhood events through the naïve eyes of an adolescent. As we celebrate our country’s 246th birthday, let’s take the time to recognize the importance of shared knowledge, vibrant communities and equality for all. America must continue to aspire to achieve the future we know in our hearts is possible. Happy Fourth!

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