BY DAVID S. LEWIS
The Fourth of July should be reaffirmed as our nation’s quintessential holiday. The date itself has a ring to it. Few others resonate with such meaning. Saying it aloud—the intonation brings a tide of images, writings, battles, heroes and acts of courage. Men of insight, men in granite, as Van Morrison put it. Swells of the tide rolling from our first Fourth of July as a declared nation grew from that summer in Philadelphia, flooding the world, and challenging humanity to adapt principles of individual and national conscience to those of the American founding. We have much to be proud of as Americans, and so, here, we grant permission to the jaded ones, and those hypnotized by the snarky spell cast by pundits and politicians saturating our airwaves, to again take pride, on the Fourth of July (coming soon) or any day of the year. But you remain jaded still? Fine—ask the Vietnamese “boat people” living in Montana about the fate they escaped and the country to which they fled after throwing themselves into the sea, risking death, or millions of others, including your parents, grandparents, or great grandparents who made their way to this country for the safety and promise it offered and still does. So let’s for once, at least, on this one day of the year, before the din of modern cynicism claims another holiday, recognize who we are as Americans and the great honor and privilege we share among all peoples on earth. Places exist where the sentiments above remain intact, where the flag means something, where our history is contextually and reasonably appreciated, and rightfully extolled as having altered the course of humanity dramatically for the better. And few places on earth come to mind as especially fitting to the celebration of that alteration, and our revolutionary inception, as Ennis, Montana. Okay, sure, at this point we’ve probably begun channeling Merle Haggard. But Merle was an able spokesman for the American idea. And if you can’t appreciate Merle, or a place like Ennis, on the Fourth of July, it might be better if you stayed indoors this time around anyway—to wallow in whatever it is such people wallow in—sorry, no hot dog for you. On a less strident note, one Merle might strike on his solid body Fender, and in regard to those things that unite us (think fun), let’s take that short drive across the Madison to the heart of America — Ennis, Montana — for that hot dog and a beer. And you had better drive, because if you try to book a room over the Fourth in Ennis, you’ll find yourself out of luck, even a month out. We ran into that last year, and the year before, but found a room an hour north at the Sacajawea Hotel in Three Forks. While booking a room may not be necessary (Ennis is an easy day trip from Bozeman or Livingston), doing so allows a sense of abandon on the Fourth, as festivities kick off with the 10:00 a.m. parade—for which the highway that runs through town closes down in favor of foot traffic. And if those festivities don’t officially run all day, they seem to, given the town’s penchant for doing up the Fourth in a manner commensurate with the occasion. Standing streetside, walking the parade route up and down both sides before the event, gathering a sense of things, Ennis presents something Bozeman cannot (which has fireworks, but no parade), nor Livingston, (which holds its parade on the 2nd as part of the annual Roundup). Both Livingston and Ennis offer the palpable sense that something oddly fascinating will happen, a nostalgic reliving of the 1950s perhaps, but at Ennis it is the Fourth of July (not the inauspicious 2nd), and folks from miles around turn out to celebrate not just a parade but a Revolution. People display flags, large flags, and small ones stuck in a belt loop or set like a feather in a cowboy hat. Ennis displays the appropriate celebratory patriotism, not in a love it or leave it way, but of a measure and kind that speaks of simple decency and respect for who we are and where we stand in the mix of humanity. The parade hardly drags on. It concludes after an hour, with a brief speech or two, pretty cowgirls on horseback, floats and vintage cars, all passing before a healthy packed crowd, as one of the bars passes out free Bloody Marys to prime the celebratory pump, all well before noon—but summer has arrived, and it’s the Fourth. Then, at 11:00 a.m., the late morning party begins. People turn out from all over for the fun of it, to dance, eat, imbibe, and for the music. A liberating sense of holiday seduces the mind, an alternate reality of sorts, as bands begin playing in the bars and the town morphs into a down home Key West. But it’s Ennis, Montana. Only certain holidays allow this pre noon revelry, when behaviors usually relegated to dusk and beyond become common place in late morning. At the behest of manly men, for example, barkeeps set up rounds of Patron, cowgirls join in, Jimmy Buffet covers ring out across the way, and a fanny or two gets slapped followed by only half-hearted rebukes. In the Gravel Bar, a little old man from another age appears. He sells magnetic ribbons in support of the troops for your car’s bumper. He stood but 5 foot tall, or maybe taller but crouched over and reaching into a bag holding his inventory. He made a person wonder what he was up to, until he emerged, magnetic ribbon in hand. Five dollars, he said, and as he came up with the goods, the eyes of age met my own, and here he was hawking yellow ribbons on the Fourth of July for our people who serve. I took him at his word, for the man had no guile about him, not a trace. His humanity struck me, and I felt I had to engage, pry loose some personal detail, or to ask something while knowing full well the answer. Or maybe vapors of Patron had so permeated my brain that I’d lost my inhibition. And so I asked him, point blank, as he looked at me: Do you love America? Not skipping a beat, with the conviction of his eighty some years, he left no doubt: Yes, I do. I gave him a ten. Keep it, I said, just wanting to hear him say it, to hear somebody say it, somebody not jaded. Permission now also granted—to echo the soul of this old man, to love your country, to come together as a people for at least one day, a tradition 241 years young, yet the oldest of its kind in human history. People across the earth look to us, don’t kid yourself. We hold then this truth to be self-evident, that of all days of the year, and all places on earth, the pursuit of happiness can best be realized on the Fourth of July—in Ennis, Montana.