Weekend celebration leaves me feeling all red, white and blue

Can you spot the sentence that is not contained within our nation’s Declaration of Independence?

Can you spot the sentence that is not contained within our nation’s Declaration of Independence?

• “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”

• “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred honor.”

• “Can I get some more mustard on this wiener?”

Scholars will immediately recognize the first two sentences as penned by Thomas Jefferson. But interestingly, Jefferson also uttered the third sentence during an outdoor picnic at his Monticello home. History, it turns out, is filled with lots of famous quotes – and even more not-so-famous ones.

As we celebrate the Fourth of July weekend, it’s worth remembering exactly why it’s such a grand time for gaudy fireworks shows, backyard barbecues and record-setting beer guzzling: It’s our collective birthday party.

The original Declaration of Independence – the one written by Jefferson with a pen, not in an e-mail, 32 years ago – is now encased in argon at the National Archives. Argon is a handy gas for preserving things that way. It is tasteless, much like a guy who tells really dirty jokes in a car pool. It is also odorless, unlike that guy in a car pool.

It turns out that of all the names written below the Declaration of Independence, only John Hancock actually signed it on July 4, 1776. And he wrote his name big. When the other 55 signers showed up a month later to sign, John Adams remarked, “Hey, Hancock, ya glory hound, thanks for leaving room for the rest of us!” No one remembers who threw the first punch after that.

Another of the signers of the Declaration, Benjamin Franklin, is credited with many famous quotes through his lifetime. Among them:

“A small leak can sink a great ship.”

“A man wrapped up in himself makes for a very small bundle.”

“A penny saved is a penny earned.”

And this one: “Admiration is the daughter of ignorance.”

However, less remembered are Franklin’s first drafts of those famous quotes:

“A small leek can ruin the entire produce department.”

“A man wrapped up is a mummy.”

“A penny saved is a lousy savings account.”

And, “Hello there, Mr. Ignorance. I was just admiring your daughter.”

It’s hard to know how many citizens these days have ever actually read the Declaration of Independence, but it’s probably more than have ever read the warnings on bottle rockets.

When I was a kid, we lived next door to a neighbor who began firing off explosives at morning’s first light on the Fourth. He had them all – Whistlin’ Petes, Jumpin’ Jacks and cherry bombs – and the assault went on all day and into the night. He finally closed things out with something called the Pyrotechnic Motherlode, which contained more shots than were fired in the War of 1812. I think the neighbor’s actualname was Tim, but everybody called him “Two Fingers.” I don’t know why, because he had at least three.

Whoever invented fireworks must not have owned a dog or cat. Pets like fireworks about as much as sidewalk ants like magnifying glasses. We once owned a cat that jumped so high into the air when a firecracker went off, that he grazed the basketball hoop in our driveway.

Even slugs will run at three times their normal speed when fireworks are around, especially fireworks with the brand name Cracklin’ Fountains of Salt.

My kids often complained about the “lame” fireworks I would buy for them each year. These included sparklers, poppers and snakes. My daughter said they were about as exciting as churning butter. I asked her when, exactly, she had ever churned butter. She admitted that she hadn’t and decided to give it a try. Since then, it has become one of her favorite summertime activities, especially on the Fourth of July.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Butter churned leaves little margarine for error.” He was a bit tipsy at the time.


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Jayendrina Singha Ray is a PhD (ABD) in English, with a research focus on the works of the South African Nobel Laureate John Maxwell Coetzee. She teaches English Composition and Research Writing at Highline College, WA, and has previously taught English at colleges in India.
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Jayendrina Singha Ray is a PhD (ABD) in English, with a research focus on the works of the South African Nobel Laureate John Maxwell Coetzee. She teaches English Composition and Research Writing at Highline College, WA, and has previously taught English at colleges in India.
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