Every year around July 1 I start thinking I've had enough of getting up and out of the house early, driving to Geneva, marching in the Florida sun and heat, wearing myself out crashing cymbals that seem to get heavier every year, and doing as much running the parade route as marching. And every year on July 4 I remember why we do it.
I've written many times that the Geneva Independence Day celebration represents so much of what I love about Florida. It's diverse, even quirky, but without malice, a place where people can disagree and still smile at each other. It's a feel-good city, and this event reminds me quite a bit of similar activities I've seen in little Hillsboro, New Hampshire. Small towns can have their problems, but there's a refreshing innocence as well.
So once again we packed up our equipment and headed east, to march with the Greater Geneva Grande Award Marching Band. The name reflects neither the size of the band nor the length of the parade route, but it suits us. My absolute favorite part of the parade is also the reason it's so exhausting: interacting with the children in the crowd between songs, then having to run to catch up with the band. It's a good thing Gunga Dad (Porter) is always there to provide a shot of water as needed. It's also kind of fun to try to pick out which children will be thrilled to try crashing my cymbals, and which will shrink away. I usually guess well, but not always. In the past, boys have been more likely to respond well than girls, but this year it was pretty much equal.
Geneva's uplifting of my feelings about America was matched by the words of David Freiheit, my favorite Canadian lawyer, whom I've often cited here. Now that he is once again able to travel to and from Canada, he has been spending more time in the United States. Being from Montreal, he says, his impressions of certain parts of America were formed primarily by Hollywood. Now he's angry, having discovered for himself that he has been deceived all this time. I'm quite familiar with the situation, having grown up myself with a deep prejudice against the American South. It took moving here to shake my stereotypes. For Freiheit, a man who loves to talk with anyone and everyone he encounters, the very long car drive from Montreal to South Florida had the same effect. It was delightful to listen to his revelations.
I talk to everybody. ... There is more that unifies us than divides us. ... Of the 50 people that I talked to, driving down here, I've met nothing but the most wonderful people on earth. All of these stupid stereotypes that people have of mid states and southern states ... I've started to think we've been lied to our entire lives. I've met nothing but the most wonderful people.
Let the news media throw in our faces the negative events that make for screaming headlines. Today I celebrate the quiet, ordinary lives that are the true, beating heart of America.