Visiting New England on Independence Day : Our Face of America Journey Continues

By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2010
Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

“Listen to your heart. Try to do what’s right….”  Johnny Kelleher

Greetings from Hopkinton, New Hampshire, the quintessential New England town where our Face of America journey continues. Everything about this place speaks to the state motto: “Live Free or Die.” In this town of about 8,000 residents, Independence Day is a family day, a patriotic day, a day of community celebration.

For five months, Justin La Vigne, Hopkinton’s recreation director, Louise Carr, the chair of the recreation committee and a group of public spirited citizens worked together to plan a program that is designed to give happiness, joy and peace to everyone who attends.

The festivities begin outside the town early in the morning when people gather for a 5K Fun Run and a canoe and kayak race.  In this part of New Hampshire, kayaking is as popular as cycling.  Wherever you go, you see colorful red, purple, green and yellow kayaks carefully secured on top of cars, vans and trucks.

Just before noon, the streets of Hopkinton are closed to traffic, and the children of the town, dressed in patriotic costumes, walk, ride their bicycles, tricycles and big wheels while others are pushed by their parents along Main Street in a delightful tribute to their nation’s birthday.

The Kid’s Parade, as it is known in Hopkinton, is followed by a traditional Independence Day parade that is hosted by the fire department. Fire Chief Richard Schaefer and all of the members of his department and the police department do everything they can to make this a memorable event.

When the last fire truck and emergency vehicle reach the fire department, the parade ends, and everyone makes their way to Houston Fields for Family Fun Day. This is a very picturesque part of the town. It is the place were the city fathers built an impressive library and senior center.  It is the place where a magnificent old barn has been preserved. In this part of New Hampshire, preservation is a tradition. It is taken very seriously, and a special fund provides the resources for acquisition of land and property so that the look and feel of this place will be preserved forever.

During the afternoon, volunteers coordinate a variety of contests that are deeply rooted in old fashioned competitions: a pie eating contest, a root beer chugging contest, and a bubble gum blowing contest. The sights and sounds of these competitions are infectious and, at times, boisterous.  Justin La Vigne wants people to have fun, to have a good time, to forget their troubles. It’s not about winning.  It’s about participating.

In front of the library, an elementary school teacher turned performer, Johnny Kelleher, affectionately known in these parts as Johnny the K, used a collection of hats and a 12 string guitar to entertain and teach values that are central to America on its best days.

When I asked Johnny a question about America he positioned his guitar and he sang these words:

I’m proud to be an American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.
And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
 ‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.

Then, he adjusted his guitar, and he sang these words:

Teaching peace,
All the world around.
You and me,
Every city and every town.
One by one,
In our work and in our play.
We are teaching peace,
By what we do and what we say.

Johnny the K wasn’t the only one thinking about America. Louise Carr shared these thoughts with us shortly after we arrived at Houston Fields:

We have to stop yelling at each other and have a conversation and be willing to agree to disagree on our points of view.

People think it has to be one way or the other, and it doesn’t. There is always a compromise, and if there isn’t, you have to agree to disagree and not take it personally.  People take things personally way too much, and you just have to understand that it is just not personal.  It just is an opinion and we should move on and become friends.

Raymond Oberst, a 92-year-old World War II veteran, put it this way:

I love being an American  because we have the freedoms that a lot of countries don’t have any more…It’s the freedom we have in our constitution that gives us the right to speak and worship… and protection against violent leaders like the ones in Europe during the war.

Paul Jacques, a photographer covering the event, used 10 words to describe his feelings:

“Being an American is then greatest joy in the world.”

Paul knows that the price of freedom is not free. His son served two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

When Efner Holmes thinks about her country on its birthday, she paints a picture with these words: independence, compassion and generosity.  Her husband, Peter, focuses on the resilience of America. “When things go bad,” he said, “that brings out the best in all of us.”

July 4, 2010 was a day of parades, flags and many celebrations in Hopkinton, New Hampshire.  In some ways, it was a day of great exuberance and noise, but underneath the public demonstration of affection for America on its 234th birthday people were very much aware of the rights and responsibilities that make America what it is. They were listening to their hearts and trying to do what is right.

Walt Whitman was right. The genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors, or authors or colleges, or churches, or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or investors, but always most in the common people.

Until the next time we hope that all of your stories have happy endings.

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Kitch and Tony Mussari
The Face of America Project