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"Fourth of July. What an inspiring date! Flags and parades and bands and family picnics and barbecues. A day to bring the Irish, the Dutch, the Scandinavians, Germans, English and the rest of the world together to the land of freedom.Generations of immigrants make up the population of the United States, descendents of those who fled Europe in famines, from persecution, and for freedom. People came from all over to the New World and people are still coming. Whidbey Island has its share, becoming a multicultural community with Whidbey Island Naval Air Station on North Whidbey.For us, as a family, the Fourth of July has always been a family affair, a picnic at the beach or at home, depending on the weather of course.For us, the Fourth of July, regardless of celebrations, has been the coldest day of the year, beginning many years ago when the fireworks display brought everyone to City Beach to sit on blankets and watch the evening extravaganza.It was a ritual. One wore two sweaters and coat, took a blanket and a jug of hot coffee to make sure we stayed the whole time the display was on. Last year the Fourth of July had a turn-about, with sunshine and warm weather and a soft breeze. The family gathered in our back yard to picnic and the kids had a wonderful time. Lots of room, lots of food, lots of people!Early day celebrations were looked forward to by the handful of pioneers who had come from the East Coast and Midwest to make their homes on this long forested island in Puget Sound. It was a day away from cutting trees and plowing fields and living off the land. Today’s Old Town on Pioneer Way was the scene of as much celebration as could be had. A parade of sorts usually took place, with the entire community gathering at Oak Tree Park (Smith Park today) for a picnic. There was usually a speaker, and one year, old Billy Barlow, an Indian chief, was speaker and rendered his message in Chinook.There was a street of sorts to the north of the park, which extended east to Eerkes Hill (where Victory Homes are today) and this was the site of the annual Fourth of July horse race. At least four or five brave settlers brought their best horses into town to compete.One year, which became the last July 4 race, there was an overrun when a rider on an overly excited horse reached Eerkes Hill and continued over the hill and into Crescent Harbor in spite of the rider’s efforts to stop him. On and on he went, over brush and fields, and didn’t return to the park until the next day. The rider was worn and bedraggled. The accounts of the incident never revealed if the runaway had won anything.One story our family loves was the premise that when the sun goes down on the Fourth of July, the earth lurches. This was introduced by a granddaughter when the family was picnicking at West Beach on a sunny warm holiday.It was too good to pass up. The sun was slowly sinking in the west, over Vancouver Island and all eyes were looking westward. Down, down, 10, 9, 8 .... 1! The shining orb disappeared and lo! Everyone fell to the sandy shore to coincide with the lurching of the earth. From driftwood seats to sand, from picnic table benches to shore, granddaughter Lisa was more than pleased although a bit perturbed. She hadn’t been sure that when the sun goes down the earth lurches. It did that day. We made it come true.The Fourth of July parade is always inspirational. The air station always takes part and Old Glory waves from storefronts and vehicles. Only one drawback: those sitting along the sidewalk curbs just sit. Hasn’t anyone told them to stand when the flag passes by? Get on your feet! Smile as the stars and stripes wave from the parade. Land of the free and home of the brave! And Amen!Dorothy Neil has gathered and recorded Whidbey Island history for more than 50 years. She is the author of 10 books, including “By Canoe and Sailing Ship They Came,” which chronicle Whidbey life and times."

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