“Can I ask a friend from college over to the barbeque tonight?” asked Estelle at breakfast. The day was July 4th.
“What’s her name?” asked her father, Max Stein.
“His name is Richard. He was in my poly-sci class. He’s very smart.” Estelle had just finished her first year at their local college, Sac State.
“I suppose so. I’ll put on a couple of extra hamburgers.”
The Steiner family tradition for July fourth was for Max to barbeque in the evening, then they’d set off the fireworks for the kids, then go down to the corner with their folding chairs to watch the big fireworks, visible over the trees from the nearby park. The Steiners had moved to their Sacramento suburb ten years ago. Max worked for the county, a personnel analyst. His wife Rita worked as a teacher’s aide.
“Estelle has a boy friend,” said Josh, 12 years old.
“He’s not my boy friend. He’s just a friend. Anyway, Dad, I don’t know if Richard will eat hamburgers. He’s thinking of giving up meat and becoming a vegan.”
“What’s a vegan?” asked Josh.
“Someone who eats only vegetables,” said Max.
“Ugh!” said Josh, who was finishing off a stack of pancakes with sausages. “That’s crazy.”
“I can make him a salad,” said Rita.
“Richard also says that barbequing isn’t healthy. It pollutes the atmosphere.”
“Well,” said Max, “if he wants to come over he’ll have to put up with a little pollution.”
“Richard also says that celebrating the fourth of July is boastful, like telling the world how great we are.”
“We are great,” said Josh.
“Your friend seems to have a lot of opinions,” said Rita.
“I told you, he’s very smart.”
“And opinionated,” said Max. “I’m not sure if that’s the kind of boy friend …”
“Friend,” said Estelle.
“Boy friend or friend I want you to have.”
“Don’t you want me to be independent? Isn’t that what this day is about?”
“Why did I expect you to say something like that? Anyway, if he wants to come we’ll put up with him even though he doesn’t exactly sound like a patriot.”
“I just remembered,” said Rita. “Max, did you remember to put our flag out?”
“I have. Ed had his flag out already, as usual, so I put ours up.” He turned to Estelle. “I hope Richard won’t disapprove.”
“He’s never said anything to me about flags.”
“Good. Then we’ll keep ours flying.”
Rita spent the rest of the day baking an apple pie. Josh, with the help of three neighborhood friends who came over for the barbeque, assembled his fireworks. Max cleaned his grille and checked his charcoal. They were all in the backyard and Max was wondering what had happened to Estelle when she came out of the house, a tall, lanky young man with a wisp of a beard behind her. “Sorry I’m late,” she said. “I spent all afternoon persuading Richard to come.”
Introductions were made. Max shook Richard’s hand. To his surprise, Richard’s handshake was pretty firm. “I understand you don’t approve of July 4th barbecues,” said Max.
“It just seems it’s like Uncle Sam is always going out of his way to beat his own chest.”
“It’s only once a year, and it’s to celebrate becoming a free country.“
“But it’s not free for everyone. African-Americans, for example.”
“I thought slavery was abolished after the Civil War. African-Americans have the vote. And, as I recall, we have an African-American president.”
“Progress has been made but there’s still a lot of discrimination, jobs, housing, wages. How many African-Americans live in your neighborhood?”
“I don’t know.”
“There’s the Foster family,” said Estelle. “Their daughter Emily is a friend of mine.”
“Okay,” said Max. “Let’s not debate this all night. It’s time to get the hamburgers on.”
“And I have a salad for you, Richard,” Rita said.
“That’s okay. I can eat hamburgers. I’m not a complete vegan yet”
The burgers as always tasted better coming hot off the grille. Max noticed that Richard had his fair share of them and he also had a second slice of the apple pie, which was served after. It was then time for the fireworks. Richard helped Josh and his friends set them up and made sure they wasn’t too close to them when he set them off. Afterward, Max said, “I guess you approve of fireworks.”
“I really don’t, but if you have them you have to make sure you’re safe.”
“Are you coming with us to watch the big fireworks then?”
“I suppose so. There’s a protest rally downtown, against Wall Street, but it’s too late to go to that now.”
“What are you protesting?”
“You know, just the way this country is run, Wall Street, Big Oil, all the other big companies, the whole establishment.”
“And here I thought we were a democracy, or at least a republic. And don’t we have unions, all those small businesses, Apple and Google and, oh yes, elections?”
“And people have the right to protest, too, Dad,” said Estelle.
“Thank you, Miss Independence.”
“We should get going,” said Rita. “The big fireworks start at nine.”
Everyone trooped down to the corner, where almost all their neighbors were already sitting on their folding chairs. They sat in front of Ed Bertoli’s house and as usual Ed was there to greet them. He was older than Max, was in the Air Force during Korea, and was very proud of his service. It was a clear night, pleasantly cool after the warm day. Sounds of music started to come from the park. It was the Star-Spangled Banner, played every year before the fireworks. Ed immediately sprang up from his chair and stood with his hand over his heart. Max did the same and suddenly, unusual for him, felt a surge of patriotism. This country may have its faults, he thought, but it was still the greatest in the world. Despite what young people like Richard thought, it wasn’t run by any all-evil establishment. And Estelle was right, one of its strengths was giving people like Richard the right to protest.
He glanced around and saw that Estelle was standing and singing. Richard also was standing and singing, although softly. I’ll have to keep my eye on those two, thought Max. The price of liberty was eternal vigilance; so was the cost of having an independent-minded teen-age daughter. The Star-Spangled Banner ended and everyone sat down. The fireworks began and they all oohed and aahed at this year’s celebration of the land of the free and the home of the brave.