July 4th – A Day to Take Stock

Growing up in Boston – the cradle of liberty, the birthplace of the American Revolution – the meaning of The Fourth of July was crystal clear. It was a day of celebration and remembrance, yes; but also, a day with an eye toward the future, a day to take stock of the three things most important in life.

Red Sox

July 4th was the day that my grandfather, Lem, would make his official pronouncement about the fate of the Red Sox for that season. Oh, we’re not talking American League Pennant or World Series. There had only been two of the former in my lifetime, three in my father’s. Only Lem had been alive for the Red Sox World Series championships in the early 1900s, a long, long time ago.

No, like our own personal groundhog, Lem would simply forecast whether it would be an enjoyable 8 weeks of baseball before school started again after Labor Day or a summer cast in the long shadow of the Yankees and a comedy — or was it a tragedy — of unimaginable, unforced errors.

Either way, Lem would tune in faithfully for every game. First, with a radio by his side as he sat in his chair in the corner of the “dining room” with his cigar and copy of the afternoon paper (the tabloid not the broadsheet, of course). The room was only used as a dining room on Thanksgiving and Christmas as all meals were taken around the kitchen table the other 363 days.

When I was young, Lem worked the early morning shift, 6:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., as a dispatcher for an oil company and was home by 3:00. It worked out well, as things sometimes do. As baseball games shifted from afternoon to night and from radio to television (first free, then cable), Lem retired and could stay up past 7:00 p.m. His chair became a recliner in the living room with a perfect view of the color television set.


Over the years, July 4th also became a day to take stock of the family. A couple of my mother’s siblings had moved their families from Boston to Middleboro (or Middleborough) – a small, rural town near Plymouth, MA, just this side of the Cape Cod bridges. Where it all began. Sorry Virginia, we have a rock.

A mere 32 miles and 45 minutes away, a “trip” to Middleboro was a major event in those days.

And one of the events that warranted a trip to Middleboro was the Fourth of July. Middleboro hosted, and boasted, an annual July 4th parade, complete with floats, with a route that passed right in front of my uncle’s house (somehow twice, as I remember). Building the family float for the parade became a full family, all hands-on-deck, annual labor of love, followed by a cookout in the afternoon and fireworks in the evening. It was our family’s personal Tournament of Roses.

That annual July 4th gathering was a time to take stock of the family. How much the kids had grown and how we were they doing in school? Eventually, girlfriends, boyfriends, and all that entails. Then the other issues that inevitably arise as 17 cousins grow into adults. And for our parents, the original adults, topics such as would the factory stay open another year, how was the new business doing, have you found a new job? Eventually, how was the “family” doing, any health issues, who was still with whom?

I’ll confess that I was never gung-ho about the float thing, and often didn’t rise early enough to be part of the first wave that made it to my uncle’s house before the roads closed for the parade. But I was part of the second wave that arrived for the cookout. Until I wasn’t. But that’s how families go, I guess. That’s part of taking stock.


Like any birthday, July 4th is also time to take stock of the country, America, the land that we love, a great unfinished symphony, as Lin-Manuel Miranda labeled it.

And like my cousins as we grew older, the country is going through some challenging times. Things seem out of control because they are out of control. We are questioning everything, challenging what/whoever gets in our way, and rejecting a lot of what came before. In the fog of this battle we have no idea what lies ahead.

As Frederick Douglass noted, however, in his famous 1852 speech, “What To the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” we can take some hope from the fact that the country is still young and can be shaped and reformed. Douglass referred to the 76-year-old country as being “only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood.

Another three-quarters of a century passed, and Frank Sinatra sang of “the dream that’s been a-growing for a hundred and fifty years.”

And at our Bicentennial in 1976, I listened to Up With People describe the United States of America with the lyrics

Two hundred years and just a baby. Two hundred years and just a child.
Growing like a weed. Kind of rough. Kind of wild.
Someday she’s gonna be quite a lady.
Yes, she’s two hundred years and just a baby.

Four years from now, on the 250th anniversary of 1776, I imagine there will be poems and songs about the USA struggling through these teenage years of rebellion, learning, and change – putting the ways of childhood behind us. Teenage years, for as both Up With People and Frederick Douglass note, “nations number their years by thousands.

Of course, nations only number their years by thousands if they survive. From the beginning in 1776, Jefferson and Adams knew that this grand experiment was not going to be easy, success was never guaranteed. And that belief grew stronger as they led and then watched the infant country grow for the next 50 years before both passing away on July 4, 1826.

Just as our parents did with my cousins and me in the 70s and 80s, we have to hope that we’ve provided a solid foundation, give just enough rope so that the country doesn’t hang itself, and pray that with the right checks and balances in place, any mistakes made during this learning process won’t be permanent.

So, although on this Independence Day it may not be clear where this path will lead America, I stand beside her, and like John Adams wrote in a letter to Abigail Adams on July 3, 1776, “through all the Gloom I can see the rays of ravishing Light and Glory.

A Boston Fourth

I’ll end where I began, in Boston. There are two distinct celebrations that take place in Boston on the Fourth of July.

The more well-known celebration, the opiate of the masses if you will, is the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular, a nationally televised concert and fireworks display that draws hundreds of thousands of people each year to a small tract of land and bandshell along the banks of the Charles River. The annual event is itself a child, a by-product of the Bicentennial. It didn’t really exist before 1976 but is now a cherished longstanding tradition.

Traditions are funny that way and time is relative.

The other celebration begins at Boston City Hall early in the morning.  It attracts hundreds (maybe) not hundreds of thousands. The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company leads the participatory “parade” a couple of blocks to the Granary Burial Ground where wreaths are laid at the graves of Patriots such as John Hancock and Samuel Adams. The parade continues down another block to the Old State House for the reading of the Declaration of Independence – just feet from the circle of cobblestones commemorating the site of the Boston Massacre, a place we first visited on field trips in elementary school and learned of Crispus Attucks.

Following the reading, you may wander a few more block down to the waterfront to view the U.S.S. Constitution – the oldest commissioned ship in the U.S. Navy and one of its original frigates – on its annual turnaround “sail” through Boston Harbor.

Taking the Constitution out from time to time and viewing it from a different perspective so that it weathers well and doesn’t disintegrate with age. I know there’s a metaphor in there.

Happy Independence Day!

God Bless America.

Published by Charlie DePascale

Charlie DePascale is an educational consultant specializing in the area of large-scale educational assessment. When absolutely necessary, he is a psychometrician. The ideas expressed in these posts are his (at least at the time they were written), and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations with which he is affiliated personally or professionally..

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