My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing…
The words fill the tight space of the Suburban closely packed with overstuffed luggage, dogeared books, treasured toys, two panting canines and four wriggling bodies. I turn to glance again at that quartet of heads bent over coloring maps, pencils in hand, and resume my questions.
Which states border this one? And what do we know about those states?
The patriotic melodies recorded on the tinny Wee Sing America tape continue to roll, one after the other, calling to mind centuries of grand celebrations and the great deeds of our national heroes.
Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play…
We drop pencils and belt the song with gusto, twanging the words like seasoned country artists, giggling over who can bend the notes best.
Look, Momma! Buffalo!
It’s Landon, our youngest, the one who can spot a lizard on the side of the freeway at ninety miles an hour. All heads swivel and we do, indeed, spy a herd of ranging bison, calling to mind bygone days of golden, waving prairies filled only with yellow sunshine and peppered with flocks of birds and buffalo.
You’re a grand old flag, you’re a high-flying flag, and forever in peace may your reign…
We dive back into piles of work. The miles seem innumerable, but we’ve got loads of learning to accomplish. Have home school, will travel.
Alyssa, what do the stars on the flag represent? And the stripes?
Without a moment’s hesitation she answers the first question. Then those baby blues meet mine, forehead scrunched with the effort. At last, eyebrows lift triumphant.
The thirteen colonies!
The United States, the United States, I love my country, the United States…
The list of states rattles off quicker than we can catch our breath, but we valiantly attempt to keep up with the lively chorus lilting through the speakers.
There’s Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut and Delaware…
I hit rewind and promise a double-scoop of ice cream at our next stop to the one who can name them all without the aid of the music. Kylie wins, glowing with accomplishment. She adores ice cream.
I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, a Yankee Doodle do or die; a real, live nephew of my Uncle Sam, born on the Fourth of July…
Maps finished for the day, it’s time to read. I pull out a well-beloved copy of Little Town on the Prairie, and we dive in. Laura Ingalls Wilder is describing a late 1800’s Dakota territory celebration of the Glorious Fourth, and we are transported, spellbound.
“Then Pa began to sing. All at once, everyone was singing:
‘Long may our land be bright,
With freedom’s holy light,
Protect us by thy might,
Great God our King!’
The crowd was scattering away then, but Laura stood stock still. Suddenly she had a completely new thought. The Declaration and the song came together in her mind, and she thought: God is America’s king. She thought: Americans won’t obey any king on earth. Americans are free. That means they have to obey their own consciences… Her whole mind seemed to be lighted up by that thought. This is what it means to be free. It means you have to be good. ‘Our fathers’ God, author of liberty’ – the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God endow you with a right to life and liberty. Then you have to keep the laws of God, for God’s law is the only thing that gives you a right to be free.”
I close the book softly. Everyone’s ready to nod off, ready for some quiet. Jarren looks up thoughtful, meditative.
Momma, I’m so glad I’m an American. I wish I could have lived back then. I would have wanted to be a pioneer, too.
My throat tightens. How can I explain to him a truth which he may not fully grasp until he cradles his own small children?
America still desperately needs those who will blaze a trail, son, calling all who come behind you to follow faithful in paths of righteousness. She needs those who will walk uprightly without wavering, even in the face of fierce opposition. Those who still believe that God’s law is the only thing that gives us a right to be free. You are called to be that man.
Leaning back, his eyes soften with contemplation.
From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam, God bless America, my home, sweet home…
I’m transported from my reverie. That season of chaotic, sweet glory is passed: the suburban sold off in favor of a more economical vehicle, school books stacked in battered cardboard boxes. But we’re marking the Fourth once again. They’re all coming home; we’ll celebrate with muffins happily eaten in the morning beach fog and fireworks enjoyed in the chilling sand. And inevitably, because it never grows old, we’ll sing.
America, America, God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood,
From Sea to shining Sea.
Photo by Alyssa Nesbitt