Independence Day is many things to many people:

The anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s declaration, one of history’s first national affirmations that rather than live under the sovereignty of a king or other regime, citizens should rule themselves and have every right to reject any authority that stops them from doing so;

The best reason imaginable to get together with one’s friends and family and blow things up in a loud, colorful manner while sharing food, fun and refreshments;

A day for national pride, no matter the manner nor the reason, a whole 24 hours or more of exulting in what it means to be American.

Barbie Slemp of Hiawatha is celebrating something much more personal this week in attending the Atchison Community Fireworks display, presented on Thursday evening at Warnock Lake by Dave Hundley’s pyrotechnician crew with sponsorship from the Atchison Lions Club, Atchison Globe, Hundley Insurance Services and a host of valued community donors.

Slemp’s family is growing, and she resolved to turn her life around on behalf of her grandchildren. Independence Day marked 243 years since the public presentation of the Declaration of Independence, and 43 days of sobriety for Slemp. To her, the meaning of Independence Day is the freedom to realize whatever goals one has, no matter how daunting at first they might seem.

“I owe it all to a higher power,” Slemp said. “Always look to your higher power. Cause that’s what will get you through. My higher power will help me through mine, and I’ve not gone to church every day, but God helps out, a lot. For real, God gives me the strength, to keep moving and keep pushing forward. And God made this country what it is so I could do that.”

Before the grand display of fireworks launched from the Warnock Lake earthen dam — with Atchison Police Department, Atchison Fire Department, Atchison County volunteer firefighters, Atchison County EMS and Atchison County Sheriff’s Office public servants on hand to honor the flag and keep everyone safe — hundreds of revelers set up on the lakeside to launch their own explosive decorations.

Laura Hanzel and her husband, Craig, both history teachers for Atchison Public Schools USD 409, said the freedom of assembly in a public place, where everyone felt at liberty to honor the USA’s birthday as they saw fit, is what matters to them on Independence Day.

“It’s the one day out of the year where we can just come out here and be complete pyros,” Laura said. “We get to paint the sky all these gorgeous colors, and the kids couldn’t have more of a fun time with it. We’ve been coming out to Warnock for years now, probably a decade. It really is a gem.”

Marcus Clem can be reached via marcus.clem@atchisonglobenow.com and @AdAstraGorilla on Twitter

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