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Independence Day in the Midwest

Fireworks and Freedom in the Midwest

Eric Francis

There's a reason the OTE community is so damn good: At our core, we have some similarities to how we were raised, where we were raised, how much we love a good running game, and some allegiance to B1G football. That's a solid bedrock for friendship and pride. And it makes for great commentary, great back-and-forth. "Maybe I think you're an idiot for supporting Michigan football but at the end of the day, we're all in this Midwestern football experience together."

Just like community, we do the 4th of July right in the Midwest. We remember veterans and we put flags in cemeteries and we blow large things up and we go on boats and...deep down, we feel Independence Day. Maybe we each feel it differently, but we feel it.

So I asked the OTE writers an open-ended 4th of July question:

Express your thoughts on America and OTE and our independence and our country and football and growing up in small midwestern towns.

I do love catchalls. And our writers didn't disappoint. Hilary sums it well, saying -

And that's the thing about the 4th. The reality is that America is a big, messy country. We disagree constantly. But on at least one day, we can all get together and celebrate that somehow this crazy experiment in self-governance, this community, has lasted another year, and, for the most part, we've got it pretty good.


Enjoy. Share your own thoughts in the comment section. And thanks for being part of OTE, we appreciate you very much. - graham



by GoAUpher

Stream of consciousness time.

My idea of the perfect 4th of July? Get a bunch of good friends together at a someone's lake house/cabin. If a sand volleyball pit is available you earn extra bonus points and more fun. Lots of beer and meat products are required. Watercraft of some type are also a must. Could be a ski-boat, a pontoon, a canoe, a paddle boat...heck, even one of those tiny inflatable rafts you can buy for $10 works (personal experience teaches me that such a craft can become a floating bar of sorts). You get more bonus points for an amateur fireworks show. You lose points if you launch the fireworks from a neighbor's dock while ignoring the objections of your not insane friends who don't want to see the county sheriff called. Begin your celebrations as many days before the 4th as possible and repeat your shenanigans until you realize that maybe your job is something that you're required to return to. And just because it will make Graham happy, invite Garrison Keilor. Why you ask? Because if there's one little thing that can revive a guy (after a great night of beer related ridiculousness) it's a piece of Bebop-A-Rebop Rhubarb Pie. Serve it up nice and hot and maybe your hangover won't be as bad as you thought.

Graham's momma's little baby loves rhubarb rhubarb, Bebop-A-Rebop Rhubarb Pie. Graham's momma's little baby loves rhubarb rhubarb, Bebop-A-Rebop Rhubarb Pie. Bebop-A-Rebop Rhubarb Pie.


Small-Town Balloon Rockets?

by Jesse Collins

My favorite Fourth of July moment was done in typical small town Nebraska fashion. Now mind you, this is not something I advocate for, but it was memorable and I will always pair it with the holiday and summer when I think back on my childhood. Anyhow, the neighbor across the street was always pretty fantastic. He was a big guy who loved motorcycles and tinkering with stuff, and he was always blowing stuff up on the Fourth. One year, we hear this explosion that rattled the windows, ground, house, neighborhood, etc. I mean, this sounded like cannon fire almost, so we went back outside to hear his beautiful big laugh resonating. You see, he thought it was the best idea to take a balloon, fill it with acetylene gas, put it in a box, aim a bottle rocket into the box, light it, and run. My mom, who was as conservative a person as anyone in the world, started to really encourage him to do it again and for the rest of the night, it was the block of us laughing as these bombs were lit and he would go running for his life. Just a fantastic memory with family, friends, explosives, and really, getting away with whatever you wanted because you grew up around 350 people or so. I miss that stuff a lot. While big cities offer lots of activities and museums and such, there is very little that can match summer, and specifically the Fourth, in Smalltown, Midwest America.

On a more meaningful side, I always take time around the Fourth to reflect on how fortunate I feel to have my American citizenship. I have told you all about being adopted before, and part of the beauty of being adopted includes the benefits of being here. I often take things for granted in America, but Independence Day is kind of the perfect time to remember that having a voice in things, enjoying open spaces, freedom, etc., is pretty awesome. So thanks to those who have and who do sacrifice to make things the way they are, and thanks to a country who let me adopt it as my home.


All Together Now

by Hilary Lee

I have two memories of the 4th of July that stand out for me. These are separate from the general childhood-in-suburbia memories that I have from when I grew up. Those tend to run together in a blur of BBQs and parades and guys in shriner hats.

No, the memories that I have are both recent. One is from several years ago, when I was in college. I grew up outside of Chicago, but my mother had moved to Wisconsin while I was in school. So, I was living in Chicago and working during the summer, and I decided to go visit her for the 4th. Because of when the holiday was, I couldn't leave until the 3rd, and for some reason many of the suburbs and towns on the way to my mother's house were having their celebrations on the night of the 3rd. So, I'm in my car, stuck in terrible northbound traffic, and it's late at night and I'm frustrated. I had promised my mother that I would be home in time for dinner, and that wasn't going to happen.

Because I had nothing else to do but crawl slowly along Route 12, I decided to just try to relax and enjoy it. I rolled down the windows and killed my radio. And that's when I really got to hear what was going on around me. There was music coming from everywhere, punctuated by bangs from fireworks. And underneath all of that, the sound of families and kids running around, either returning from a BBQ or parade or staking out a place to watch some fireworks. Basically, the sound of community.

Two years later, I got to experience a similar feeling. This time, the 4th fell in the middle of the week, and I couldn't really get off enough time to make it up to Wisconsin. So, I spent the night of the 4th on the rooftop deck of a friend's building in Wicker Park with 15 or so close friends. Our group that night was probably not what most people think of when they think of "family" but on that night we were one just as much as the residents of suburbia that I had driven past a few years prior. And once again, the night was filled with fireworks and laughter and conversation. Not discord. Not yelling or screaming or anger. None of the terrible shit that comes along with life. For just a few hours on one night, it was possible to pretend that life was just made up of joy and friendship and belonging.

And that's the thing about the 4th. The reality is that America is a big, messy country. We disagree constantly. But on at least one day, we can all get together and celebrate that somehow this crazy experiment in self-governance, this community, has lasted another year, and, for the most part, we've got it pretty good.


America. High School Football. Communities.

by MNWildcat

The 4th of July to me means that everything just stops for a day. Families don't bitch, the weather is legally obligated to be nice, and Illinois still sucks -- all because America, guys. Around these parts, you head to a lake. Go ahead, pick a lake. Even if every single Minnesotan (population ~ 5,400,000) were to go to one of the 10,000 lakes, that's still only 540 people per lake. And that sounds like a party to me. Later that night, I prefer to make the trek back to St. Paul and crowd onto the Smith Ave. High Bridge for some of the best views of fireworks. Like, ever.

In terms of things about America that inspire me? I'm a huge believer in the high school football game. I know that we're on a college football blog, and I absolutely love a Saturday night football game to get my blood pounding, but having played high school football, there's nothing like a community coming together on Friday night to cheer on the hometown high school. My alma mater is the only school, public or private, in my hometown, and packing the stands against our biggest rivals on crisp October nights, high-fiving the elementary school kids who would line up by the fence after the game...there's nothing like it. It's community, it's sports, and it's an American hallmark. I can only imagine that transplanted from suburban Minnesota to rural Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, or any other state in the Union. It is the definition of America: communities taking pride in their heritage and themselves and battling it out on the field.

I've just told you why football embodies the best America has to offer. It teaches young men discipline, hard work, aggression, and teamwork. I refuse to acknowledge that "eliminating football" is even a real thing. Any moron who suggests it with a straight face deserves to have their soy-and-yogurt-based chinos burned by Jerry Kill, the scraps hungrily wolfed down by Brady Hoke, and to be aggressively hit on by Bret Bie--WAIT THAT ASSHOLE'S GONE NOW.

So, yeah. America. Football. Communities. Love it or leave it.


A Sports Deployment Memory

by Ted Glover

(This is a snippet from Ted's amazing 2012 piece about what sports meant to him while in the military)

Anyway, in the midst of all that, troops will grasp at anything for a chance to feel normal, if only for a little while. Some guys read, some guys write, some listen to music, some play video games, or some combination. For me, it was the Ohio State-Michigan game in 2001. By the time The Game rolled around, we had been set up with satellite TV and phones, and life had settled into a weird routine. Fly missions one night, CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) strip alert the next, and then a night off, or mission planning for the next night's flight if there was something to do.

There were only a few people in the mess hall, and there wasn't a lot of trash talking, as I recall, as there were just a couple OSU and Michigan fans in there. I had an old OSU t-shirt I packed in my bag and had it on, and for three hours, I wasn't in that nasty shithole, getting shot at and mortared.

I was home.

I was walking across campus, past University Hall, onto the Oval, and past Mirror Lake. Across campus and on to High Street, walking into the South Heidelberg and Papa Joe's arm in arm with my wife, brisk wind in my face, maybe even a few snowflakes falling.

For three hours I didn't have to think about anything other than Ohio State-Michigan, and how awesome it was going to be when I really got home. I watched Jonathan Wells dominate the first half, and I watched OSU hang on for dear life at the end of the game.

It was wonderful.

It was important to win The Game, but sports, almost as much as a phone call or letter from a loved one, connected me to home in a way that is more powerful than I can put into words. Everyone who deploys in a war zone and gets shot at has that 'why the fuck am I doing this?' epiphany at some point, or I'd like to at least I think they do. And I'd had that moment in relation to my family long ago. Don't get me wrong, sports is really secondary in my list of priorities compared to missing countless birthdays, anniversaries, recitals and holidays, but I never really saw the macro world view of 'why' until I was watching a football game. Over 100,000 people were cheering, safe and secure, with the chance of harm coming to them by a foreign enemy almost zero.

And that's really what it's all about. Being safe and free to be able to cheer for Ohio State. Or Michigan. Or to not give two shits about football. Or go to law school, or med school. Or not even go to college. Whatever path you choose, you can do it in safety and security.

So now, when I watch an Ohio State game with my OSU friends, or a Vikings game with my Dad, and I see people enjoying themselves in the stands, or I'm fortunate enough to go to the game in person, I can't help but think back to that night in the middle of war zone, when a game...The Game...helped me put things into context, once and for all.

So take a moment today to enjoy whatever it is you're going to do with whoever you're going to do it with. And know that some pretty awesome people are minding the store, ready to go all in if need be, to make sure you'll never have to.

I'm still fishing, but when I get off the water, I'm going to silently toast four brothers in arms who didn't make it home, then I'm going to hug my real brother and be ever grateful that I was fortunate enough to come home.

I'll see you guys in a week or so.

An Outsiders/Inside perspective

by MSULaxer27

I'm not from the Midwest. I grew on Long Island in NY. Still, the 4th of July has long been my favorite day. Period.

My first real memory is going to Freeport Municipal Speedway on Long Island to watch stock races and a fireworks show for the 4th of July/Bicentennial. Some clowns (literally - clowns) came and blew up a house in the infield...which to this day I'm not exactly sure why that was patriotic...but hell, it was memorable. After the fireworks show I got to go down to the infield to ring a bell on an oldtime firetruck. So to recap...clowns, fast cars, explosions, and fireworks. I'm not sure there could be a better 4th of July for a kid. And it was my favorite. Until.

While stationed in Hawaii with the 25th ID in 1994, I got to experience a "Salute to the Union."

Please, try to experience this once before you leave the planet.

They line up 50 howitzers and then announce the State and its date of entry into the Union. After each State they fire one of the Howitzers. It happens in rapid succession so by the finish, the field is covered in smoke and your ears are ringing. Just an incredible experience. Huah!

Power Boats, Pontoons, and Pink Sneakers

by C.E. Bell

Some of you may not know this, but while I was born in Chicago to a Buckeye (Dad) and Hoosier (Mom), we moved and I grew up (and my parents still live in) Sarasota, Florida. And Fourth of July in Sarasota means one thing:

The Suncoast Superboat Offshore Grand Prix.

Huge boats followed by helicopters absolutely roaring past the powder soft sands of Siesta Key Beach (for my money the greatest beach in the world, and Dr. Beach's best beach in America in 2011-12) , with families and kids cooling off from the heat in the water and playing in the huge wake the boats drive up on the shore. In many ways, it's an all day event: get out early to load up the coolers and get a good spot on the beach; apply copious amounts of sunscreen (repeat frequently); watch the boats; eat lunch; set up the grills for dinner; watch the sunset (and look for the green flash); watch the numerous amateurs set off illegal fireworks down the beach; watch the pros set off their display while listening to the radio play the 1812 Overture and John Phillips Sousa; then battle the eternal traffic back off of the Key's 2 bridges (unless you were lucky enough to be renting a condo for the night on the beach). It was (and still is) paradise and America to me....maybe a little more redneck than even I am normally used to/prefer, but still it was America, and I love it.

Now, I live in the Midwest, and I'm older, so I suppose it's appropriate that I've moved from power boats to pontoons. My recent Fourths of July have been spent at my in-law's house on Murray Lake, in Lowell, Michigan. We'll spend the day swimming at the cove with the dogs, drinking beer/wine on the pontoon, reading Kindles when we need a break from swimming, and then head home in time to eat a low-country boil on the back deck. We'll then pack up more wine/beer, leave the dogs in the house (our dog Boo is TERRIFIED of fireworks, or pretty much any loud noises like thunder), and motor out to the middle of the lake to watch one of the more patriotic neighbors set off a damn impressive firework show. And as the unofficial DJ, you're damn right I'm playing the 1812 Overture and John Phillips Sousa in heavy rotation (even if my father in law/mother in law would prefer some Jimmy Buffett or country music).

As for what I'll be thinking about this year? This is going to fall dangerously close to violating our site's "No Politics" rule, but I'll be thinking about Wendy Davis in Texas, who stood in pink sneakers in the Texas Senate and using the rules of that legislative body filibustered for nearly 12 hours to prevent legislation that she felt was harmful from becoming law. When her opposition tried to keep her from speaking, her colleagues stood up to attempt to run out the clock. When the clock got to 11:45 pm, the crowd of citizens in the gallery began to cheer and shout and scream for 15 minutes in order to "run out the clock" in support of Wendy's stance -- a "citizen's filibuster." And when the majority party tried to falsify the record to say the bill passed, citizens on the internet (nearly 200,000 of whom watched the whole spectacle stream on the internet past midnight) pointed out the attempt to sidestep the rules.

If your politics don't align with mine, feel free to fill in Rand Paul's admirable filibuster against domestic drone use for the paragraph above. But what I'll be celebrating is that we are a country of laws, of rules, of simultaneous majority rule yet respect for minorities (legislative or social minorities)....and still a country where citizens are so passionate and engaged that 200,000 of them will watch a filibuster in Texas (a state most of them didn't live in) and participate actively in politics. And I'll thank the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) for what they put in place.