I found America last night.
Not that I ever really lost her, it probably is more accurate to say I “rediscovered” her at 6 PM in Kamas, Utah.
If you want to see her for yourself, go to any small-town parade during the month of July. We have a bunch of them here in Utah – stretching from the national Fourth of July celebrations all the way through Pioneer Day at the end of July.
July 24th is a state holiday, celebrating when Brigham Young and a group of pioneers entered the Salt Lake valley the first time and he said, “You know what? My dogs are barking and I’m tired of walking. We gotta stop. If we keep going, we will get to California and those people are nuts. This is a safe distance. This is the place.”
I might have embellished that a bit to poke a little fun at my Latter Day Saint friends from my Southern Baptist perspective – but purportedly, the last sentence was uttered by Brigham himself.
But it isn’t watching from the sidewalk that is the best way to see America – if you ever get the chance, be IN the parade. Walk it with a group or simply ride in a vehicle or on a float. I can guarantee you will come away with a different perspective. When you are in the parade, the parade isn’t the focus, the people lining the streets are.
Last night, the County GOP dressed up a couple of vehicles in iconic red, white, and blue. Bunting, pinwheels, and American flags topped off the décor. I tossed a few bales of hay in the back of my truck for seating, we loaded people up and were #27 in the order of the procession. We crawled a mile down Main Street at about 2 miles per hour, waving and tossing candy to the kids, parents and grandparents who lined both sides of the street.
There were mothers, children, dads, grandmothers and granddads, teens too bored to be there, floats with cheerleaders, dance teams and even one dedicated to the local mothers. A marching band, horse drawn wagons, cowboys and cowgirls mounted on magnificent steeds, flatbeds and pickups filled with representatives of local businesses, Boy Scouts, church floats, ATVs filled with private citizens happy to honor the town, anything that could move was welcome. As far as I know, we were the only political party there.
My estimation, based on a rough guess of about a person every three feet or so and a couple of people deep, is that there were between 2500 and 3500 people there, all decked out in red, white, and blue and waving Old Glory.
Kamas, Utah has a population of around 1800.
As I scanned the faces down Main Street, I realized that it was not just the local people who came, America was there.
There were young mothers holding babies in their arms at what was undoubtedly their first parade, moms and dads watching over broods of little yard apes as they harvested the candy miraculously appearing out of thin air, bored teens who came because other bored teens were there, middle age men who had come to the parade after a long Friday of work and grizzled old men and women with decades of the burning sun and bitter cold of rural Utah farm and ranch work etched on their faces.
Some had time to clean up, some came with the dust of the day still on their boots and hats – but they came to stand, clap, cheer and celebrate.
These are people who believe in God, family, and country – and in that order. These are people who know that without God and family, there is no country. On every one of those faces, there was a smile and, in each eye, the twinkle of pride in their land, their town, their state and this nation. Nobody was a stranger on this Friday night, there were no political parties, no factions, no division by race, ethnicity, or economic status.
There was only America.
I get tired sometimes, often wondering if anything I do, say, or write makes a difference. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. It takes a special strength to continue to lean into the gale force wind every minute of every day hoping that someday that wind will turn to be at our backs. As the faces of the people who face nature every day and still come back to face it again tomorrow passed by, I began to feel inspiration and strength from those people flowing into my veins, and I thought to myself, “These people deserve to be fought for, their way of life matters. THEY matter.”
America isn’t gone, at least not yet. It is still there, bruised and battered perhaps, but never beaten. There is a bit of pioneer spirit in good people across this land. Those of us who can just need to give them a reason compelling enough to rise.
As we slow rolled through a section of the route seemingly loaded with kids from toddlers to what looked like elementary age kiddies, one of my friends in the truck pointed to the kids and said, “Their future is why we fight”.
And I smiled because I knew that was the truth.