"I run my hand along the stock, and the wood is warm to the touch."
So began a short essay I wrote many years ago paying tribute to an old Winchester 30-30 that has been part of my family history for three generations. The Model 94 was manufactured in 1907 by craftsmen who knew their trade and did it well, testament to the fact that it stands at the ready now just as it has for more than 100 years.
It became part of my family’s story during the Depression, when my grandfather gave $5 to a miner suffering from “miner’s consumption” or silicosis and needed the money far more than he needed a 30-30. That was back when $5 bought a week's worth of groceries.
The Winchester put meat on the table during the dark days of the Depression and helped bring my father and each his three younger brothers into manhood.
This all came to mind recently as I reflected on the upcoming Independence Day weekend and the end of the first half of a year that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives. Already economists have made comparisons to the economic impact of COVID-19 versus the Great Depression. Unemployment, for example, is higher now than during the Depression.
2020 may well define life for the children and grandchildren of this decade just as the Depression did for my dad. How will the children of 2020 and beyond react to the social and cultural upheaval defining their times? Will they have similar reactions to the children of the Depression, like my father was?
I doubt it. During the Depression, my grandfather was foreman of a Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) work camp. He had to sweat for his government money. Today, the government just hands it out. Indeed, the world is different now.
But not entirely. Some things remain, untouched and unmoved by the by the ebb and flow of a changing society and the changing culture that drives it.
Like an old 30-30. And the holidays and traditions that are an essential part of America and who we are as Americans.
In my mind, Memorial Day and Independence Day are the two most important national holidays we celebrate. That's because they serve as poignant and unchanging reminders of who and what we are as Americans. They are important on a national scale for that, just as each of us has a memory, a memento, a reminder of who we are as individuals.
According to history.com, the Fourth of July—also known as Independence Day or July 4th—has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1941, but the tradition of Independence Day celebrations goes back to the 18th century and the American Revolution.
Related: History of Independence Day
On July 2nd, 1776, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence. On that day, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that July 2 “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival” and that the celebration should include “Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.”
Two days later, delegates from the 13 colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, a historic document drafted by Thomas Jefferson. From 1776 to the present day, July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence, with festivities ranging from fireworks, parades and concerts to more casual family gatherings and barbecues.
And here's an interesting historical note—Adams, one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence, believed that July 2nd was the correct date on which to celebrate the birth of American independence, and would reportedly turn down invitations to appear at July 4th events in protest. Adams and Thomas Jefferson, another author, both died on July 4, 1826—the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
Most folks, at least where they can, will celebrate this Independence Day in the usual way, with fireworks and picnics. At my house, we'll forgo the fireworks and have a quiet weekend with family. I'll be at a trap shoot, where I’ll enjoy the competition and camaraderie that make such events a part of Americana. There’ll be a brisket in the oven at home and we'll have our traditional July 4th meal.
But in all the things we’ll do this weekend, let's remember who and what we are as America and Americans, and thank the men and women who, 244 years ago, took a leap of faith and laid the foundation for the greatest nation the world has ever known.
And the old 30-30? The warmth of the wood may have come as I cradled the old lever action in my arms and let my mind wander on what it means to me and my family. But it may just be that the warmth was already there, a reflection of the love for the land and love for one another that has defined who we are for generations past and hopefully, many generations to come.