Wayne County Wanderings: Independence Day in Pleasant Mount
The sun was out in Pleasant Mount. Skies were a brilliant blue and crowds were beginning to form.
Sitting beneath an ancient maple tree in a quiet corner of Samuel Meredith park, I relaxed and just soaked up the atmosphere.
It was the Fourth of July, 242 years to the day since a scrappy band of colonists declared their independence from England and its heavy-handed monarch.
I'd arrived on the scene at 7 a.m. to cover the Seventh Annual Firecracker 5K. It's an event that benefits Boy Scout Troop 407 and served to officially kick-off all the holiday hoopla.
Following the race, I melted into the background and began taking notes in my trusty little chapbook.
Everywhere I looked, there were adorable little kids clad in red, white and blue waving mini American flags. There were gleaming farm tractors, beautifully-groomed horses, antique cars, a marching band and members of the armed forces decked out in their dress best.
More importantly, there were smiles everywhere, accompanied by friendly chitchat and punctuated with peals of laughter.
In short, Pleasant Mount on Independence Day is the kind of place Norman Rockwell would've loved.
I've been overwhelmed lately by the sheer number of social media posts referencing the “Founding Fathers.”
There are so many memes out there referencing men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison.
Each one snarkily claims to know “what the Founding Fathers” really intended” … or what the “Framers of the Constitution” actually meant when then wrote this or said that.
I get it. I really do.
These are uncertain times and uncertain times breed mistrust on all sides. In many ways, we are a country divided … a nation working hard to overcome all those things that separate us.
Even amid all of today's uncertainty, though, I can say this without fear of contradiction: Pleasant Mount on Independence Day is exactly what the Founding Fathers and The Framers had in mind.
Samuel Meredith, who made his home not far from the spot where his memorial statue stands, played a key role in those earliest days of our country,
Meredith was a bona fide member of that generation of great men which produced the “Founders” and the “Framers.”
He fought during the Revolutionary War and swiftly rose through the ranks. Meredith became a major and then lieutenant colonel in the Third Battalion of Associators in 1776. His bravery at the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, and Germantown eventually earned him a promotion in 1777 to brigadier general.
After resigning his commission in 1778, Meredith served three terms in the PA Assembly. In 1786, he was elected to the Confederation Congress.
Meredith served as Treasurer of the United States from September 11, 1789 to December 1, 1801.
He then retired to his estate near Pleasant Mount (a tract of land that originally consisted of an eye-popping 26,000 acres) living comfortably at “Belmont Manor” until his death on Feb. 10, 1817.
Meredith's statue kept careful watch over the day's proceedings from his place of honor in the park.
With my head reeling with images of those first few decades, I closed my notebook, took a deep breath and a slug of water.
I'd been told that the awards ceremony for this year's 5K would be held in the Pleasant Mount Community Center, so I ambled on over there to check out camera angles.
Once inside the building, though, a surge of nostalgia swept over me.
Chalk it up to the early morning grogginess of a confirmed night owl, but I simply didn't process the fact that this ceremony would be held in what used to be the high school gym.
There I stood at halfcourt, hands atop my head, turning in a slow circle to take in everything: the hand-hewn wooden bleachers, the old stage, the slightly warped floorboards.
I walked over to the stands, set the camera bag down, rested my hands on the old wooden railing and peered down the stairs.
It was like something out of “Hoosiers.” I kept waiting for the lights to come up and the Pleasant Mount squad to come charging up onto the court.
“Hey there,” a voice sounded in my ear.
It was Alfred Howell, fresh off yet another triumphant effort in the 5K … 79-years-old, two artificial hips and still going strong.
Lost in my reverie, Fred had strolled up to me unnoticed. We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.
“I'm just standing here imagining what it must have been like back in The Day,” I told him.
Fred smiled, turned around and gestured toward the court. “I saw Danny O'Neill score 50 points in a game here one time,” he said with a big smile.
I pictured The General in my mind's eye … grabbing an offensive rebound and powering up for two … eyes flashing from beneath that trademark flat-top … the crowd going wild, several hundred fans crammed into the tiny gym.
“It was so loud,” Fred said. “Just deafening.”
Historical musings and hoops memories aside, the absolute highlight of my Fourth of July visit to northern Wayne County was the parade.
If you've never experienced one, I suggest you mark your calendar for next year because it's small town America at its best.
The route is jammed with people an hour before the festivities even begin.
There are families camped out on picnic blankets, senior citizens hunkered down in folding chairs, groups of teenagers snapping selfies, little ones giddily weaving in and out between adult legs, moms and dads standing arm-in-arm.
Finally, the long wait is over and flashing lights appear on the road in front of St. James Church.
Wayne County Sheriff Mark Steelman leads the procession. He's followed by a seemingly endless flow of fire trucks and tractors from places as diverse as Thompson, Honesdale and Union Dale.
Parade Marshals Albert and Ann Wildenstein wave to the cheering crowd from the back of a classic Thunderbird convertible.
Local politicians like the Wayne County Commissioners are also on hand. Brian Smith, Wendell Kay and Joe Adams make big points with the kiddies by tossing them handfuls of candy.
The parade lasted just about an hour; but, even with the sun beating down and the stifling humidity, somehow it didn't seem nearly that long.
When it was all over … when the patriotic music was done, the inspirational speeches military salutes concluded … I walked back to my car and began the drive home.
I rolled down the windows and tuned in the radio, searching for another Fourth of July tradition: Major League Baseball.
It was tough to concentrate, though, because a slide show of Pleasant Mount images still played in my head.
Call me a sentimental fool (I am a grandpa, after all!) but the older I get, the more I treasure mornings like this one.
Undeniably, we have serious problems at this moment in history.
However, as long as there are events like Independence Day in Wayne County PA, I know there's hope for America.