As American as...

By the time you read this, another Fourth of July will have come and gone, the fireworks of our 236th Independence Day already fading from memory. But, as I write, Americans nationwide are shopping for hot dogs, packing picnics, and getting ready for fireworks displays—maybe even buying their own fireworks, if they live in places like Alabama or my home state of Tennessee, where my dad used to put on his own (rather impressive) pyrotechnics show every year.

Here in Atlanta, some sixty thousand runners are recovering from the annual Peachtree Road Race, a tradition so beloved that it’s listed on Wikipedia’s Independence Day page among the top ten “unique or historical celebrations.” So is Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island, which greeted me via CNN this morning: a California man named Joey Chestnut, a.k.a. “Jaws,” won for the sixth year in a row by eating sixty-eight hot dogs, with buns. Who would have imagined that the contest is nearly a century old? Or that anyone could eat sixty-eight hot dogs at once?

Speaking of which, this year my dad is forgoing his fireworks to play grill master at a celebration with 150 red, white, and blue–clad revelers at a boating club up in Chattanooga (my mom has been texting me pictures of him flipping burgers and sweating in a patriotically striped apron, good sport that he is). And my fifteen-year-old son is in Amarillo, Texas, with his dad’s family, where tonight he will have the opportunity to observe the biggest fireworks show in the Lone Star State. The family is on their way back from an old-fashioned road trip, all the way out to Utah. That’s pretty darned American if you ask me.

Not to imply that defining what’s American is as easy as apple pie—especially these days.

But we touch on a few of those definitions in this issue of Emory Magazine, starting with our cover subject, Kirsten Haglund 13C, who was crowned Miss America herself in 2008. Now a senior political science major at Emory, Haglund is an active conservative who counts Fox News’s Sean Hannity among her personal friends. And with a music album out called American Pride, she is clearly someone who has given a good deal of thought to what it means to be an American.

That’s something Haglund shares with Mariangela Jordan 12C, along with their Emory education, although they arrived here by very different roads. The recipient of this year’s McMullan Award, Jordan came to the US from her native Romania, where she grew up under an oppressive Communist government. Haglund is a former ballerina; Jordan worked as a janitor, a cashier, and a truck driver before coming to Emory. Since then, her volunteer work has been focused on refugees, who, like her, are seeking their own definitions of America.

In a much more concrete way, so is Joan Houston Hall 76PhD, chief editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English, or DARE. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, DARE fieldworkers took literal road trips all over the country in order to assemble what has figuratively been called “a road trip of the mind from sea to shining sea.” Five decades in the making and five hefty volumes strong, DARE is a print preserve for thousands of regional words and sayings, and its pages are as easy to get lost in as Texas roads without a map (although a lot more fun, I bet).

Texas is, in fact, the source of a quotation in one of my favorite DARE entries: mullygrubbing, meaning sulking, petulant behavior. For an example, the dictionary calls on a 1984 humor book of Texan phrases titled Texas Crude, reproducing what is surely one of the finest sentiments ever expressed: “So your sister Darlene runned off with a albino motorcycle gang president. Mullygrubbin’ around the house ain’t gonna help.”

No, it certainly is not. We can only wish the intrepid Darlene the best as she joins the motorcycle gang, in fine American tradition, on the open road.

Whether you’re traveling to rural places to document local words, touring the country to make dozens of public appearances as Miss America, criss-crossing the nation’s highways in a big rig truck to earn money for college, flipping through a gigantic dictionary to discover terms from every US region, running off with an albino biker to find love, or just driving back home from Amarillo, Texas, after the state’s biggest Independence Day display, there are a lot of ways to take a real American road trip.

Happy Fourth of July to you, and please enjoy our summer issue. I think I hear fireworks.

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