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It was great being among all sorts of citizens there for U.S.A.

July 08, 1997

It was such a beautiful Fourth of Julyard sale weekend that I asked my friend if she'd like to do something outdoors. Something no hassle, easy in, easy out, I said.

She suggested the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and fireworks show at Antietam and it sounded good to me, so off we went.

I was really rooting for some major controversy, such as the one a year ago where Rep. Roscoe Bartlett and others tackily advertised themselves on a noisy, illuminated helicopter that hovered over the stage and put a damper on the evening for lots of concert-goers.

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But nothing of that magnitude occurred.

The only corporate presence was a giant red, white and blue balloon that hovered briefly over the grounds, then slinked off as if embarrassed by its own presence.

The balloon had a company name, but I'd never heard of it and the balloon didn't say what the company did, so the investment was lost on me.

Probably a good thing for the company. I will resolutely refuse to do business with any corporation that dares tarnish such a grand event with its presence.

And it was indeed a grand event. Blue mountains, green forests, a brilliant setting sun, Antietam is a fine setting for Western Maryland's largest picnic and non-denominational festival - a festival that simultaneously glorifies the greatness of America while prompting somber remembrance of the men who died on this great battlefield 135 years ago.

We went with a nice family from Boonsboro and their friends from Massachusetts. Of the 10 of us, five were British - which drew a few rustling, good-natured "ahems" whenever the public speakers referred to America and "the greatest nation on earth!"

"Is this what Americans do," 13-year-old Sian asked in her neatly clipped accent, shortly after the playing of "The Star Spangled Banner." "Get together in a big field, stand up every now and then, wave flags and drink beer?"

I thought about trying to explain the idiosyncrasies of NASCAR, but quickly gave up on the project and said, "Yup, you've pretty much nailed it."

We had good seats, lots of food, and behind us sat the Narrator, a baritone-voiced gentleman who, as the symphony was warming up would say things like, "The band's warming up now," or as the big guns were being fired would say "They're firing the big guns now."

The thing that most strikes me about the gathering, said to be 38,000 strong, is that there is no typical Fourth of July at Antietam-goer. Pick anyone out in the crowd and it could just as easily be a biker, a dentist, a wine and cheese blueblood or a Schlitz Malt Liquor redneck. All happily and enthusiastically celebrate their common bond, a love for country.

We watched the fireworks ("that was a dud," said the Narrator, when he wasn't especially impressed, or "that had some boom," when he was) then trudged back to the car fully satisfied and fully happy with the National Park Service's understated control and seamless organization of the evening.

Well, there is one leeeetle detail, the part where you have to wait 70 minutes before you can even budge an inch from the parking lot. I hope the same people who do traffic control for the Fourth aren't in charge of evacuating the county in event of nuclear attack, or we're toast.

Things were so stone still even the Narrator would have had difficulty coming up with original commentary.

Ah well, a small price really. We thank the Park Service and its host of friendly volunteers, the symphony and the fireworks technicians.

When 38,000 people can come together in celebration of a nation and act, behave, befriend and relate to each other as one, it must be in honor of a truly fine and unparalleled (with apologies to Britain) nation indeed.

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