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Four Years at the Mount

Reflections of the Forth of July

Sophomore Year: Family and Freedom

Kyle Ott
Class of 2015

American history is characterized by the strength and talent of the individual. Everywhere there is proof of the power that single-minded, incredibly individualistic people have had on the culture of our nation. You see it in the textbooks that extol the virtues of such great and different men such as Teddy Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson. This streak of strong, eclectic heroes can even be seen in our own revolution when American legends like Benjamin Franklin, partnered with French aristocrats like the Marquis De Lafayette and Prussian soldiers like Colonel Von Steuban to forge a new country from the untamed wilderness.

This same spirit of individuality not only survives but thrives in the way we celebrate the birth of our nation on the Fourth of July. Everywhere from New York to Santa Fe, people ring in Americaís birthday in an amazing number of ways. My childhood in the tiny village of Abbottstown has taught me that the Fourth of July is a defining experience. The air here simmers with the heat of one hundred midnight bonfires where old friends and family members gather to share cold beers and stories. When you walk down one of the tiny cul-de-sacs you can almost taste the hotdogs, burgers and bratwurst that roast on grills around town. And when the sky finally turns dark, every member of town breaks open a package of fireworks and paints the sky in bright hues of red, white, and blue. This massive display of aerial artwork lasts long after July fourth: the skies of my town can be seen from miles away for at least a week or two after Americaís birthday has come and gone.

But it is not this kind of celebration that reminds me of the Fourth of July. The memories that I hold near and dear are far simpler than those painted skies, bright fires and tasty treats. No, every year, regardless of where or how, my family seeks to spend the Fourth of July with the ones we love. One of my earliest memories (I must have been three or four years old) about the Fourth of July takes place in a log cabin in the forested hills of central Pennsylvania. When other people were bringing out the grills and safely-made explosive devices, my family brought out bug spray and sleeping bags for a weekend of camping with my Uncle Tomas and his son Joe. This trip not only provided an excellent getaway from the outside world but a chance to bond with our Uncle and cousin. At this time my uncle was still struggling through law school, and raising his son kept him a very busy man. My parents both worked in the public school system and two boisterous sons also kept their hands full. This trip represented the one time that year we would see one another.

That weekend, we made the most of our time together and celebrated the Fourth of July in style. There were campfire stories and símores a plenty. Hikes through the green woods and a plethora of stick fights between us boys. But the defining event of that trip was to come during our last evening in the woods. We had just finished our final day at the cabin, and my family was sleeping peacefully. The last embers of the woodstove were dying quietly and the inside of the cabin had descended into darkness, when I was awakened by a sound. I lay there groggily trying to understand what was happening, trying to discern whether or not the sound was real or imagined. But it came again and again. It sounded something like a bag of rocks being dumped unceremoniously into a blender while a growling dog harmonized with it. My young mind immediately went to a single thought: bear. A bear was in our cabin. I jumped out of bed yelling and screaming "BEAR! BEAR! BEEEEAAAAARRRR!" My parents were awakened by my sudden screaming and flicked on the cabin lights (a practice avoided to keep our camping trips authentic) and ran to my side to see what was wrong. I pointed out the growling sound and said that it was proof that a bear was truly in our cabin ready to eat us. My parents chuckled and led me to the cot where my uncle lay; still sound asleep despite my screaming. Imagine my shock when I discovered that the terrifying bear sound I feared came from him. We left the cabin the next day, driving home in good spirits, joking about how we had barely survived our "bear attack."

As I grew older, however, my familyís annual camping trip became harder to plan and attend. Both my parents were rising to new positions in their fields, my father as vice principal and my mom as a successful guidance counselor. Uncle Tomas was finishing his law degree and slated for a great and lucrative career. My brother, cousin, and myself were busying ourselves with school, plays, and boy scouts, and gradually it became apparent that we could no longer make the annual trip to the cabin. However, the spirit of those early Fourth of July adventures lived on and my family improvised. The next Fourth of July weekend Tomas and Joe arrived at our house as usual armed with camping gear. Once we were ready, we made the truly arduous trek across our yard where we set up our tents in front of our barn and spent our weekend in a wilderness of our own making. There were no campfires, no símores, and thankfully no "bear attacks," but there were dollar-store firecrackers to make us laugh and hand held sparklers to light up the night sky before the larger explosions illuminated the world.

In a weird way I feel more connected to those little moments with the people I love than I ever did or will with the grills, bonfires, and parades that celebrate Americaís heritage. Whether it was the almost comedy movie timing that happened when we let a grizzly bear sleep in our cabin, or throwing up a tent in our backyard its these kind of quirky moments that define my memories of Fourth of July. In the same spirit of the founding Americans; my family has broken with the standard backyard barbecue and bonfire and celebrated Americaís birth in our own way. In breaking the typical traditions and embarking on our own version of the summer bash, weíve made memories that well last far longer than any fireworks display ever could. And honestly, what better way to ring in such a momentous day then in the same spirit of individualism as our ancestors with the people that mean the most to us. Hopefully all of you can find a moment to cherish an amazing day in your own fashion. Until next time, Iím Kyle Ott; wonít you sit and read for a while?

Read other articles by Kyle Ott

Junior Year: Land of the free, home of the brave

Nicole Jones
Class of 2014

Itís hard to believe that July is already here when I have yet to entirely unpack after returning home from my sophomore year of college. Home for me is a 23-acre farm in Westminster where everything is at least a 20-minute drive away. While Iíve lived my whole youth in Westminster, it hasnít always been spent in the countryside. My family used to live in an old brick house near the heart of the city, where a ten-minute drive was considered long.

It was easier to celebrate the Fourth of July there. Westminster as a whole is not very festive for Independence Day. There are no parades, decorations are limited, and carnivals are not specific to the occasion. The one thing I do remember enjoying were the local fireworks. At dusk, my parents, brother, and I loaded into the car with a couple well-worn blankets and headed to the Farm Museum. Weíd scour the field for an open spot among the hundreds of other families, and settle in just in time for the opening fireworks. Blue, green, and red lit up the skies for an hour while children marveled at the exhibition of color. I always wished they lasted just a little longer.

Cookouts were, of course, another family favorite. I enjoyed the preparation process: sending out the invitations, making a list of groceries, then running to BJís with my mom and loading up with the necessary goods. Chips, rolls, drinks, and condiments overflowed so that we needed two grocery carts to hold everything. Then there was handling the seating. Picnic tables, lawn chairs, and deck furniture were dragged into the backyard and covered with red, white, or blue tablecloths. My brother mowed the lawn, my mother skimmed the pool, and soon enough, the scene was set.

Tables were littered with dishes, and the front yard lay hidden under the tires of our guestsí cars. Family and friends came for hot dogs and hamburgers, pasta salad, deviled eggs, and typical cookout fare, possibly bringing their own dish to add to the already overladen tables. My dad manned the grill while our dogs weaved among the chairs seeking table scraps. After their first plate of food, guests mingled. The women sat chatting and catching up with one another while the men stood off to the side enjoying a cigarette as they tossed horseshoes. Children squealed and giggled as they ran among the chairs with the dogs, swung on the playground, splashed in the pool, or dug in the sandbox.

By the end of the day, trash bags were overflowing, the front yard was crisscrossed with tire tracks, and the dogs had gained five pounds Ė along with all the people.

When we moved to the farm, the celebrations followed us. Preparations became more elaborate at first Ė we now had the space to display our own fireworks. As the day drew to an end, my dad and a few brave souls would set them off around our pond. As sparks rained down, the black water reflected back their fiery glow before extinguishing them with a hiss.

I suppose itís fitting that we should enjoy ourselves in such a fashion, celebrating our freedom with the loud bang of explosives. Like any holiday, the basis and meaning of our traditions may be lost to the general public over time, yet the tradition itself survives. The first anniversary of our freedom in 1777 was celebrated with 13 gunshots and a dinner for the Continental Congress; fireworks were even displayed. Celebrations havenít changed much since, but the spirit and meaning seem to have faded over the years.

To me, fireworks will always reflect what Francis Scott Key later so aptly described as "rocketís red glare". Weíve captured that in a more festive, beautiful way, of course, but do not let these factors make their true purpose become lost on you. Their loud bangs and dangerous, explosive nature serve as a faux war zone, reminding us of the war fought and won, the guns loosed, cannons fired, and blood shed Ė everything we have and continue to sacrifice to maintain our freedom. A freedom which other nations continue to fight for and we are so fortunate to already have.

I say "fortunate" and not "lucky" because luck had no play in this matter. Our freedom was won by what I believe to be the grace of God and the strength, will, and bravery of societyís men and women. As Iím sure many of the less fortunate would tell us, freedom is something a majority of us born-and-raised Americans take for granted. We forget about the struggles in the Middle East, the Arab Spring, and other incidents of suppression that seem so far away to us. We have become so comfortable weíve lost appreciation for the freedom we have to govern ourselves. Time has desensitized us to this privilege. Perhaps it is that we have been, dare I say, free for too long. We have forgotten what it is like to pay obeisance to someone who does not listen to the voice of the people.

I have to admit, Iím just as guilty as the next person. Itís something I sought to rectify last summer. I went online and joined a group that assigned me to a soldier. I wrote to him, and sent him care packages, but it wasnít too long before school got in the way. A week would pass without me writing to him. Then two. Before I knew it, a month had passed. Iíd write long letters to make up for time and then forget to send them. I lost sight of the real reason I was writing to him: to support him.

While I may not always agree with the decisions and actions of my country, I will always support those who protect it. They lay down their lives on a daily basis. They are shipped around the world, leaving behind those they love, to keep war and danger off our soil. We are able to sleep peacefully in our homes because of their sacrifices.

This Independence Day I want to remember the past and the present soldiers who have made our freedom possible. I resolve to make writing to my soldier a priority, and I urge others to find a way to make a soldier feel appreciated. Join a pen-pal group, as I did. Find out who the soldiers are in your local community or church, and put together care packages for them. This Fourth of July, join me in remembering why we remain, "The land of the free, and the home of the brave."

Senior Year: A Midwest 4th of July

Samantha Strub
Class of 2013

Itís a few days before the 4th of July, and we are hitting the road for a seven-hour drive up North. It is a tradition in our family to travel to Grandma and Grandpa Strubís lake house to celebrate our nationís Independence Day. The tradition has been going on since we were babies, and now it has become a large family vacation.

When my fatherís side of the family gathers, it turns into a large party as there are grandparents, their four children and all thirteen grandchildren. Needless to say, it becomes a challenge to find a place for everyone to sleep, but with a camper, a large garage and a couple of tents, it works. Each family drives to this lakeside oasis. For some of my aunts and uncles it takes only a few hours, while for others it takes days, yet everyone is willing to make the drive for the mountains of fun that await.

When you travel to the lake for the 4th of July, you donít bring many clothes besides a bathing suit, towel, cover-up, sweatpants, sweatshirt and a couple of T-shirts. Why is so little packing necessary? Well, there is no need when you are in your bathing suit basically the whole time.

Your time at the lake for the 4th is spent swimming, fishing, playing and burying cousins in the sand, tanning, reading, playing cards, and watching the parade and fireworks. As you can see, besides the parade and fireworks, all those activities can be done in a bathing suit. The simple pleasure of being able to be in a bathing suit the whole time is part of the bliss of really enjoying the 4th of July. This is because you are taking a vacation from the rest of the world. You are taken to another place where it really doesnít matter if you stay in your bathing suit and work on your tan all day. That is what I call a relaxing vacation.

What we do not pack in clothes we make up in food. My highly organized mother has taken it upon herself to plan out the weekís meals for nineteen people, not to mention the dogs and teenage boys that eat enough for at least two people. It takes a lot of planning and organizing for the different meals, and her favorite part is designating which family brings what to the celebration. My mom organizes the meals, but she is not left alone when it comes to cooking. She has help from my Uncle Bruce, Grandma and anyone else willing to pitch in. The meals consist of old favorites such as tacos and BBQ chicken and new dishes that typically become our favorites, but one night is always reserved for fish. The fish dinner has been in place for as long as I can remember. When I was a little girl, I loved going out with Daddy and my brother to catch the fish, but my favorite part was playing with their slimy skins while they were waiting to be scaled and cut up. Now the scaling and cutting is not so inviting, but my younger cousins have followed in my footsteps and join my dad and grandpa in the trip to the fish house.

While the meals are always delicious, the unlimited snacks are always the best part. Itís a huge stock of all the tastiest snacks that are the worst ones for you, a taunting collection all on a long shelf. There are huge Samís Club packs of Oreos, other cookies, chips, crackers, cheese, nuts, salsa, and so on. If happiness could be on a shelf, that would be it. My family tends to dig into the snack shelf as they pass through the cabin. The children are the worst culprits though and have a habit of spoiling their dinner. The adults tend to complain about the children stealing the snacks, although in reality they do not have a whole lot to say because they themselves break out all of the taunting snacks for game night after the children go to bed. We sit there and give into all of the munchies while we remember old times and laugh about the new memories. The women in the family complain during our late-night games that we need to go on a diet when the week is over, but we still sit there and give into the munchies.

It really starts looking like the 4th of July when everyone makes the trip into the little town of Danbury, Wisconsin, for its annual 4th of July parade. The people out East would call it a redneck parade with the hunter floats, but that, my friends, is just a part of the Wisconsin lifestyle. Hunting is a big part of the average Midwest person life. Thus those floats are the crowdís favorites, as the occupants tend to interact with the people and act like clowns. Of course there are police cars and fire trucks that spray water, which everyone in the crowd appreciates. The spraying also ensures that you catch some rays while the children are lathered up with sunscreen. The candy and the freeze-pops that are thrown at the crowd are at the top of the most-popular list. No matter what your age, you always enjoy catching candy and freeze-pops at the parade. You can even see embarrassed adults telling their kids to pick up lots of freeze-pops so they can have one too. It never fails that every year our grandparents ask one of the youngest cousins to bring them a freeze-pop, which they fully enjoy while the grandchild is none the wiser. You never quite lose the desire to be a kid again and run out into the street to get candy, and then proceed to stuff your face with it.

The daytime fun of the parade ends with a fantastic display of fireworks to celebrate our nationís Independence Day. This has been a tradition for years that was started by my father. He has a probably unhealthy fascination with fireworks. Every year he always goes a little bit firework-happy and spends too much, but we have a wonderful display. As I have gotten older, I have discovered that my parents have a fireworks budget to help control my father from spending too much money on fireworks. That is a very strange budget to have, but I guess it is my fatherís equivalent of shoes. Either way, it is still an interesting concept to get your head around. The budget that is placed on him really doesnít matter because he always manages to break it and spend too much. Then he smiles meekly at my mother while she gives him her chastising look.

The money spent is forgotten as the men set up the firework display, and the women prepare the children to go down by the lake with sweatshirts and bug spray, otherwise they will get eaten alive. As the sun creeps behind the horizon, the whole gang is greeted with a wonderful display of fireworks. Thanks to my father, there is a large variety of everyoneís favorites. We are treated with sparklers, fountains, tank cars, roman candles, beautiful colors, weeping willows, and of course the huge loud ones. Thanks to the budget my parents create, there is always a wonderful display. Traditionally, the dogs huddle inside the cabin and one child always cries because of the noise. Those are minor details, and they certainly do not stop the rest of the family from having an amazing time while sitting out on the dock and watching the fireworks to honor the 4th of July.

Read other articles by Samantha Strub

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