Like most, my childhood had its fair share of “ups” and “downs”. I hail from a pretty damn dysfunctional family. Most holidays were spent at family functions that eventually ended in someone picking at a mental scab leading to yelling and screaming with aunts or uncles leaving in anger. The one major holiday that was typically enjoyable was Independence Day.
Both of my grandfathers served in World War II and both of my parents were exceptionally proud of the service of their fathers. Although none of my immediate family members continued to serve, I was raised in a very patriotic family that treated the 4th of July as a very special time of the year.
We had an excellent small town celebration that included a parade, a small carnival, and a fireworks show. I always enjoyed the festival, and I thought it was great that they displayed small tributes to the local veterans inside a tent. A lot of my friends had fathers who had served in Vietnam. Many of those Vietnam veterans excused themselves from the festivities before the fireworks began and would escape to the local VFW. I can remember asking my friends why their fathers didn’t watch the fireworks and wondering why in the world a veteran wouldn’t want to see such an awesome display of American pride.
The entire day was spent celebrating our magnificent country and those who served to protect our freedoms. I can’t recall a single time that my family fell into dysfunction on Independence Day. It was my favorite holiday and continued to be my favorite as I grew into an adult.
After high school I joined the Marine Corps and eventually deployed to Iraq in 2004. While I was in Iraq, I was shot at several times. Mortar and rocket attacks eventually became a mundane event that didn’t even send us in search of our flak jackets and helmets. Several of our convoys were hit by IED’s, although luckily my own vehicle was never struck. I was in Iraq during the 4th of July that year, but we managed to have a small celebration in our part of Al Anbar that included non-alcoholic “near beer” and hamburgers.
I was extremely excited for the opportunity to celebrate Independence Day with my wife and our firstborn sugar donut after I returned home. We put chairs outside our small apartment to watch the fireworks display, but once they started I excused myself and went to my bedroom where I sat in the dark wondering why in the hell my pulse was racing and there were tears in my eyes. It was nearly nine months after I had returned home and I had no idea that hearing explosions in the distance would cause such an involuntary reaction. I simply wasn’t mentally prepared for those emotions, and I felt ashamed of myself for having them.
A year later I was a freshly minted academy graduate in field training at my Donut County police department. I was scheduled to work patrol on the night of the 4th of July rather than being roped into the traffic direction nightmare that is our local celebration. I was thankful that I could put some distance between me and the large fireworks display, and I spent a good deal of time mentally preparing myself to prevent the same reaction I had the year before in front of my FTO. Thankfully, I made it through the night without any sort of anxiety from the fireworks.
I’m happy to say that as the years have gone by, I haven’t stressed about my reaction to the large fireworks display. I have worked several night shifts on Independence Day, however the events surrounding the celebration have lost the luster they had when I was a child.
Instead of looking forward to enjoying a festival and watching a fireworks display, I now see the hassle involved in directing traffic and dealing with the mullet-clad ‘Murcan drunks who think they need to compete with or compliment the fireworks display with their own.
As I’m sure is the case in many other jurisdictions in the days leading up to the 4th of July we take numerous complaints about fireworks that are being used outside of the permitted times and areas. We respond to multiple calls from neighbors who are upset that debris is landing on their property and break up neighborhood fights between neighbors over the same. And I’d be remiss to not mention the problems we deal with that always come with holidays that are accompanied by a large consumption of alcohol.
For the most part the larger fireworks no longer bother me. However, I absolutely hate the unexpected firecrackers while patrolling and the momentary processing that they take to differentiate them from a firearm being discharged.
I guess it’s a natural progression for childhood joys to be less of a source of excitement as an adult. I still have a deep admiration and appreciation for the courage of our forefathers in establishing this great country by declaring independence from Great Britain. The sacrifices made by our military service members to protect our lives and freedoms in the 240 years since the drafting of that declaration should be celebrated and expressed to future generations.
For the first time, I’ll be on vacation away from my Donut County this Independence Day with Mrs. Donut and our sugar donuts. I’m really hoping that some distance between the hassles of working on the 4th of July will rekindle some measure of what was once my absolute favorite day of the year. With any luck, Independence Day will grow to be one of the favorite holidays for my children, too.
I hope that you all have a safe and happy Independence Day whether you spend it on duty, at a ballpark, festival, or in a lawn chair. With all of the current political and social strife, we may no longer be a nation undivided, but I firmly believe that ours is still the greatest nation in the world.
It’s time to escape the Donut…