Friday, July 15, 2016
Roots in Ripon - Reflecting on France
18 July 2016
The year was 1960. For months we knew we would be moving to Paris, France. My stepfather was entering into a business venture with several other American business men to develop American style supermarkets in Europe.
We stayed with friends in northern New Jersey our last few days in the U.S. We even celebrated the 4th of July with them. On the 5th of July we boarded a SAS flight (Scandinavian Airlines) from Idyllwild Airport (known as JFK International today) flying to Copenhagen, Denmark where we made a connecting flight to Paris. The reason for this route had to do with Air France being on strike, requiring us to make a more circuitous route to get to our final destination.
As exciting as this move was, I was also leaving behind things that were very important to me. I was nearly 12-years-old and had a huge collection of comic books, many of which were originals, though I had no appreciation for their value. I also had a sizeable collection of baseball cards. I used to buy packs of bubble gum just to get the cards inside. Another way to get more cards was to “flip” for them. In challenging another kid, you would each stand holding a card around the edges with one hand. At the same moment you would both let go of your card, watching expectantly as the cards flipped toward the ground. I don’t remember if you won with the card facing up or down. Too long ago. I just remember that I was pretty good at it.
Another way to get baseball cards was to “scale” them. We’d gather outside during recess near the wall of the school and scale our cards with a flick of the wrist to see who could get their card closest to the wall. The winner would get all the cards scaled. I had to leave these collections behind when we moved to Paris.
I also left behind my favorite Lionel train engine. It was orange and sat proudly on a large plywood table with a weaving set of tracks in the basement of our home in New York. We couldn’t take that either.
But mostly I was sad to leave behind a budding career in baseball. I guess that’s a bit optimistic, but I had visions of being a professional baseball player. In Little League that Spring I was undefeated as a pitcher. I even pitched a 2-hit game which was announced on the local radio station that same evening! Sigh . . . what might have been.
We no sooner arrived in Paris, plopping down in a hotel just off the Moulin Rouge, when the French had their Independence Day celebration, July 14th. Friends invited us to join them for the evening’s festivities. We drove to the Palace of Versailles for the fireworks display, never realizing what was about to take place. In my brief childhood I had sat and enjoyed numerous 4th of July displays sitting on the grass while the sky was lit up with a countless array of brilliant burst of light. What could these French people do that could come close to an American Independence Day celebration? Well, let me tell you . . .
Arriving at the Palace of Versailles was only the beginning. This magnificent structure was built in 1682 in the French Baroque architectural style and sits on seventeen acres. There a numerous ponds of water acting more as reflecting pools strategically placed around the grounds with neatly trimmed hedges creating an artistic design which is spell-binding. At night, the subdued lighting establishes a mood of enchantment rarely experienced in my life (the city of Toledo in Spain at night comes to mind). As hordes of people respectfully flocked onto the grounds we found a place to sit looking across one of the ponds, expectantly awaiting the fireworks.
The environment definitely set the mood so that once the fireworks began it truly was the highlight of the evening. Whoever determined how many fireworks were to be used was a genius. From start to finish a variety of flashing colors, booms, and all the sounds, smells and sights of such a display were rolling over us until you were nearly gasping for breath from the barrage of furious pyrotechnics. And it went on for quite a while. I don’t remember how long, but it beat any fireworks I’d ever seen in the U.S. all to heck.
I’m reflecting on these moments from 56 years ago because of what happened this past Thursday, July 14, French Independence Day, in Nice, France. My range of emotions has vacillated from shock, to tears, to anger and back again in no particular order. As a pre-teen living in Paris I could travel alone anywhere in the “City of Lights” on my own without fear.
Our world has changed. And the change is not good.
The wanton murder of people celebrating their nation’s independence is evil and must be stopped. Children walking in the glow of fireworks celebration with their parents are killed by a religious fanatic who only wants to bring death to those who do not share his beliefs. This cannot be tolerated.
I firmly believe that the prime reason for this insanity in our world is that the United States of America has been so weakened over the last eight years that our strength and might is no longer feared.
A strong, robust America makes evildoers fearful everywhere in the world. It also gives hope to those who desire freedom and liberty.
America – a renewed America – must emerge so our grandchildren will know peace through strength.
God, please bless America again with courageous and righteous leaders!
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