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Terry Marotta Headshot

Remembering Back

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The Fourth of July is never only the Fourth. It's also a state of mind.

When I was young, people dressed up for the Fourth. Back then, you wouldn't dare reproduce Old Glory's design in clothing, so... you improvised: You could don a pair of blue shorts, then your top could be white, then the red would come from your socks or shoes -- sporty Keds if you had a pair -- or, if you felt bold enough and could take the teasing, a bright-red scarf like the one the Lone Ranger wore.

Anyway, that's how I remember July Fourth the summer I woke up inside my life.

When I say "woke up," I mean when I first noticed I was living it, which happened as I was walking my decorated, if slightly fender-dented, two wheeler to the big bike parade being held on the boys' side of the playground of the Oakland School.

"I'm 9 years old," I remember thinking. "It's almost summer. And I'm walking all alone on the sidewalk."

That year, as with all the years of my childhood, July Fourth brought out talk at the family table about the latest war.

There was only that one war we kids heard about then, and it was the "Big War," the "Good War," the "Second World War," as they called it in our history books, which seemed to me to gloss over the sad fact of the war just before it, the war that was meant to end all wars.

Our grownups spoke of this last war only, the gasoline rations and the saving of tinfoil and so on.

To us kids, though, it was just one other thing that had happened to them, those inscrutable adults, those foreign beings. It was a thing as far removed from our modern lives as the gramophone.

And yet.

And yet.

Somehow we could still feel its enormity, mostly from the things we came upon: that trunk in the cellar filled with green Army trousers and tunics now stiff with age; that picture of the day it all ended, and there was our mom, young, along with half the town, riding on top of their cars and laughing and throwing their hats in the air.

But then there were those other pictures that my sister and I found in the wooden chest buried under our uncle's tool bench. He had presided over a military court in Sardinia, as we later learned, and the pictures were of dead civilians stuffed into narrow, raw-wood coffins in their blood-splattered clothes, all staring sightlessly upward. His job had been to bring their civilian killers to justice.

"What was this war?" we asked each other. "What happened in it?"

Something big. We knew that much. And maybe we even sensed that this "something" was what purchased the safe and happy years we were currently enjoying. I'm not sure.

It's the Fourth now, the day some call the nation's one true Holy Day. We should pause at least for a few moments during it and ponder the many sacrifices it commemorates.