July 4th here: my two small children are splashing around in an inflatable pool out in the yard while I check the whole pork shoulder that's been cooking since about seven in the morning. More soaked hickory chips go in. (Where I grew up on the Delta, you can spot the barbecue restaurants because they always look as if they're on fire.) I'll have it with beans and my wife's cole slaw, and there's watermelon and homemade strawberry ice cream for dessert.
My wife and her mother are drinking tea out under an oak tree, beyond the kids's splash radius. Next to them, on a green picnic table, I've set up my old microscope, a medical student model that my parents gave me when I was ten. Earlier we were looking at some pond droplets, my son and daughter dripping with pool water as they peered at rotifers and nematodes.
My son has already announced that he wants some scissors when we go back inside, because he wants to cut some of the signatures out to keep from the newpaper's annual full-page reproduction of the Declaration of Independence. He and his sister especially like John Hancock's, of course, and the smart remark he made when he signed it. This year I pointed out Ben Franklin's signature, and related his line about all hanging together or all hanging separately, but I could tell that it didn't register - as it well shouldn't, but I couldn't resist.
They haven't grasped that people back then fought under terrible conditions - aren't they all - to be rid of a king and what he represented. And they don't realize how strange it was for a people to throw off the rule of a king and then, somehow, to avoid ending up under his replacement. (Meet the new boss!) George Orwell famously said that if you wanted to imagine the future, to picture a boot stamping on a human face, forever. But that's an even better summary of the past. Just look at it.
What's even stranger is that for over two hundred years we've continued to avoid all the kings, emperors, sultans, First Citizens, mullahs, all the other graspers and grabbers who long to be at the thick end of the whip. They're in long supply, unfortunately. My wife and her mother, out there in the yard, are both exiles from Iran. They can tell you all about it, starting in the days of the Shah. Then they'll go on to the days after the Shah's portraits were crowbarred down and another loser's stuck right up on the same spot so the paint job wouldn't look funny.
It's safe to say that none of us here in the back yard have any desire to be part of a restored Caliphate. The fellows who want to be in charge of it don't look like the sort who would look kindly on this scene, and not just because of the pork shoulder. And there are plenty of others who would find it necessary to shape things up around here if they were in charge, for that matter.
That'll serve as a test, then: anyone who'll leave us to our own devices this July Fourth - those people are the ones welcome here, strangely enough. If you don't give a damn, then sit down and have some strawberry ice cream. But if you think it's your duty to set us straight, then I've got a section of the newspaper for you to study. It has some holes cut out of the bottom part, but the main points are still there.