My mom still has the newspaper clipping.
There was nothing out of the ordinary about this parade, except that we went to it faithfully every year from the time I can remember to the time I graduated high school.
It was the Clawson’s Parade, in Oakland County, Mich., several miles from my grandmother’s home in the suburbs of Detroit. We’d planted our blankets and fold-up chairs on a good spot along the parade route.
Even as high school students, Liz (my sister) and I feverishly waved our American flags as floats and cars passed by our curbside spot.
A newspaper photographer walked by, scanning the crowd for a good shot. He looked back, pausing as if weighing the value of his options, and then the shutter clicked.
Liz, then 18, was wearing one of those awesome, yet slightly cheesy patriotic headbands: This one made it look like her head was stuck in the middle of an American flag.
We knew the photographer had taken her picture, but we all were shocked when it landed on the front page of the inside section of the Detroit Free Press July 5, 2001.
Many Fourth of July celebrations have come and gone since then, but each year I am reminded how much I love being an American and how proud I am of our country.
And our independence is something to be celebrated each day.
Some of our closest family friends in Michigan — a family of Chaldean Christians from Iraq — helped me realize that one summer.
Even before the Iraq War broke out, they had quietly begun telling us about the atrocities carried out by dictator Saddam Hussein. They were cautious to speak — fearful, somehow, someone would find out they were talking about it and hurt their families back in Iraq.
They were grateful for the freedom and the safety this country offered them, although, at the time, they were not yet American citizens.
And one Fourth of July, we gathered in the backyard of their home to celebrate America’s independence.
As fireworks went off in the distance, they clutched American flags in their hands, waving them proudly.
And, then, they asked us to help them sing the national anthem. My family is not musically gifted, so we were hesitant at first — nervous about hitting all those awkward notes acappella. But these dear friends insisted, because they were so grateful to be in this country and cherished the opportunities it offered.
They appreciated the badge of freedom in a way most of us never will fully be able to understand.
They sang loudly, proudly, even though they didn’t know all the words.
And our anxiety about singing off-key quickly melted in light of the beauty of scene.
I, for one, could not have been more proud to be an American.