For days, politicians and news people who never leave their desks -- but who write at length about what their country looks like and should think -- have tried to tell us what Independence Day, patriotism, America, really means.
I found it Thursday at the Woodhaven Baptist Church day care parade, with a saxophone, clarinet and trumpet leading the way to the tune of "When the Saints Go Marching In." Guys from the famous Plair band, on a sunny morning, leading a bunch of kids with their faces painted around the block.
Behind them, America was Zoe Hyatt, 5, with a flag tattoo on her brown arm, American flag in her hand, a smile with the whitest teeth you ever saw. Proudly marching and waving.
She was born in Guatemala. She was adopted as a baby by Rock Hill's Debra and Tony Hyatt, who said they have started their second family with Zoe and an even younger adopted daughter, Aliya. Another family of patriots.
"America means me and my family, and that I am proud to be an American in America," Zoe said.
The parade has gone on for all the years director Sheryl McKenzie has operated the day care at Woodhaven. It gets bigger and better, every year.
Parents, kids and older siblings decorate strollers, little red wagons and scooters with flags. They dress up. They make outfits. They paint faces.
Their parade looked like America. White, black, brown and every other color covered, festooned, with red, white and blue. An old 1923 Mercede, two motorcycles and a firetruck. A Rock Hill cop named Mike Peek led the procession. Most days, he chases guys who steal our America. Thursday he led the other America, the one of hope and children, around the short block.
In that parade was a 10-year-old girl named Lundon Dudley. She carried a balloon and painted her fingernails red, white and blue.
"Independence Day is when we became free," she said.
Another 10-year-old, Tanner Lucas, gave an impromptu speech fit for the Congress, delivered with a sno-cone as microphone: "Those guys signed the Declaration of Independence, and declared our freedom. That's the day we became America."
I asked where he learned all that, and Tanner shot back: "I listened in school!"
This parade is hokey. And wonderful.
No politicians, nobody asking for votes or money, nobody promising anything. Just a bunch of kids making a lot of noise because they live in a place where you can freely make a spectacle of yourself because each one loves this place so.