Christmas and the Fourth of July were always the two great holidays of the year: God and country! Each got its due. Christmas was private for family and religion. The Fourth of July was public for town and country.

The Fourth was the day for patriotism, complete with a parade through the center of town, marching bands, high-stepping drum majors, patriotic speeches by the mayor, the police chief, and, maybe, the state representative. (Really important officials like the governor or a congressman or senator never got around to small towns except just before an election.)

But the mayor was a BIG MAN. He reminded us of the history of our great nation, of the freedom and goodness in America, and exhorted us to be loyal, patriotic citizens and good Christians (or Jews). The dividing line between the two was never very clear because the mayor was always a good Methodist or Presbyterian or Lutheran, and, naturally, good Christians make good citizens. The great day climaxed in a phantasmagoric display of fireworks in Brookside Park.

If you were like the editor, you never resented the religious fervor of the patriotism because … well, because good Christians do make good citizens, don’t they?

We had no doubts about that in such less complicated times. America had just “conquered Demon Rum” and “made the world safe for democracy.” Righteousness and freedom! Both were good Christian goals for a nation that trusted in God.

No one then had ever heard of Hitler or gas chambers or World War II, or Hiroshima or Nagasaki or the thirty-eighth parallel or Da Nang. We had heroes aplenty: Eddie Rickenbacker, Lindbergh the lone eagle, Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Red Grange, Jack Dempsey, Bobby Jones, and Jesse Owens. We shared their triumphs ...

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