We Make History celebrates America's independence with feet to the ground and hearts to God.
From the Journal of Private Christopher Francis of the Continental Line
Photo Illustrations by his patriotic parents, David & Susan Francis
(click any photo for a larger view)
"A cheer for the USA!"
The crowd on our right responds to General Washington's command immediately, launching into patriotic hollers and hearty applause.
I'm working the left side: "Huzzah! Huzzah!"
My musket is in my right hand. My tricorn is in my left, waving about, stirring up freedom's fervor for the proud Americans lining the streets of Flagstaff. They can't resist the sight of this Yankee Doodle Dandy goading them. I doubt many of them have even said the word "Huzzah" before.
Hands flutter miniature stars and stripes as our group passes by, a moving timeline with General Washington heading the Continental Line and General Lee leading a sizable contingent of the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry. The charming ladies and energetic children walk alongside us, greeting the spectators and passing out fliers for the curious wondering what these time travelers are up to. I'm out of step with the two other members of my detachment: one flag bearer and one fellow Continental who's doing a much better job of staying in line with the colors and carrying himself as a soldier. I see the determination in his profile, a silent discipline bred from hours of drill and a devotion to a glorious and noble cause. But every so often, he too tips his hat to elicit joyful noises. "To Liberty!" Behind us, the Virginians show off their precision, wowing the crowds with their formation and authenticity, rifles over shoulders. They might as well be on the way to Picacho Peak.
We know Governor Janet Napolitano is impressed. She seeks us out before the parade, posing for a quick picture and conducting a brief meet-and-greet session. I stand dumbfounded at how approachable she is with so many around her. No recognizable security detail accompanies her, no men in black suits and Ray-Bans, save for one guy in a tan utility vest with an earpiece. He looks more like a photographer.
The governor gets a period send-off as she heads for her official parade car: "Hip hip, huzzah! Hip hip, huzzah! Hip hip, huzzah!"
Cameras snap everywhere. Smiles pop out of faces and children leap up. Even those briefly soured by the escalating temperatures wave and salute us. I forget about the musket tiring my arm or the three layers of uniform soaking up my hydration. The parade route will take us less than a dozen blocks, practically a walk in the park.
"A cheer for the USA!"
This clearly tops my Cub Scouting days, marching with the pack in our hometown parade for at least an hour. We trudged along fully uniformed and constantly dodging the deposits of horses. We drilled in a parking lot at least a week before and didn't use any of it. Every recruit of the 1st Virginia is under a strict order should they spot a charming relative of the opposite sex in the crowd: permission to fall out and honor said lady with a gentlemanly kiss.
This Continental has something slightly different in mind. I spot her on the right side of the street, amazed she quickly changed observation points several blocks. In a matter of minutes she has transferred from the start of the parade route to the end. Dashing past my fellow patriots, I walk right up to her. "For Liberty, for country," I say, sweeping off my tricorn into a bow, the best one I can make with a musket on my arm, "and my lady!"
My mother -- also known as the Queen Mother -- breaks into that contented smile peppered with laughter. "Thank you!" she says as I rise back and rejoin the line. My father is shooting off pictures with his reliable Nikon and my Sony Digital 8 camera. But this moment shall remain only in our hearts.
I wanted to march with the patriots on Independence Day. My parents wanted to visit the Grand Canyon. So I talked them into combining the getaways with the full intention of introducing one family to the other.
"I want to meet face-to-face General Washington," Dad told me the night before.
"Oh you will," I replied. Summer heat hammers down on us beyond the finish line, but we're still soaking up the sunshine of the people we have passed as we climb a hill past the parade's end point. The spectators are behind us, but General Lee's army is breaking into a rendition of "The Bonnie Blue Flag" while the Continentals are working through "Yankee Doodle Dandy" without the words.
"Dahda, dahda, dah-de-dah, Dah-Dahda, dahda, da, da, Dahda, dahda, da da da Da dahda dahda da da..."
"We need a fife," I say.
General Washington spots an opportunity: "Want to do something period?" A couple sits on the porch of the house to our left, enjoying the morning shade and the remnants of the festivities. We cease as His Excellency greets them.
"We don't mean to disturb you, but we have been marching for a long distance," he prefaces before asking if they might have any liquid refreshment, or perhaps even a hose. Without a second thought, the kind Mrs. James rises and ducks into the house, emerging a minute later with a pitcher of water and a stack of cups. We agree to let the ladies draw from this fountain of sustainment. The gentlemen are all right. Scenes like this played out in our history, the General explains, as soldiers marched through the country with orders not to pillage. They relied on hospitality. The display of kindness heartened me. But how could she not turn down the finest ladies and gentlemen of Virginia and the Colonies?
* * *
My parents accompany me to Old Main on the Northern Arizona University campus, navigating around construction and the confusing loops of unfamiliar territory. After a few wrong turns, we find shade and Arizona's connection to the man synonymous with American greatness.
The Washington Tree stands before us, a colorful and steadfast tribute to its namesake. It rose from a sprig taken from the tree in Cambridge, Massachusetts where His Excellency assumed command of the Continental Army.
He did not have a lengthy military resume at that time, our leader tells us. But still, he accepted the command.
He made the commitment, and although he would suffer many setbacks and defeats, the Continentals kept getting better and better until independence was sealed at Yorktown. And then, he led a nation. As the bells of noon toll out over Old Main, we all take a moment of prayer and reflection for our nation.
The living tribute stands in front of my living tribute as a colonial soldier, and it humbles me. It's the closest I will ever come to meeting His Excellency.
Dear God, I pray, thank you for the blessings of liberty which we enjoy. Help me to use my abilities to always enlighten people as to their liberties. Let me never forsake this duty... Tears run down my cheeks, the cries of thanksgiving as I throw open my heart to the Almighty and plead once again for wisdom.
My words tremble with a desperate sadness, perhaps from the knowledge of how many people would willingly trade away their liberties for a deeper sense of protection. I also know I have my own troops to lead in my other life and time. Washington fought the British. I have to fight ignorance and the constant temptations of exploitation, bias and irrelevance. Others draw into the magnitude of the moment. I feel it all around me, lives touched, souls seeking comfort. A few moments of prayer will not suffice, so we join hands to sing the Doxology and offer a few more words in the open.
"May we always be vigilant in protecting our liberties from those who want to take them away from us," I say, my mind still clouded with emotion, words nearly choking out of me. "Let us not forget the sacrifices of others."
"I pray for our children... " one lady offers.
"I pray for We Make History..." a gentleman adds.
A depressing fact surfaces once again. People have attacked us, our leader says, for reasons unstated but which we all know of. I once received an e-mail from someone wondering if I was involved in a "cult of re-enacting." I debunked his fears with a friendly and truthful explanation, which fortunately for me, he accepted. People still ask me if I have picked up a girlfriend after attending so many historic balls, not understanding that was never the point. But at least they understand why their patriot producer enjoys wearing three-cornered hats and offering a bow every now and then. At least, I pray they do.
We are the new rebels, rebelling against a society adrift, protesting in our own mannered and chivalrous way for a more chivalrous and mannered world. But our words are not angry or belligerent beyond the re-created skirmishes on the battlefield. We do not cast fingers or shake fists at our enemies. Instead, we offer them a hand to dance. Our actions are not born of hate, but of a deep love for the people around us. We spread our joy to everyone, a joy inspired by grace and civility, living the way Our Maker intended us to. In return, we gain a peace unknown to many.
After the prayers, we still feel the joy within us as we stand silent in a circle, the Holy Spirit alive in our hearts. "We are so blessed," our leader remarks. The moment is almost indescribable unless you are there to feel it. And by my side, my mother and father are feeling it. I have told them many times how We Make History has changed my life, giving their son a sense of purpose and leading him back to God. I wanted them to feel this deep sense of family, this love we share.
"I know you're concerned about the kind of people I hang out with," I once told Mother in jest.
"Honey, I'm concerned about you having anybody to hang out with at all," she responded.
Discussing the gathering is superfluous as we head to lunch in the family station wagon. Yet my father makes a discovery as he pulls out of the Old Main parking lot: "Did somebody pray for the car?"
The "Check Engine" light, a nagging worry all through our Flagstaff travels, has extinguished. Behold, another miracle moment!
De-colonializing myself at the motel room takes longer than I expect, and we make a few more wrong turns, but we make it to lunch at Cracker Barrel with the We Make History family, albeit marooned on a side table from our late arrival. Dad gets to meet General Washington, who encourages both of them to attend a ball. I know my father is a Civil War buff, but dancing is not his forte. Mother, maybe.
"If you can walk, you can dance," I remind them.
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