(From my archived columns, first published on June 3, 2006, in The Examiner. The Examiner is a daily newspaper published Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.)
“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”
Ah yes, I remember that “iffy” potato salad and the flies, too, at many a Fourth of July celebration of my youth.
The Fourth of July is a happy holiday bringing back delightful memories, but maybe it is more than the family picnics and fireworks that I remember and love.
Maybe it is the patriotism, 1950s style, not the potato salad, that makes it such a happy holiday.
For instance, one of the things I remember most about past Fourth of July celebrations is a television monologue given by the late great comedian Red Skelton in honor of Independence Day.
For younger generations who may not know this, Skelton was a comedian who rose to stardom between the 50s and 70s delighting audiences coast-to-coast with his weekly comedy television show.
After all these years, turns out I remembered very few details about Red Skelton’s then famous “Pledge of Allegiance” monologue. However, I do recall how much I loved his performance at the time.
If you search the Internet, you will find it easily, the YouTube video of Red Skelton’s Pledge of Allegiance, 1950 style.
Skelton tells a story about how his teacher Mr. Laswell of Harrison School in Vincennes, Indiana, felt his students had come to think of the Pledge of Allegiance as merely something to recite, something monotonous.
Mr. Laswell remarked to the students, “If I may, may I recite it and try to explain to you the meaning of each word?” He continued.
“I—meaning me, an individual, a committee of one.
Pledge—dedicate all of my worldly goods to give without self pity.
Allegiance—my love and my devotion.
To the flag—our standard, Old Glory, a symbol of freedom. Wherever she waves, there’s respect because your loyalty has given her a dignity that shouts freedom is everybody’s job!
The United—that means we have all come together.
States of America—individual communities that have united into 48 (now 50) great states; individual communities with pride and dignity and purpose; all divided with imaginary boundaries, yet united to a common purpose, and that is love for country.
And to the republic—a state in which sovereign power is invested in representatives chosen by the people to govern. And government is the people and it is from the people to the leaders, not from the leaders to the people.”
Red Skelton’s entire rendition of Mr. Laswell’s speech is too long for this column.
However, I will share with you here his final admonition to his students, “We are one nation so blessed by God that we are incapable of being divided, which means, boys and girls, it is as much your country as it is mine.”
Yes indeed, it is this kind of patriotism that I love and remember, but not so much the “iffy” potato salad.
Happy Fourth! May it be patriotic and memorable, even if you can’t keep those pesky flies off the potato salad.