Dear United States of America, I’m writing you today because it’s your birthday. Well, today’s not your birthday, Wednesday is but I’m under deadline pressure to get this into Sunday’s paper. Be it tradition, or straight-up good manners, my understanding of what should be is that we wish the best and better for who and what we love – in spite of their less-than-gracious behavior in the present.
Anyone who’s read one or a dozen of my columns over the years, knows my claim that my America is the little, tiny, no-stoplight town, Sanderson, Texas, on the up-bend of the Big Bend, 20 crow-fly miles from the Mexican border. Sanderson is my go-to place of heart and mind, when either need soothing calm. It is my traditional choice for celebrating the Fourth of July, though I can’t go there this year.
My mama always said Sanderson was a place hard to get to from here, and she was right. It doesn’t matter where “here” is.
Sanderson never was a big place at all and it’s a lot smaller now than it was then. But to those of us who lived there, then, Sanderson was our whole country – our universe. The funny thing about that is, it was enough. While I can’t speak for the whole lot of us, I know I appreciate more of what some people think is less.
I know I’ve told this story before, about one Fourth of July, when I was in my early 30s standing on the Terrell County Courthouse lawn visiting with my dear friend Marsha Monroe.
I was a writer, like I guess we’d known I would be since seventh-grade. Marsha was an attorney, like I guess we’d known she should be since third grade. So there we were talking about our lives, our liberties, our pursuits of happiness. I was living in Florida and had moved there from Illinois. Marsha was living in Sanderson.
She said, “You know, Candy sometimes I think you are so brave to live so far away.”
“Sometimes,” I replied, “I think how brave you are, to have stayed.”
Everything takes courage. Some things take just tiny bits of it, but some things take bushel-baskets full. What you have to do is break the big pieces up so they’re more manageable. Then you have to hold on. You can’t give up until you absolutely positively have to unless (and this is a big unless) it wasn’t the right thing to hold on to in the first place.
Sanderson was the place we learned to respect one another; where we found out we didn’t have to agree, but we had to get along; where we came to understand that everyone was someone; where there will be tragedy, and there will be triumph, and if you have one, you can’t forget the other because soon enough, the other will be there and the first one won’t. I think we also learned, whether times have been good, or bad, or the usual in-between, you cannot forget where you’re from, and you have to be hopeful for where you’re going – as one, as a community, as a country.
My friend Marsha died three summers ago, I miss her. I wonder what we would talk about, now, if we were on the courthouse lawn of our old hometown. I doubt it would be politics. We’d respect each other even if our opinions were divided left and right – like they very well might be. We earned each other’s respect, each in our own way having high standards for what is good, and right, and our responsibilities for protecting those things.
Those were common expectations for everyone, every citizen, every person we might meet.
Isn’t it odd what puts people over the edge of what they can accept and what they can’t? I get sick with fear at how America is being made “grate” by our intolerance toward another. People condemning other people for doing what they might very well do if their own lives and safety were threatened.
America, it’s your birthday. I don’t like you very much, right now, but I will always love you. And I’ll always celebrate what made you great. And it is out of love and devotion I’ll make this wish for you.
May “God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good, with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”
Editor’s note: Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.