I am an old-fashioned patriot. I mean really old-fashioned, as in the time of and the paradigm of the Founding Fathers.
When people ask, lightly for them, “In what era would like to have lived?”, I always say the 1770’s in Philadelphia. Only not as a woman. None of this Betsy Ross business, nor even the brilliant Abigail, urging John, “Remember the women.”
No, I don’t even care which man I am, so long as I am a man, and off to the City Tavern with Toms (1 and 2 — Jefferson and Paine), John (Adams of course), Ben – who needs no surname, and George, Father of our Country in many ways beyond war. I have a powdered wig and those dusky pantalons, and white long stockings, and uncomfortable-looking shoes with sort-of high heels and shiny buckles. Night after night, in the rustic taverns, lit by candle or gaslight, I am saying with my buddies, “Give me Liberty, or give me death.”
I don’t have any patience with the skim-milk liberty of the 21st Century. I bristle when the Fourth of July is termed a Freedom Fest. In our country now, which our Founding Fathers would never recognize, the more we prate of liberty and freedom, the less we have.
This scene of barn and fields is my personal American icon. It stands for Independence, such as farmers lived and passed on through generations. It stands for salt-of-the-earth people, who worked with the earth, not in spite of it, to feed families and neighbors, to nourish not only bodies, but the very spirit of our land.
Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were farmers. They knew the solid safety of our country rested on rural realities. Not in slogans, let alone in the renaming of airports.
Those inalienable rights for which our Forefathers pledged and some lost their fortunes and lives, tho never their sacred honor, are trampled daily in 21st-Century Washington, by mega-corporations, in our very un-free media, in books, in trade deals, in intra-country negotiations.
Eleanor Roosevelt’s International Bill of Rights, for which she (the only woman at the United Nations) thought and fought and negotiated and declared, seems a figment of imagination. Lost in the shuffle, and worse. Her proudest achievement – trampled in the dust.
Our entire country won the war of Revolution here, where I live now, in Lawrenceville (then Maidenhead) and in Trenton’s two Christmas battles, and in nearby Monmouth and in distant Yorktown, thanks to the French Fleet and heroic Lafayette. It was also won in small towns, such as Concord and Lexinbton and on Bunker Hill in Boston, and in kitchens where wives and children melted the family pewter and silver and whatever other metals, to create bullets to defeat the tyrranical Brits.
in weeks and months before the written Declaration, and in the interminable years thereafter, the man and woman in the streets, in the fields, and even in tea-burning ceremonies in Greenwich New Jersey and yes in Princeton, as well as in Boston, courage was the norm, and rights were the motive..
Heroes were also our norm in those decades, and they didn’t only wear pantalons. Resistance was as fierce among wives and daughters of our Founding Fathers, as among the men in Philadelphia. In many cases, the women were nearer to the maurading British, gunpowder, cannonfire, destruction by many means of their homes and communities. Their spines were as stiff as those of their mates, negotiating in various capitals, riding to country taverns with muffled horses’ hooves, standing on balconies and reading declarations of rights.
Life. Liberty. The Pursuit of Happiness. How simple they sounded when I was a child. How they fired the soldiers in WWI and WWII, especially on D Day and beyond. How rare those qualities seem now.
We fought for them, even more than for our flag.
I am greatly disturbed always that the Stars and Stripes became a symbol of aggression and revenge, instead of freedom and inalienable rights, from the first moments of 9/11 ever onward.
Do you ever wonder where all those flapping auto-flags came from, within hours of the dissolution of the Twin Towers? Who alerted the flag-manufacturers?
Before 9/11, we never saw those flags except in rare personal presidential motorcades, as when JFK motored through Detroit and Illinois before his impossible election.
After 9/11, little flags were everywhere and big ones inexplicably on bridges and overpasses. Why? In those days, it seemed, our banner stood for vengeance, even war.
I happen to love the Stars and Stripes.
All year, I’ve been photographing them hither and yon, to try to recapture the pride and honor of Fourth of July as a child.
Hence the collection. What does it mean to YOU?