I love America, I do, for lots of contradictory reasons. I’m just now in the middle of watching a deathly serious PBS documentary on World War II, recounting the sacrifices some made for our individual freedom. And I’m surrounded by playful, lighthearted goofballs who thrive in it.
Two weeks ago I saw the most charming hometown parade ever, in Nebraska City. Endless marching bands, tanks, politicians, fat guys on skinny scooters in nearly out-of-control formations, and—thankfully—not so many horses. People on floats threw candy while parents prodded their stupefied children to dash in front of giant green troop transport trucks with crushing wheels taller than me. “Go, Timmy, or you won’t get any!” Just a week before, these same four-year-olds probably wandered into an empty street and got spanked for it. This is how American children learn to be adaptable.
Parades are a show of force. We forget now, but in wars past we sent troops off with a parade, and brought back whoever was left with another parade. And in every parade, bulbous tanks waddle right down the middle of the street, cannons aimed ominously while emboldened babies risk fingers and toes diving between the tractor cleats to retrieve pale, dry candy they wouldn’t accept on a random Tuesday if you handed it to them.
When City Hall wants to entertain you, they line up tanks and drive them down Main Street. Foreign governments, when they want to take over your town, do the same thing. So maybe the best way to conquer a city would be to dress up a few Shriners and a small marching band and have them toss candy while leading fifty tanks up to City Hall while we clap and wave. “Those black and red flags with the stars and squiggles—they’re new, aren’t they?”
A friend just tested for his U.S. citizenship. In salute we buried him in a flurry of sassy e-mails teasing him about what it means to be American: bottomless bags of Cheesy-Poofs, American Idol, unaffordable health care and beating up tiny countries. From the youngest member of our group came this:
We also have department stores with cheap toilet paper and soap, toilets that flush and sinks to wash our hands. We have churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, and flaming pentagrams. We have Neosporin and Bandaids and bicycles and cars to drive to and fro. We have FedEx on every corner. We have gallons of milk and jars of peanut butter the size of your head.
We are lucky.
This writer was raised in the sweet Iowa countryside by loving parents, amidst plentiful food and a supportive school. But she sure sounds like someone who lived through 1941.