Because our plans to go to the water park on the holiday didn't work out,  my daughter and I decided to attend the City of Tuscaloosa's Celebration on the River.  We'd been before,  but this was one I'll never forget.

Before I begin,  be it known that my memory of events is remarkable.  I may not remember people's names,  but I remember faces,  and I rarely forget an event that brought about particular emotions.  So,  when I say that I'll never forget the events of July 4, 2017, I really mean it.

While on our way downtown, Jireh's father called and said he and his daughter would be down there. That was his way of saying he wanted to see her.  *giggle* When we finally got parked and made it to the festivities, Jireh went straight for the inflatable with the shortest line,  which is where we ran into my brother and his family. His younger girls joined Jireh and me. After they finished jumping from the Cliff Hanger, we went to where Jireh's dad and sister were.

This is where the magic began.

Jireh and her sister are a few years apart. They love each other but don't see each other often.  You wouldn't have been able to tell yesterday! They played together to the point that it had begun to be irritating to me. I didn't say anything,  though. (But when I tell you those kids got on my nerves.... Okay, back to the story.)

Because Jireh regularly plays with her cousins,  I didn't want them to feel like she was "ditching" them.  So,  as we walked from station to station,  I had Jireh to walk in the middle, holding hands with both her sister and her cousin (I carried the little one). When we got to their last inflatable, the girls all played together like it's something they do every day.

From there,  we went inside the amphitheater to prepare for the fireworks show. From the top,  we saw an area with numerous empty seats.  So,  we chose a row and sat down.  As it happens, the girls couldn't see the stage or monitors from where we sat.  So,  we switched around a bit,  which landed me next to a handsome white guy, who was with his family. Initially,  my thought was to go down a seat so that we wouldn't be right up on them, but for some reason I stayed put. I'm glad I did.

Throughout the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra's performance, we made small talk about the weather and the difference between the muggy heat and the arid temperatures of last year. The orchestra played various theme songs,  and during the one for "Star Wars," Clayton-- as I later came to know was my neighbor's name --said he always imagined that that's what would be playing when Jesus cracks the sky. That made me laugh! I told him that they'd need a bit more trumpets. He said,  "Ehhh.... Maybe a little."

Soon, they began to play the various songs from the different branches of the military. During each branch's song,  members and veterans of that branch stand to the applause of the crowd. I told Jireh and Clayton that this was my favorite part of the concert.

For years,  I'd celebrated the 4th of July as the birth of our nation as well as the birth of my older brother. In recent years,  I came to see things a bit differently concerning the people from which I primarily descend.  This wasn't a land of freedom for us. In fact,  we were more so shackled and detained in this land than in our native lands. Surely, we enjoy SOME liberties today and are now in better conditions than we were before,  but unfortunately progress doesn't erase history,  and some thoughts as well as emotions concerning the past are passed along into further generations. Just as SOME directly or indirectly teach their offspring that people of color are insanitary, deceitful animals,  many of us are taught that those without color are more deceitful, hate-filled snakes who will smile in your face while working against you.  (What? Is there a problem with me addressing the elephant in the room? It is what it is!) The fact is that a lot of our issues derive from historical institutions, the practices of which have not completely dissolved. Thus racism hasn't ended. Now, back to my story....

While the military songs played, I started to cheer and clap as service members stood. Imagine my surprise when the Air Force song started and Clayton proudly stood. I mean I shouldn't have been surprised because I didn't really know the man, but with all of the other small talk we'd made,  I thought for sure he would have mentioned being in the Air Force when they began the military songs. As he took his seat, he said, "And THAT is the best branch!"

I told him that I kinda favor the Air Force as one of my best friends is a member and I'd worked at Maxwell-Gunter in Montgomery a little over six months. He said that he'd spent his first few weeks enlisted at Gunter. He shared a story about President Obama's visit to Maxwell and went on to say that he'd been at Dobbins in Marietta, GA. I told him that I just moved back to Tuscaloosa from Kennesaw in April! (Kennesaw and Marietta are neighboring cities.)

At the end of the fireworks, before we left, Clayton said to me, "It was nice talking with you." I reciprocated, and this is when I asked him his name.  I then thanked him for his service and turned to the lady sitting nearby and thanded her for being a support to him.  I don't know if she was his wife,  girlfriend, or what.  But I do know they both flanked a little boy. So,  they were together,  and what I WASN'T going to do was leave that lady's presence or significance unacknowledged. Working at Gunter and even the Tuscaloosa VA (before I entered radio), I came to understand the sacrifices made by our service members and their families as well as how much the support of their loved ones means to service members. If you have a loved one who is serving, be sure to regularly let them know you love and appreciate them.

(Side note: Throughout all of my communication with Clayton, never once did the lady with him scowl or give that "why do you keep talking to her" look. Yes, ladies, we all know the look. I watched for it. I'm glad she didn't give it because I would have shut down and might have missed out on a teachable moment.)

At the end of the show, I took my daughter and nieces for ice cream before my youngest brother met us at my house and fired off the last of our fireworks. It was a fun-filled evening. Again, one I'll never forget as something as small as inflatables, music, and fireworks brought together the most unlikely people.

(Last note: If you know me,  you already know why the last part lacks pictures.... My battery was too low! SMH)