Star-Spangled Gratitude (and Red, White and Blue Shortcake)
Since this column will appear on July 4th, I ruminated over the topic of patriotism early this morning while puttering in my sweet little garden. Simultaneous weeding and thinking is a gardener’s version of therapeutic doubletasking. Suddenly, I had unexpected insight regarding The Star Spangled Banner. I realized that-- whether dreading that a professional singer will bungle it before a ballgame or personally struggling to do justice to our 1 ½ octave-spanning national anthem--somehow nailing the high notes has over-shadowed the beauty and bravery of the words.
We all know that the lyrics were written by Francis Scott Key during The War of 1812. Newly independent Americans were defending Fort McHenry-- a star-shaped stronghold that protected the Chesapeake Bay and Baltimore -- from the invading British Navy. The Brits had already burned Washington DC and ransacked Alexandria, so the threat was dire and real.
We were being invaded and our freedom, once again, was in peril.
Key was a 35 year old civilian (and amateur poet) swept into the battle as he tried to negotiate an exchange of prisoners. It’s easy to imagine how frightened and vulnerable a non-military guy like Key must have felt as bombs exploded and people around him were bloodied, maimed and killed. He scribbled his fears and anxieties over the outcome of the night-long battle on a scrap of paper the following morning.
When I read Francis Scott Key’s poetry silently, rather than struggling to sing it, his worry and apprehension become more real to me:
O say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
Watching a war was, then, and is, now, awful. But, not all of us are called to fight. As a bleeding-heart-liberalpacifistrealist, I wish that the world could collectively beat all spears into pruning hooks and study war no more. But that’s not going to happen. Some of us sow, some of us soldier. Some do both.
Dr. Peter Gergely -- who devotedly cares for Philipstown’s children and artistically illustrates this column -- is an accomplished gardener and a US Army Major, retired. I garden in a free land because Pete and other people directly across the Hudson River from here dedicated their youth to the very difficult job of soldiering.
War is such a complicated, awful and—probably-- necessary reality that I can’t wrestle its concept into place entirely. I am a planter of seeds, a grower of flowers and a pruning hook kind of person. However, as a writer, I am grateful to Francis Scott Key for expressing the precarious urgency of fighting for freedom.
Whew! And now back to our regularly scheduled pro- gram. Tend your early summer garden and see if you can remember the words to The Star Spangled Banner. Celebrate July 4th.
As for me, I’m watching the astonishing West Point fireworks from a friend’s Garrison garden and will remember to volley humble gratitude back across the Hudson.
Red, White and Blue Shortcake
For great tips on growing your strawberries organically go to GardeningGusto.com. Search for “Berry Karma” and enjoy the sweetest berries you’ll ever taste.
Here’s What You Need:
• Strawberries: one pint, slice in half if small or cut into bite-sized chunks if huge
• Blueberries: one pint, do not cut
• Sugar: enough to sprinkle over berries, plus a bit to add to biscuits, plus some for the whipped cream.
• Biscuit mix biscuits
• Butter: enough for each biscuit
• Whipping cream: ½ pint
• Vanilla extract: ¼ teaspoon
• Birthday candles
First Do This:
1. Place cut strawberries and uncut blue berries in a bowl. Sprinkle with sugar, stir gently, cover and place in fridge.
2. Make the biscuits according to packet instructions. Add a sprinkle of sugar to the batter and roll them slightly thicker as they will be served cut in half.
Next Do This:
3. When biscuits are cooked, cool them slightly on a baking rack.
4. Meanwhile, whip the cream, adding sugar and vanilla to taste.
Then Do This:
5. To serve, put each warm biscuit on its own plate. Split in half and butter each half.
6. Stir berry mix and spoon over both halves. Give each serving some of the sweet juice.
7. Pile on the whipped cream.
8. Place a birthday candle on each shortcake pile and have everyone sing “Happy Birthday, America.”
Watch Katherine’s garden how-to videos: http://www.gardeninggusto.com/page/ videos. Katherine Whiteside wrote and Peter Gergely illustrated The Way We Garden Now. Follow on Twitter @ GardeningGusto