As we travel our own life’s adventure, with luck, we continue to grow and mature. With the Fourth of July just freshly in my rear mirror, my six-point path to patriotism came into focus. Join me on my memory tour.

When I was a wee girl of five years old, the Fourth of July was a spectacular event. Each year we went to downtown Detroit to see the huge annual parade.

We had a large family and many friends who gathered together on a tall building which was owned by my family. That was in an excellent location to see the parade. Later, we all watched the amazing fireworks.

We always prepared for the day as if we were going on vacation. We each needed a change of clothes, towels, sunscreen, bug repellent, blankets, pillows, sun hats, folding chairs and tables, binoculars, sunglasses.

After the parade, and before fireworks, the adults would tell the tribes of children stories about why we celebrated the fourth of July. We kids thought it was funny for a country to have a birthday, but those early years planted my first thoughts about America and patriotism.

When I was 10 and my brother 15, we went on what my father called our heritage vacation. For 10 days we drove back into history. We saw no fireworks, but the trip was enlightening for me.

We visited Williamsburg and Jamestown. We went to Boston where I heard about our Declaration of Independence. We walked the battlefields of Gettysburg.

We visited Mount Vernon, our first president George Washington’s home, as well as toured Monticello, home of President Thomas Jefferson. We visited Washington DC, our nation’s capital and toured the White House.

We experienced so much that it was overwhelming. I was starting to put together the story of the history of our nation.

 In 1976, I was 29, and the mother of three elementary school children. I was enthusiastic about the pending Bicentennial. Our country was about to celebrate its 200th birthday. That was significant, and I wanted my children to really participate in that moment of history.

I decided to plan a week of activities topped off with a musical covering our 200 years. Activities were open to all children in all grades.

I contacted San Jose’s Bicentennial Committee and got an application to form a small committee and dove in. It did take an enormous amount of demanding work, but we made it onto the formal schedule of the San Jose Bicentennial event.

Our event included a weeklong celebration with all classrooms holding a special review of the 200 years. It was a museum of our nation’s growth open to all. It was set up in a spare classroom with special tours for each class.

We put together a Bicentennial Cookbook, which helped raise money for books about America for our library. We held a fashion show of what we wore over the past 200 years, which was organized by a few other women.

The grand finale was the play, my pride and joy. I wrote a musical covering our past 200 years with a cast including 85 students ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade.

It took a lot of time to try to aim the script towards both children and adults, keep it to less than 90 minutes, write not only script but song lyrics for our thirty-member choir, cast and direct, make sets and costumes, and get a volunteer pianist who could roll with it all.

It went well.  The newspaper gave it raves. The Bicentennial Committee forwarded a copy of the script to the Library of Congress where it was accepted. It was my banner patriotic event, and what meant the most to me was the effect it had on my children.

The next step on my path was rocky, a sad country-changing one. 9/11.

We all have our private memories of how we heard about it, who we were with, and how it impacted us. Our entire nation felt the attack as a personal assault. We all felt our way of life, our country had been put in danger and there was an echoing call to patriotism in its aftermath.

I remember so well the unity we all shared for a while. We were all patriots at heart. 

When I was 66, I was given a great honor by the Merced County MCAG Board. I was sent to Washington DC to represent our county on issues that were close to our heart, like water rights.

To be back in Washington DC 56 years after my last visit was a powerful experience.

This time when I visited Lincoln’s Memorial, it meant so much more to me. I visited the tomb of the unknown soldier, the eternal flame at President John Kennedy’s grave, the Vietnam Wall, important markers of our country’s history.

I wondered about the original framers of our constitution, could they ever have conceived of the sprawling nation we would one day become?

Now it is more than 10 years later. There were no parades for me on the fourth of July this year. No family gatherings, no historical trips, or momentous events that I took part in. It was a quiet Fourth, except for the sounds of distant fireworks.

I spent the day with two of my friends that live in the same complex that I do, ages 76 to 87. Over hot dogs, store bought salads and apple pie, we discussed our own paths to appreciating our country.

We spoke of painful moments, like 9/11, the riots, the assassinations, and concerns about an anger that seems to still exist over some issues. We felt ourselves age and mature along with our country.

In fact, there was one point we all agreed on, we are all proud to be an American!

Diana J. Ingram

Diana Ingram has been a columnist for Los Banos newspapers for four decades.