Independence Day, the Fourth of July: a day of concerts, fireworks, cookouts and family gatherings. It’s one of the most celebratory of days, and whether or not we consciously think about its origin in the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the day is given over to celebrations of the American spirit.
Families who trace their histories to the American Revolution may reflect, as Emilie did, on the accomplishments of their ancestors. Her great-great-grandfather, Thomas Hodgkins, was a quartermaster at the Battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June 1775. Later, he served in Rhode Island as a Lieutenant, part of the time as adjutant, and then was stationed at Butts’ Hill in Rhode Island.
Another great-great-grandfather, Nathaniel Shaw, enlisted and served three years in the 15th Massachusetts Regiment which fought at Saratoga, endured the winter at Valley Forge, and fought again in the battles of Monmouth and Rhode Island. When British troops burned Falmouth on October 18, 1775, his harness shop in Portland was the first building to be set afire.
Each generation has its own way of renewing the United States’ commitment to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence. Emilie’s grandfather, Albert Baker, apprenticed with a man who was a printer before the First Amendment, when it was still daring to be one. Her father’s generation endured the Civil War.
Emilie’s father often read the Declaration of Independence at public Fourth of July celebrations. For the centennial celebration, when Emilie was ten, he wrote a play:
One Hundred Years Ago, or, Our Boys of 1776; a patriotic drama in two acts. It was a thoughtful play that considered the struggles of conscience made by loyalists, Quakers, and rebels in the days before the declaration was signed, but it predictably fell on the side of the new nation:
“If ever the torch of war is lighted in a holy cause, ‘tis when it flames above the altar of liberty.” George Melville Baker
Emilie’s husband Victor was especially patriotic and spoke passionately about the duties of citizenship.
“For there is work for us to do besides travelling along the dusty highway of life in our daily vocation or drinking deep at the fountains of pleasure. There is a work to do for …the Republic, for the building of which our forefathers suffered untold agony and deprivation, and for the preservation of which our fathers shed their life blood. Something for society. Something for humanity.” Victor J. Loring, Our Town (1902)
Emilie’s sons served in World War I, and she worked at the local canteen. She joined Wellesley Hills’ first chapter of the American Legion Auxiliary and campaigned for better treatment of soldiers returning with “shell shock.”
But Emilie Loring’s brand of patriotism was encouraging and optimistic, a star to follow instead of a burden to bear. Here is an advertisement that she wrote to sell war bonds during World War II, in which her grandson Victor Loring served:
“They call this a mechanistic age but no machine has been invented that will equal the human spirit in the scope and glory of its accomplishment when it feels the fierce compulsion to right a wrong to its country.” Emilie Loring
She retained her intelligent perspective and sense of humor.
“There’s a lot of foolishness being put across under the name of patriotism, General. I don’t like this type of it.” Keepers of the Faith
“George and Martha Washington danced here. I wonder what they would think of the present jitter-bugging.” Keepers of the Faith
Emilie loved picnics, and I can easily see her packing a basket and heading out across Blue Hill Bay to celebrate the Fourth on a favorite beach. I’m not sure our picnic baskets would be the same, though!
She spread out the tempting lunch. Gulls’ eggs stuffed with anchovy; sandwiches so wafer thin you could taste the knife, as the English say. Little balls of minced salmon, coated with tomato jelly. A jar of mayonnaise to accompany them. Dates stuffed with orange marmalade or marshmallows. Coffee, hot pungent. Lighted Windows
She felt a hysterical urge to sing The Star Spangled Banner at the top of her voice.
Stars in Your Eyes
My sisters are grilling brats and corn-on-the-cob today, and then they’ll watch fireworks over the lake. Here in Colorado, we’ll grill pork chops, and until it’s dark, we’ll watch the Boston Pops and National Mall celebrations on tv. Then, we’ll walk down the street to the green belt and see what fireworks are going. However you spend the Fourth, enjoy your celebration and your family’s role in creating the day.