Greg Peters column: Happy birthday, to my--and your--America
My brother was recently visiting from Florida. He and I sat out on the driveway all night, lost track of time, and ended up watching the sun come up. Later that same day, my wife said, "How many did you have last night?"
I replied, "In dog beers, I only had two."
It's America's birthday this week. She's 242 years old, but if you're counting in dog beers, to the rest of planet Earth, America's still a puppy.
American history books are filled with generational pimples of growth and hormones of change. America makes more mistakes than a high school freshman boy with a wispy peach-fuzz mustache. They both think they're cool, but 25 years later, after receiving an elbow to the stomach, they realize how ridiculous they looked.
Birthdays are supposed to be happy. That's why we say "Happy Birthday," right? On America's 242nd birthday, I'd like to write a happy birthday card to America's best asset, her family. That's every single one of us. Like all families, we fight and bicker, but there's some pretty special moments and very few of these are recorded in her first 242 pages. The actual story of America, and her future, isn't inside her history books, it's in her heart. The heartland of America; her people.
My America is skipping shells off the bayou with my brothers in the soft humid moonlit air. It's playing wiffle ball in bare feet and using a pile of leaves for bases.
My America has Bruce Springsteen and care-free strolls to Dairy Queen. It has '57 Chevy's and high school state championships. My America has "Animal House" and "Wedding Crashers."
My America has school teachers telling their principals they love the tough kids. My America has parents walking 3 miles to their kid's parent-teacher conference in 15 below zero temperatures because they don't have a car or a bike.
My America has a small town donating $100,000 to help a family with two children with Batten's Disease. The family doesn't even live in their small town, but the grandparents do.
My America has total strangers helping one another out after a tornado and a daughter giving her father one of her kidneys.
My America has a local McDonald's where a person in the drive-through line pays for the car behind them and the good deed snow-balls for the next 12 straight cars.
My America has someone dropping off a fresh batch of bread pudding just because they heard I liked it.
My America has karaoke. It also has game night and bring-a-dish-to-pass parties. My America has "sun's out gun's out" sleeveless shirts and jorts (an eco-friendly way of turning jeans into shorts).
My America has the Grand Teton National Park, where one feels like the size of a grain of sand in an abyss of natural beauty. It also has the Tri-Angels Park in River Falls, much smaller in scale, but just as grand in the compassion it took to build it.
My America has campfires and s'mores and telling jokes. It has Friday night high school football.
My America has a dairy farmer laid-up in bed after an accident and his neighbors milking his cows for two months until he is able.
My America sees a funeral for a woman named Susie. She was in her mid-40s. There's 1,350 people in her small town and 1,289 of them are in the church for the funeral. My America sees a guy at that same funeral wearing an outdated golf shirt, faded and worn. It definitely was the type of shirt traditionally not worn with a necktie, however, this guy was rocking a wide gray one and it wasn't even close to being tied correctly. There looked to be a couple high school freshman boys laughing at the guy in the golf shirt and tie, one with a wispy peach-fuzz mustache. The boy's dad elbowed his son in the stomach hard enough the boy buckled over and coughed. The dad turned to the guy in the golf shirt with the tie and said in a quiet but powerful deep voice, "Do you mind if I help you with your tie?"
The guy wearing the tie sheepishly said, "Not at all. Thank you so much. I've never worn a tie before but I thought I should for Susie."
That's my America, sometimes needing an elbow to the stomach, but always learning a valuable lesson from the heart of her family with each passing year. Happy birthday, America.