Born on the 24th of July
Snide Remarks #117
"Born on the 24th of July"
by Eric D. Snider
Published in The Daily Herald on July 21, 2000
Let me start by saying that I have the utmost respect for the Mormon Pioneers who trudged across the plains and established something that very closely resembles a civilization, here in the uninhabitable wasteland full of sagebrush and Idahoans. I certainly could not have done it. I can barely go two days without my cell phone, let alone without food. I dislike walking to the point that I scoot around the office on my rolling chair, and even then I'll get someone to push me if I can. And if I were the guy who had to count the wagon wheel revolutions to determine how far we'd traveled, I would go insane. ("Well, we're not there yet," I would say, "so we must have traveled approximately NOT FAR ENOUGH!")
No sir, I would not have lasted two days on the trek before I would have turned back and become a Reorganized Mormon (their rules are a lot easier, anyway). I am grateful to have been born in a day when the West is already established, when Mormons are as welcome in Illinois as they are anywhere, and when you can go your whole life without even knowing what all those square-shaped states between Illinois and Utah ARE, let alone walking through them.
My beef is not with the pioneers, who would have been too easy a target anyway, considering most of them are dead now. My beef is with Pioneer Day festivities -- fireworks, parades, flag-waving -- all of which were ripped off from the Fourth of July, just because they're close to each other on the calendar. If the pioneers had gotten here in December, we'd celebrate it by giving gifts and decorating trees. If they'd arrived in October, we'd all dress up like pioneers and go door-to-door asking for rations of flour. Frankly, when it comes to thinking up original holiday-celebrating ideas, we suck.
And then, when we let our stolen activities overshadow the holiday we stole them from, well, that takes some nerve. And that's what happens here. In the midst of all the religious fervor and outdoor festivities, we have made Pioneer Day more important than Independence Day. Sure, we do all the Fourth of July stuff on July 4 (or July 3, if July 4 irreligiously falls on a Sunday). But in the backs of our minds, we're really just looking forward to the BIG holiday, three weeks later.
This is wrong. Is it presumptuous to say that the founding of this nation is more significant than when the Mormons arrived in Salt Lake? I've arrived in Salt Lake a number of times myself, and while it was a fairly big deal, what with the comically unfinished freeway making it virtually impossible to get there, it was not more important than starting a whole country, which I have not done even once.
I wish the pioneers had gotten here 20 days sooner, so that Independence Day and Pioneer Day could be combined into one Day, and we wouldn't have to spend the whole month going to parades and watching fireworks. It would also mean one less day in the year that someone tries to get me to stand outside in 90-degree weather and eat 90-degree potato salad.
My final beef (this is a three-beef column) is with pioneer re-enactments, which were all the rage during the Sesquicentennial three years ago. To these I say: What's up with THAT? I suspect the pioneers would not re-enact their trek. I suspect they think we're a little bit stupid, re-doing something they did, when they whole reason they did it, in the grand scheme of things, was so that we wouldn't have to. Doesn't doing it ourselves diminish their accomplishments, as if to say, "See, I could have done this. I don't know what those pioneers were complaining about in all those chicken-scratch journals they wrote in." And it's even worse when we only do it half-heartedly, walking for a while during the day, but sleeping in RVs at night and not having to even worry about the whole "shallow grave in the frozen earth" thing. What are we saying? "Hey, pioneers, we want to remember you by enduring some of the hardships you had. Only 'cept we don't actually want to ENDURE them; we just want to drive along paved roads in our air-conditioned minivans and look at the places where YOU endured them. Then we'll have a picnic. Hurrah!"
Let's remember the pioneers, sure. But let's not let their accomplishments overshadow other, more far-reaching achievements. And for heaven's sake, let's not make a mockery of them by sort-of pretending we can do what they did. And for CRYING out loud, let's lay off on the fireworks, OK? Some of us are trying to sleep.
Next week: Excerpts from the angry letters I'm going to get from people who mistakenly thought I was making fun of the pioneers, even though I made it clear I was not.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
This work may not be transmitted via the Internet, nor reproduced in any other way, without written consent from Eric D. Snider.