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One neighborhood’s affirmation of all that is still good about America
More than ever, in these complicated and contentious times, we share the same longings, don’t we?
Neighborhoods where all kids feel safe and welcome.
Schools where all are safe.
Clean water. Clean air. Green space. A brighter future.
Leaders who make us proud.
A nation that we not only love, but also makes us proud.
It does exist. Not always. Not everywhere. But it can exist- and it did exist- on July 4th, 2018, in the backyard of the Chester Creek home of Jordan and Carley Cohen.
A little backstory:
Jordan Cohen and Carley Erickson grew up 3 blocks apart from each other in Chester Creek neighborhood. They have known one another so long that neither recalls when they met. They dated in high school, then both moved away for college. Carley went to Winona State and Jordan went to the main U in Minneapolis. He later enlisted in the Navy where he was stationed in Virginia, Rhode Island, California and finally Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Following the birth of the first of their two sons, they mutually agreed that Jordan would leave active service and they would return to Duluth to raise their family…
And you can understand why:
In many regards, Chester Creek neighborhood is a true-to-life Mayberry: Kids spill out onto the streets and into each other’s yards, playing Hide n’ Seek and Capture the Flag. There’s Lower Chester Trails for hiking and woods for building forts, Little Free Libraries, Tuesday night concerts and a community ski hill at Chester Bowl. When my dog wanders, which he inevitably does, some friendly neighbor always leads him back home.
A decade or more ago, before we owned a home in this neighborhood, Chester Creek friends had let us in on a little-known secret, that Grand View offers the best, bar none, trick or treating in the city and was home to Tom Greir’s legendary haunted house! We had also heard rumors of the famed Grand View Fourth of July Parade, but had never actually attended one till this past Wednesday.
Apparently, the Grand View parade was an annual tradition started by Joan and Fletcher Hinds some thirty years ago. It petered over the past ten years until this year, when the Cohens decided to pick up the mantle.
Close your eyes and picture if you will, scores of smiling kids of all ages and stripes: kids on bikes with crepe paper streamers woven in the spokes, sparklers, balloons, and of course, toddlers in strollers waving flags.
It was threatening rain, and the Cohens, decided that rain or shine, it was game on. I called my neighbor Alicia, “You comin’?”
“Yep. Ben and I will be there,” she said.
I scrambled to tie a stars and stripes bandana around my toddler’s neck before we headed up the hill; he had popped every last balloon I had blown up the night before. I was barking orders to his father to pick up our (lame) contribution of popcorn and pretzels for the potluck. I had expected only a handful of diehards to be there, but was surprised and delighted when we turned the corner on Skyline Boulevard and spied throngs of people — babies, toddlers, kids, parents and grandparents — all standing at the ready waiting for Jordan Cohen, sporting an American-flag inspired top hat, to take the helm.
It was the coolest thing: Cohen was pulling a boombox and maybe a tiny generator duct-taped to a kid’s wagon. When he hit the play button and John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripe Forever” blared out over the alley, it transformed the mood from an informal backyard gathering to a…PARADE!
Cohen took the helm and we all followed. We marched down Grand View with neighbors taking pictures from their lawns, round the corner onto 10th Street then retraced our steps back to the Cohen’s back yard where neighbors helped transform the space: paper lanterns hung from trees, American flags graced each table covered in white linens and lots of yummy potluck items a la Lake Wobegon that have made Minnesotans famous.
The Grand View Fourth of July founding Father and Mother, Fletcher and Joan Hinds, made it back for the kick start celebration, sharing their memories in an interview with Channel 6.
As for the Cohens, it was not only their desire to set role models for their own boys and the neighborhood kids, but also to create an event that fosters meaningful connections and strengthen community. They both agreed that creating an experience that small children, older kids and adults can enjoy can be tricky.
Tracing this event back to its origins, it is both affirming and remarkable that our founding father, John Adams, in a letter to his wife, Abigail, imagined this very type of celebration nearly 250 years ago, even before we had won our independence. Adams wrote on July 3rd, 1776, the day after the signing of the Declaration of Independence:
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.
You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. -- I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even although We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.
Jordan and Carley, want to share their love of country with the community they hold dear. Jordan said it eloquently, “It is our obligation as Americans to reflect on our society, where it is, and the direction we want it to go. Grand societies are not composed of dusty pieces parchment secured behind layers of tempered glass, and traditions do not maintain themselves…the future we build requires active participation beyond making Facebook posts, running for an office, or even voting.
We owe it to ourselves to build the kind of communities we want--no one else is going to do it for us from behind a podium or over a twitter account. Our world is not such a bad place; we just need to do the work to make it the kind of place we want to live.”
So regardless of what we are currently experiencing on the national front (an erosion of civility, dishonesty, lack of respect for minorities and women, the scaling back of LGBT rights, and open disdain for foreigners), our active participation in Independence Day gatherings are a testimony that true love of country which is defined by both an open-minded, open-hearted patriotism is alive and well in America.