My birthday is July 14th. When I was little, I always thought it was on July 4th. In my 5 year old mind, I thought all the parades and all the fireworks and picnics were in my honor. It seemed perfectly normal to me that we should celebrate so much for what seemed to be an important day. I didn't think MY birthday was more important that other people's - I just hadn't made the connection that all the hoopla wasn't for me.
I have strong memories of celebrating July 4th in Denver - we moved away when I was 6 years old, so it is strange to me that these are my most vivid memories. We often had relatives in town and the dads would let off fireworks in the backyard. We played with sparklers and had big buckets of water around the yard so that we could put them in there when we were done. Safety was paramount, but they didn't make it scary for us - we just had to follow instructions under threat of a spanking or worse - not being able to participate.
One year, we went to a local amusement park (I don't remember the name) and they had a really memorable fireworks display. They had these fireworks that were actually on frames and made the shape of the American Flag and Snoopy of all things. I remember sitting at a parade and watching the fireworks and their reflection on the water. I'm pretty sure we were wearing cowboy hats.
Independence Day was a pretty big deal for military families. Especially when we lived in Germany. I do remember one year we watched the guys play softball, had a big picnic and then watched fireworks. The Germans loved Independence Day, too - particularly the people who lived right across the street from our housing area. They went all out in purchasing fireworks and came to help us celebrate.
I know there are a lot of political disagreements and a lot of history that people can delve into about America and what we have done as a country. All that aside, I am still proud to be an American, proud that my father fought for our freedom and proud that we have really done so many good things in the world. We aren't always right. We aren't always justified. But we are good people, on the whole and I am lucky to live in this country.