I don’t know about you, but while I have never taken things for granted, as I’ve grown older I have developed a greater sense of appreciation for the simple things, the quality of life and the sacrifice made by so many that I enjoy today.
Growing up as a small child we spent summers out on eastern Long Island, New York on a place called “Shelter Island,” where life seemed more carefree and innocent. Just by the resonance of the name alone implied there was a special kind of security and peacefulness this island offered that is uncommon today.
We fished, clammed and waterskied all day long. We played flashlight tag until late at night. We sat on the tailgate of our parents Ford Country Squire station wagon on our way to the beach and rode our bikes all over the island enjoying the country sounds, floral fragrances and wildlife along the way. While the island has experienced many changes over the years, 60 years later it remains a very special place that keeps me grounded.
Back then no one judged you by your ethnic background or political views. In fact, there was a non-judgmental inquisitiveness we had as we were eager to hear where our friends lived when not summering on the island, where they went to school and the subjects they took. We talked about what kinds of jobs or businesses our parents had and the dreams we all had for the life we wanted to live. We saw the love for community exhibited by our parents and how they pitched in to help, whether it was for a charitable event or a country club function, and we were taught to take pride in the odd jobs we took on the island as we grew older. It was a time when people seemed to care a lot more about each other and celebrated their time together, sharing common interests and not focusing on their differences. Unfortunately, with all the hype and hysteria in the media today, I feel we are not only losing respect for each other, but overlooking the efforts of those who came before us that sacrificed so much that allow us to enjoy the communities in which we live today.
Years ago, I was told by a boss I had in Texas the mistake most people make is they don’t turn off the major highways and drive through the small towns. He said, “There they will find all the wonderful qualities of life you enjoyed as a young child. The pace may be slower, but the people will be friendlier and there will be a community spirit you will experience that is lost in the fast pace of a major city and society in which we live today.” To this day, I do “turn off that major highway,” and have been fortunate enough to find such a place in Florida I call “home.”
Florida is filled with many small cities like Punta Gorda, Venice and St. Augustine to name a few. They are full of people who celebrate and preserve their community’s history while carefully integrating new thoughts and ideas with that rich history that make those communities special. Where else can you find people from all walks of life and backgrounds who volunteer their time, talents and treasures by giving back to their communities as you find in the small towns in which we live? Or where you can enjoy farmer’s markets, craft fairs, block parties, wine and jazz festivals and even the occasional dragon boat race?
We are fortunate to live in an area where you can speak with community leaders and business owners and where your physicians are usually some of your closest friends. Like many small towns, we have an exceptionally active Chamber of Commerce, a vibrant Civic Association, and in our area an organization known as TEAM Punta Gorda, that fosters the input from business owners and citizens alike in how to best plan and augment our natural resources for all to enjoy.
As we approach this 4th of July, I think back to the sacrifices made by those founding fathers that came to this country seeking a better life and how they crafted the “Declaration of Independence.” As I read the words “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” I can’t help but think how many small towns such as the one in which we live, still embody that same belief.
The 4th of July is that reminder to me of those special times when we experienced life through the eyes of a child, awed by nature’s simple things and our community’s spirit. It is my hope as we watch with excitement the majestic firework displays we did as children, we’ll reflect on the declaration written by our forefathers with that same love for each other and our community, never forgetting the sacrifices they made.