It seemed like half of Poplar Park had blankets spread out on the softball field yesterday enjoying the sandwiches and lemonade they brought in picnic baskets and exchanging greetings with residents they knew well but hadn’t seen in a while.

Some expressed a little sadness that the village and the park district had decided not to have fireworks this year, but they accepted the reasons Mayor Romano gave in an announcement printed in the Poplar Park Times. 

The mayor said he and the fire chief were concerned about the extremely dry conditions posing a fire hazard and, of course, tight finances at village hall, so an ad hoc committee composed of residents in the arts group, the VFW, members of the clergy, the middle school principal, and the assistant fire chief had planned a replacement event.

Debbie Anderson read a copy of the planned program in the Poplar Park Times last Wednesday.

Song: “America the Beautiful,” led by the Methodist Church Choir and the Middle School Band

Posting of Colors: Officers from the Poplar Park Police Dept.

Pledge of Allegiance: Led by resident Ehud Ahmadi

Reading of the Declaration of Independence: Torrence Smith, Afghanistan veteran

Song: “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” six Poplar Park members of the Sounds Good Choir

The American Dream: Testimony by Amna Ahmadi

Prayer: Fr. Bob Sullivan

National Anthem: Led by the Middle School Band

Inspired, she stood up during the announcements at the end of the service Sunday and proposed that the members make a church outing out of the event and sit together. When Debbie added at the end of her pitch, “Dutch treat,” everyone laughed, and the idea immediately caught on. Two days later, 30 members of the Poplar Park Community Church found a spot where 20 blankets and 10 lawn chairs could be spread out. 

Members teased Pastor Walt about the shorts he was wearing, frisbees flew, dogs barked, desserts were shared, everyone joined in singing the patriotic songs, and most placed their hands over their hearts while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

It started to look like a Norman Rockwell painting except during the first song when Sarge appeared at the far right side of the makeshift stage holding up a big sign that read “Liberty for all” and the far left of the stage, where Sharissa Hawkins held up a similar sign with the words “Justice for all.”

While making a mental note of what was happening, Mitty realized he was shaking his head in a negative way while the crowd was saying, “one nation under God, indivisible …”

The program closed with the words, “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave,” at which point Dominique leaned over to his pastor and asked, “What do you think Sarge meant by ‘liberty?’”

“Huh. Never thought about it. Complicated.”

Dominique nodded. “See, we know what Sharissa means by ‘justice.’ She was referring to Juneteenth, the Black Independence Day. What she means by justice is that almost a hundred years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Black men were freed from the bondage of slavery. At least legally.”

“I guess,” Pastor Mitty began, “Sarge means freedom from liberal elites telling him how to live his life. Like he’s been railing against Affirmative Action for years, saying it’s discrimination against whites by bleeding heart liberals.”

Mitty considered what he had said and added, “I remember Sarge telling me that he understood the contention that Black people had to go 12 yards to get a first down while whites only had to go 10, but recently policies like affirmative action make it so Blacks only have to go 8.”

He said he was tired of liberals using slavery as an excuse for bad behavior. 

“Maybe you are right, Pastor. “Like teenagers, they rebelled against wearing masks even though it was for the good of the whole community.”

Mitty pondered Dominique’s comments as he strolled over to the six women from the Sounds Good Choir. “I want to thank you,” he told them. “You sounded professional.”

The women replied that they were anything but professional. They explained that to get into Sounds Good you have to be over 55 years old, and that’s it. No auditions. No impressive resumes. You don’t even have to have talent!

“What happens,” one of them said, “is that the director takes all of us amateurs and creates a group that makes us sound better than any of us ever dreamed of.”

This morning, Mitty called Michael and told him all about the event. At the end of his report, he paused and added, “You know, my friend, I’m wondering if what the Sounds Good ladies said is a paradox. 

“How so?”

“Well, like Independence Day is about freedom, right? But these women were saying that by submitting to the leadership of the director whom they trusted, they were in a way freed to be more than they could be alone.”