You may remember a popular old nursery rhyme about what little girls and little boys are made of. Little girls, of course, are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. I can attest to this because I was once a sweet little girl. (I’m not sure what happened — the spice is still there, but the sugar seems to be running low.) Little boys, according to the rhyme, are made of slugs and snails and puppy-dog tails. Also, Barbie dolls. Broken ones. And I’m not trying to be gender neutral: On a few occasions my brothers dismembered my Ken dolls and/or set them on fire.
Maybe that’s what happened to the sugar.
Anyway, this Fourth of July week got me thinking: What is America made of?
If you asked this question, you would get a smattering of answers. Some might have less-than-glowing words for the U.S. in its current state of debt, questionable foreign policy and bipartisan craziness. Some might supply vague and generic answers, abstract words that in many ways have become watered-down, have lost their power and meaning. Freedom. Democracy. Rights of man. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness. Those things are important, no doubt, and we owe immense gratitude to the servicemen who have retained them for the rest of us, but sometimes American culture and politics and history books cycle the words around and around, and we lose complete sight of what they mean.
Therefore, I thought some concrete objects might help. Those old nursery rhymes were good that way. If girls are made of sugar and spice and boys are made of slugs and snails and Barbie dolls, then we need concrete objects for America, too.
America is not perfect, but it’s her birthday this week, after all.
This is what I think America is made of:
It’s a sunset over a Midwest lake.
It’s a four-legged resident of the Midwest plains.
It’s the relics of the past that America was built on.
And it’s the symbols of progress, and you wonder if you always have to take the bad with the good, or if there are better ways to do things.
There are always better ways to do things.
It’s the water towers proudly proclaiming the names of the towns they belong to.
It’s the roads that lead to nowhere, which really lead to somewhere if you don’t mind getting lost.
And it’s the dogs that accompany you along the way.
It’s adorable sundresses on those little girls that are made of sugar and spice.
And inflatable hot dogs. (Sometimes, America does make me shake my head a little.)
But the kids have fun, anyway.
It’s an outdoor concert on a hot July night.
And if you’re lucky, it’s a Guster concert. (Seriously, check them out: Your life will be better for it.)
And when the outdoor concert is in the outfield of a minor league baseball stadium, and it’s America’s birthday week, and you can sit on blankets in the grass and buy brats and beer and mini donuts, all those things make it feel even more like America at its best.
I could keep going, because America is made of a lot of things, both good and bad. But most of all, it’s made of its people: the rich, the poor, the old and young, the teachers and lawyers and coal miners and farmers and cashiers and biologists, and most importantly, the children. That’s what matters; that’s what our countrymen have been fighting for all these centuries.
That’s what America is made of.