I was raised during the Cold War when we were fed a steady diet of American Exceptionalism. Some of it was actually true. We had a public education system that was inferior to none. College was attainable and affordable. As was healthcare. Good jobs were plentiful. The Marshall Plan helped Europe recover faster than it would have otherwise. Later the Peace Corps made a difference all over the world.
But much was hidden from view. The second class citizenship of African Americans, women, Native Americans, and all non-WASP immigrants. More obvious was a war that no one could explain, fought only by men who could not avoid it. There was a lot wrong with this country, but there was always the belief that we could somehow make it right. We saw the evils as opportunities for activism and progress.
Mark Twain wrote that "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it." Taking the words of Mark Twain to heart, let me tell you what I still love about America.
The state highways of Virginia in the spring. The leaves on the trees are young and bright green and the dogwood blossoms are everywhere. One year we followed the route Lee took to Appomattox from Petersburg which took us down back lanes that barely qualified as roads but were beautiful all the same. The Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Parkway in the summertime.
Western Oklahoma of rolling fields, farms and trees. I was surprised the first time I visited it, not expecting to see so much beautiful farmland covering the dark red soil. The people were wonderful, hospitable and friendly, with a very dry and wicked sense of humor.
The woodlands of Minnesota are a sight indeed. Mile upon mile of road bordered by trees of every description. We drove through it one fall; took us a week. There were so many side trips to make and so much color to enjoy in that crisp, autumn air.
Kentucky was another beauty in the fall. We spent a summer at Mammoth Caves National Park, and found every bar-b-que joint between the Park and Bowling Green, via the back roads, of course. There was this corner store on the far side of the park that sold the world's best pizza that you took home and cooked in your own oven. Heaven.
We followed the Trace down to Natchez. A wonderful highway that feels hundreds of years old. Frequent stops to experience a little of the history just made it better. You could see where the footsteps of ten thousand years carved a path through the wilderness.
Oh, and lobster in Maine. Oh dear lord. Roadside shacks that served nothing but lobster. Be still, my heart. Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park. Penobscot Bay and Castine. The day we visited Castine, home of the Maine Maritime Academy, there was a Scottish bagpipe parade. (Who knew?) Plus, the ship that the Academy used for training was the old USS Upshur. Some thirty years earlier, my husband had climbed down the netting of the Upshur with his Marines to make a landing in Korea. The ship was closed to the public that day as the new cadets were arriving, but when they learned that Ed had sailed across the Pacific in her, they gave him the keys and let us roam throughout the ship. What a day.
New Orleans. The French Quarter, the Garden District and the River. We spent one New Year's Eve at the Naval Support Base across the Mississippi from the Quarter. Our only view of the city was through the window in the bedroom of our RV which is where we watched the New Year's Eve fireworks display. And celebrated in our own special way.
The Badlands of South Dakota, where our next door neighbors were in a brand new luxury motorhome towing a Mercedes. And while we would never enjoy such luxury, we were able to indulge in champagne after a day of stunning sights. The landscape is one to strike awe in the beholder. We went to Wounded Knee to pay our respects, and were invited to attend a Pow-Wow where we tasted our first fry bread and let the beat of the drums penetrate deep into our bones.
And our home base, where we spent as much time as we could, at Camp Pendleton, California. There were two beachside campgrounds, one at the north end, known as San Onofre, which had campsites up on a bluff overlooking the beach and the Pacific, and from which you could watch winter storms roll in or on a clear day see San Clemente and Santa Catalina Islands. The southern one, at Camp Del Mar, was located in the boat basin where the Marines navigated the amphibious tracked vehicles in and out of the water. And where my husband and a very good friend managed to capsize a catamaran, and try repeatedly to right it before giving up in gales of laughter and towing it back to the beach.
Boone, North Carolina. His ancestors founded the church that is at the eastern entrance to the town. That was another journey we made through the hills on back roads one morning. It did seem that every curve revealed another landscape so perfect, so gorgeous, that I just wanted to capture them forever. So I did, in my heart.
Oh, and the cities. The electricity of New York, the small town heart of Chicago, the elegance of San Francisco and the Riverwalk of San Antonio. Cities large and small that house so many of my fellow Americans. Each as individual as the accents spoken. Orlando And El Paso, Tucson and Seattle, Miami and Boston. I love you all.
I wish that as a nation we could live up to our landscape. I wish we did no wrong, no evil. I wish we were the country I was raised to believe we could be. I know we are not. I know how much chaos we unleash, how much hardship we create.
But still, just once in a while, I like to reflect on how much I love my home. Because I do.
I love America.