Sunday, July 1, 2012

Humor Me: Well-versed on the Fourth of July

It’s often said that America is more divided than ever. That’s definitely a stretch, considering “ever” includes a time when more than 600,000 people died in the Civil War.

But America is pretty divided. So on the Fourth of July, when the country celebrates the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it’s nice that we can all come together for one day.

At least physically. On Independence Day, Americans across the country will head to parks, throw down blankets and celebrate things truly American such as freedom, determination and the right to pay four bucks for one of those glow-in-the-dark tube things that you can wear as a headband.

Add in some fireworks and, at least for a little while, Americans are unified. This year, an especially dazzling display might even help us get over the national tragedy of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes breaking up. (Wasn't that stunning? Tom Cruise seems like such an easygoing guy, you know, if you don’t consider his massive ego and the Scientology stuff.)

The Fourth of July is a day for Americans to be proud, and that shows during the fireworks, when many people will sing along with songs such as The Star-Spangled Banner and God Bless America. They’ll sing along, that is, until the second verse begins and nobody knows the words.

That would not make the Rev. Samuel F. Smith happy, but don't worry, he won’t bother you about it. He died more than 100 years ago.

So who is the Rev. Samuel F. Smith?

You must not have seen the Jeopardy! episode with the category “Patriotic Potpourri.” But take your best guess:

A. The Rev. Samuel F. Smith was the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence and composed the song, You’re a Grand Old Flag.

B. The Rev. Samuel F. Smith, also known as the Minister of Rap, was an 18th-century hip-hop artist who rallied revolutionaries with his hit single, Taxation Without Representation is Funkadentally Whack.

C. The Rev. Samuel F. Smith wrote the words to America, perhaps the most patriotic song ever to include the phrase “'tis of thee.”

The answer is that the Rev. Smith wrote the lyrics to America. I know this because, about 30 years ago, a teacher in elementary school taught me that lesson. And also because, about 30 years after I got nothing from that lesson because I was making paper footballs and drawing pictures on my desk, I looked it up on the Internet.

I also found the lyrics. Here’s the first verse, which most of us know:

My country, ’tis of Thee,
Sweet Land of Liberty
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside
Let Freedom ring.

Now on to the second verse. Everybody sing!

My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills,
My heart with rapture thrills
Like that above.

OK, I heard a lot of humming out there. I guess that’s because most of us know a lot more about rock ‘n roll than “rocks and rills.” And that “heart with rapture thrills” part sounds like something from a Harlequin romance novel.

Let’s try another patriotic favorite, America the Beautiful. It starts with “O beautiful for spacious skies” and then ends with “from sea to shining sea!”

It ends there for most of us, anyway. But there is a second verse:

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassioned stress,
A thoroughfare of freedom beat,
Across the wilderness!

Well, at least I can say that I knew there was something about “pilgrim feet” in there. Maybe I remember that from the last Independence Day celebration, or perhaps I have at least one remnant memory from history class at Horizon Elementary School (home of the fightin’ Panthers and smoke-filled teachers’ lounge).

But so what if you don’t know all the words to America’s patriotic anthems. And so what if you think that pieces of an animal are the “ramparts” we watched gallantly streaming in The Star-Spangled Banner.

Memorization isn’t required for patriotism. And neither is an intricate knowledge of history, which is good because surveys show that many Americans don’t even know what country we were declaring our independence from back in 1776.

All we need to know is that we are lucky to live in this country. We have unparalleled freedoms and incredible opportunities, and also the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the credit we deserve and no payments until 2014.

So on this Independence Day, stand tall, Americans. Watch the fireworks, and if some patriotic crooning breaks out, proudly sing the words you know. After that, just kind of hum or do your best Milli Vanilli lip sync.

Even if we don’t know all the words, here’s something in which we’re all well-versed:

This is the greatest country in the world.

Have a happy Independence Day.

   
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