Remember the movie, The Sandlot, where a group of young boys eat cake, and play baseball under the light of fireworks bursting over their dirt field?

It’s a little like that.

A lot, actually.

I grew up in a one-stoplight town. I moved away for 20 years to get an education, get married, and start a family, and then we moved back to raise our own children in the safety of its mountains. If you’re an outdoorsy person, who loves spending time on the water, hunting, fishing, hiking, or camping…if you love long walks on the sidewalk that take you by the creek, the football stadium, the grade school, and all of town that takes less than two miles…it’s the place for you.

In our town we do youth sports and “love your neighbor” really well, but the 4th of July is our piece de resistance.

That creek that runs through town is an offshoot of the New River, one of the oldest in the world, and just across the road from the neighborhood I grew up in, and the one where my children rode their bikes and played flashlight tag until way past dark, is the Town Park. It’s where my husband basically lived during his teenage summers, learning all kinds of tricks that get you kicked out of the pool these days. But on the 4th, it’s the home of 3-on-3 basketball tournaments (that my youngest plays in), endless food and craft vendors, pickleball tournaments, shows, bands, and swimming. You might even catch me shaking the sugar on funnel cakes to support the Varsity basketball program early in the day.

When the boys were young, my husband transformed our backyard into a whiffle ball field complete with lines, foul poles (measured, so the players could know how far their balls traveled), a pitcher’s mound and a batter’s box. Kids from all over town walked or rode their bikes to our “Field of Dreams” to play epic whiffle ball tournaments, sometimes in the rain, sometimes even against adults who should’ve known better (and probably hurt for their decisions in the morning). If you build it, they will come. Now, some of those same kids are teenagers, juniors and seniors in high school, and instead of coming to play ball they come in packs to eat all our food. They say, “Thank you, Ms. Brooke,” and I love it.

But it’s what happens that evening that fills me up.

I’m an introvert, but once a year I open my home to anywhere between 50-75 people on the 4th of July. The old-time musicians who jam together at the old hotel in town once a week (including my own sons, who play fiddle and guitar, and my dad, who plays most anything with strings) descend upon our property with their guitars, banjos, fiddles, bass fiddles, mandolins, and dobroes, and play their hearts out for an audience of my family and friends all evening long. We all bring dishes to share, have more food than we can possibly eat, and listen to the sounds of our Appalachian heritage until it gets too dark for the musicians to see, or until our senior members give up and go home to get in bed.

Then, as the clock inches toward 10PM, we turn off the outdoor lights, move our chairs to the back driveway, and watch our tiny town of about 2000 do one of the things it does best…light up the night with visions of freedom.

When I see the fireworks, I always think of The Sandlot, and say a prayer of gratitude for two little boys (neither so little now) who got to grow up a lot like the boys of that movie, in a one-stoplight town that does the 4th of July right.

God bless America.

(Photo credit: Chris Lang).