I grew up in a patriotic, service-oriented family. My parents were big on volunteering and giving back to the community. Each year my mother would take us shopping for a family who needed some help with Christmas presents or for things to fill shoe boxes. My grandfather, uncle, and father were, and still are, volunteer firefighters. My hometown of New Market, Virginia is pretty small. Three traffic lights, a tiny grocery store, more churches than gas stations. But they have huge sense of national pride.
Each Independence Day in New Market begins with the Firecracker 5-Miler. The town park is bustling all day with bands, food, games in the town pool, and a lot of family fun. My favorite part, however, is the parade. It’s pretty big for a town of 2,200 people. Organizations from all over the Shenandoah Valley participate. Fire departments, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, the local collegiate baseball team, everyone participates. We’d attend the parade and then head home where friends and family gathered for dinner, swimming, and fireworks. We lived on a hill that gave us the perfect view of the fireworks, with none of the crowds or traffic. These traditions and the time spent celebrating America’s birthday made this holiday my favorite early on.
My first Independence Day as an army wife was slightly different. We were living in a different small town in Arizona, but I was determined to make it special. My husband and I travelled to Tucson to watch a minor league baseball game with fireworks afterwards. The next year we were in Germany, recently reunited after a deployment, and I was 37 weeks pregnant with our first child. We still found fireworks, and celebrated Fourth of July with good friends and good food. It wasn’t until the third year we were married that my husband was able to experience a New Market Independence Day. I think it took that visit for him to really understand why I love the holiday that much.
I wasn’t at all familiar with the military before marrying my husband and jetting across the country. He has said that he is glad I understand the lifestyle now and he thinks that I adapted so quickly because of my family’s dedication to service and volunteering. I still get upset when things change unexpectedly (like last week) but I understand it’s for the greater good. I compare it to those Thanksgiving mornings when my dad was always running out of the house to help save someone else’s kitchen from their burning turkey. Or when while visiting my Grandma, the sirens signaling the fire department never startled us. And visions of my Uncle and PopPop grabbing cream puffs while running out the door to the firehouse. This sense of service and volunteerism is something we are trying to teach our children at an early age. They have the national pride thing down, as they love being army kids and learning about American History.
In 2010, I spent my first Independence Day as a wife without my husband. Can you guess where I went? Home to New Market and my family. I wanted to expose my children to the celebration there, and I wanted the support of my family and friends. The people in my hometown were incredibly supportive of my husband’s service and my role as caretaker of our children. I took Declan, who was not quite two to the parade. He loved it. My grandmother explained to him how he should act when the flag passed by and he jumped to his feet and put his hand over his heart. Being able to share that holiday with my family made it easier to be separated from my soldier.
Again in 2012, we were separated from my husband that summer. My mom and sister were making the trip to see my Grandmother in New Jersey and I decided to join them. I found a local 5k race on the morning of July 4th and convinced my sister and her boyfriend to run it as well. This race was held in Glen Rock, New Jersey and is a fundraiser for a memorial scholarship fund that benefits high school seniors. The race was started in 2003 by two widows of the attacks on the World Trade Centers in 2001. The town of Glen Rock lost 11 that day. It was the perfect way to start our patriotic celebration. The race course wound through some neighborhood streets and the second half of the route was along the parade route. The sidewalks were full of residents cheering on the runners and anticipating the parade. After we were done, we met my grandparents and my children and watched the parade. It was a wonderful day.
As we approach another Independence Day, I think about everything that it signifies, for me. The freedom to celebrate our history and our future. A time to reflect on the sacrifices that have been made to ensure that freedom. A day to spend with family and friends. An opportunity to teach my children about the history of our country and to prepare them to lead the future. I am a proud American and there is no place I’d rather be then with my favorite soldier, surrounded by military families, laughing and reminiscing on Independence Day.