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Let freedom boom

By Jennifer M. Latzke

Is there anything more American than a small-town Fourth of July?

It’s a specific recipe that calls for equal parts family, community pride and patriotism, with a dash of tradition and a heaping helping of local leadership thrown together.

Oh sure, bigger towns can have more activities for their Independence Day celebrations. I’ve participated in a few of those extravagant displays, but I’d argue that quality trumps quantity any Fourth of July.

I’d rather sit in a lawn chair on Main Street and watch a parade of floats constructed out of hay racks, featuring the local 4-H club and the Lions than a host of animatronic professional floats. In my book, a parade isn’t a parade unless you have the school marching band, a fleet of classic convertibles with queen contestants, and every cowboy and cowgirl within 30 miles on horseback. Small-town Fourth of July parades don’t need fancy balloons to entertain—we have the Shriners in their little cars and the neighbor down the way who’s running for state office and walking the parade shaking hands and handing out candy.

Oh, and the food at a small town Fourth of July is second to none. From the barbecue, likely sponsored by the FFA or the FFA alumni group, to lemonade stands and bake sales from the Ladies Auxiliary, there’s something for everyone. We don’t need gourmet food carts selling free-range organic hot dogs and soy burgers. Hamburgers made from a steer donated by a local feedlot or a whole pig donated by the nearby hog farm is gourmet enough for me.

There’s no assigned seating or wait for reservations, or worry that you’ll be intruding on a stranger’s meal if you ask to sit at the empty spot at their table. You just sit at any picnic table that has space and have a conversation with your neighbors about the weather, the wheat harvest, or the church renovations. There are no strangers for long in a small town.

Then, at the end of the day, after the games, the food, the fellowship and the fun, the sun starts to set. Kids instinctively know to find their parents, and families start to set up their viewing spots for the main event, the fireworks display. And, really, there is no bad viewing point from the big park lawn where everyone’s gathered.

Across the paved road that marks the town’s border, a wheat field serves as the launching point for the town’s display. The farmer who owns it cuts that field first every year during harvest and makes sure to plow it so that it can be a safe zone for the fireworks. Just like his dad did, and his granddad did before him.

There’s no professional company hired to come in and set off the display perfectly timed to music. Instead, it’s just the rural fire department, whose volunteers raise funds all year long to pay for the fireworks.

And, as you sit there on your blanket and look around at your neighbors as the first fireworks boom overhead, you are reminded of the many blessings small-town life brings. Not just on the Fourth of July but every day of the year.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or jlatzke@hpj.com.

Date: 7/7/2014

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