Patriotism, pollution and Prairie Home Companion

The Twin Cities fireworks displays are great, unless you’re a timid dog or a human being with asthma, in which case – not so much. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, particulate matter levels were elevated to “orange alert” levels because of all the fireworks, so people with sensitive lungs and hearts should not exert themselves. (By tomorrow, the level should be back down to yellow alert.)

When I was a kid, I waved the flag every Fourth of July, sang the songs, paraded around the farmyard with my sisters and brother — but then came growing up and learning history and wars and disillusionment. Now, most years, I feel like the air has so much patriotism and star spangled banners that some kind of patriotic pollution alert should issue.

Driving back from the farm this year, we listened to the Prairie Home Companion, starting with the Star Spangled Banner sung by the hometown crowd gathered under the sunny skies in Avon, Minnesota, and then moving on to the stories of two World War II vets, introduced by Garrison Keillor but reading their own stories in their own 90-year-old voices. Simple, eloquent stories of love and war and family and work. Stories and people to believe in.

John McCutcheon and Barbara Kingsolver wrote a song, which was sung after the Star Spangled Banner on the Prairie Home Companion. Their song came closer than “bombs bursting in air” to saying what I feel, or want to feel, about the Fourth of July. Their song is called Our Flag Was Still There, and it celebrates the America that includes Concord and Kent, Seattle and Selma, remembering a nation where dissent is part of our grand tradition, and where the native soil is “blessed by immigrant blood.”

The version I found today includes this stirring chorus:

And our flag is still there
For the saints and the sinners
Yes, our flag is still there
For all the losers and winners
For those who still dream
For those who still there
For the scorned and forgotten
Our flag is still there

and remembers that:

We have weathered so much
We have traveled so far
We are woven together
We are spangled with stars …

And our flag is still there …

Listen to the whole song here.

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