It’s a Small World...view
As time has passed, different holidays have different emotional connotations attached to them; some wistful for times passed and people and pets who are no longer with me, some warm and fresh in my mind--like making Easter dinner a few years ago for a friend and her husband who had cooked for me so many times. Other holiday memories ..Especially Independence Day: not so straightforward anymore..
“Time casts a spell on you…” as Stevie Nicks says in “Silver Spring.” It surely does. Minor elements stand out now where events which once seemed of paramount importance are minor at best, to your adult eyes. The essence of life is change. Some feelings and ties remain vibrant even though your outlook may have changed.
I don’t want to get too political here, but I do want to share some insights. A few moments in my personal history of being an American (and human being). I remember going to the Magic Kingdom/Walt Disney World a few years after it opened, and I was too young for me to remember much of it now. I do remember going on the “It’s a Small World” ride countless times. My parents were entranced/obsessed with it, whether it was the figures dressed in native costume or the horribly catchy song, I don’t know. My eyes drank in (at least the first four times) the exotic nature of the various nations- Scotland, Iran, Germany...To my young mind I imagined that people lived their daily lives in such garb, which seemed a whole lot more interesting than the t-shirt and shorts I was wearing. This was also my first realization that there were all kinds of cultures different from ours.
Remember, back then, cross country flights and long distance phone calls were rare and expensive, not taken lightly or for granted. When Elvis had a TV special that was live by satellite from Hawaii, it was a Major Event for my mother and friends. All the way from Hawaii It was only slightly less distant from the moon. (and of course they had to buy the double LP that went with it). When Elvis died in 1977, we knew it was a serious event,too, because my mother called her friend long distance. Back then, I believe, you had to dial 0 for the operator to get help making a long distance call, too.
After the Disney trip, the obsession with It’s a Small World continued. Obsession on my parents’ part, anyway. My sister and I had heard quite enough of it by then. Funny how the roles were reversed! My mother and sister were fervid Girl Scouts, I was dragged in. Eac year the Scouts performed a few songs at the county fair. It was the early 70s, so it was mostly fare like John Denver, the Coke song, and so on. That year, it was quite the production where each Scout dressed in our local approximation of a native foreign outfit and sang...you guessed it, “It’s a Small World.” It’s quite the experience to be standing on the stage of a county fair in New York in August, dressed as a little Dutch girl, while singing a probably copyright infringing version of a Disney song. I “got to” re-wear the outfit for Halloween that year. The experience with that song and the ride opened my eyes that there was a wide world, and America was part of a larger universe, much as I began to understand that the news was not just Watergate and Vietnam. It was women’s rights- the Equal Rights Amendment, it was civil rights, eventually it also became other kinds of rights. All have been contested in some way.
Another moment in my American Eye Opening was a trip to Philadelphia in 1976. (Ok, I’m a "mature" woman). It rather boggles my mind now that my parents thought it was a super idea to go to such a historical place in July during the Bicentennial, but that is my adult caution and pondering of the logistics that likely gives me that viewpoint. It’s hard to explain now, but that year most people (at least white lower middle to upper class) were in the grip of American history and America is Utopia thinking. It was heady stuff. Anything and everything was manufactured in red, white and blue, and preferably with an eagle as well. It didn’t begin and end with the fourth, either.
On that trip we went to see the Liberty Bell, which was very exciting to me, as in little girl fashion, I had developed a serious fascination with it. Back then the Bell was housed in a structure rather like a fairly large visitor’s center. Not terribly large, and you could literally go up and touch the Bell. I doubt that you were supposed to, but you could, and many people did. I’ll spare the reader the various mental squealing (and since I was a little girl, there was probably literal squealing as well--I was actually wearing a (pink) T shirt with the Liberty Bell on it. This was no joke. The anecdote of that visit kind of takes a turn because it was very hot (small space, July, Philadelphia, crowds) and I passed out right in front of the Bell. The take away was it was a great thrill to see and touch something that was a literal part of history. I had read about the Bell, and how it was used and how the crack happened, and there it was! People for two hundred or so years (which to a kid seems unfathomable) had looked at it, touched it. My affinity for artifacts and objects which have come through to us from other times was awoken. It also meant becoming even more immersed in history, now that I had seen proof of what I had read. We lived in an area with the proverbial embarrassment of riches- history everywhere: Washington’s Headquarters, the Van Wyck home, the Madame Brett home, West Point...Gravestones from the 1700s which leaned over as if exhausted. So history was something I took for granted, but nothing like The Liberty Bell.
In that same decade my parents would have people over for the Fourth, usually their parents and a few adult friends. We’d be in the backyard on the metal folding chairs with plastic webbing. My father would be getting annoyed by the reluctance of the charcoal to light, my mother was making sure that the cans of discount soda (I can't remember the exact name, but I remember that it had a smart-ass looking penguin on it, and that the cans were different colors based on the flavors. And that the cream soda was horrible) was getting taken out to everyone. Meaning, that my sister and I brought it out. There were metal devices which were stuck into the lawn and surmounted with a circular coil that the cans were supposed to go into, to avoid them being sat on the grass. In the evening people would drive over (or drive to someone’s house and then walk) to a local park to watch fireworks (and then complain about the traffic). It was relaxed and all day there was a feeling of smugness and joy that we lived in America. People dressed up in red, white and blue, complete with accessories and jewelry fit for the day
Another holiday I remember is the first time Martin Luther King Day was celebrated in New York State. I didn’t understand the importance then, unfortunately. I knew it was to honor a great person who was a leader and who had made a difference. We got school off, we went ice skating. What I didn’t understand was why he needed to be a leader, why a difference needed to be made. Not really. Sure, I understood that there was a fairly recent time when human beings had to sit and eat and live in certain places simply because of their skin color, and that people had worked hard to change that. I didn’t (and don’t) fathom why one group would make rules regarding another group. Not even how they would, but why they would. Back then, too, I didn’t realize there was at least one parallel America.
Memories of these holidays have evolved over time, as has my view of America. As things do: whether it’s taste in music or various judgement calls or even whether it’s right to scrambled eggs with ketchup. There are intrinsically human things for which there shouldn’t be debate. America is still my home and I’d defend it to anyone who would wish to harm it. But I can’t see it the same way- and I think that’s a good thing.