I've loved the Fourth of July for as long as I can remember. It's one of my favorite holidays. I love the sights, sounds and spirit of the celebration of our country's Declaration of Independence.

My earliest recollections of celebrating the Fourth are from family vacations at a wonderful resort called Marin Town & Country Club. For a kid from San Francisco's Sunset District (what a misnomer! There was so much fog we never actually saw the sunset!), the warm and lush surroundings of Fairfax seemed like Shangri-La. And they even had a huge swimming pool.

My family, including all my aunts, uncles and 18 cousins, spent two weeks each summer at this enchanting retreat. And every vacation always occurred during the first two weeks of July. What a treat to celebrate our country's independence with those you love in an environment close to nature.

On the Fourth, after the kids ate an early barbecue dinner, we piled into the back of my dad's wood-paneled station wagon to go into town for ice cream. (Those were the days before seat belt laws.)

At sunset, we returned for what I thought was the most spectacular fireworks display and concert there ever was. Mind you, as an 8-year-old, a couple of bottle rockets and Kate Smith's recording of "God Bless America" were pretty spectacular.

In those days, we even got to set off our own firecrackers and run around with lighted sparklers. Thankfully, no one ever got hurt.

When our own kids were young, we'd celebrate the Fourth of July on my sister's block with our own little Fourth of July parade. We decorated tricycles, bikes and wagons with flags and streamers and had a jolly good time watching the kid's parade around the neighborhood. Then it was time for a wonderful family potluck barbecue and our own fireworks.

Afterward, I'd come home and turn on the TV to watch the Boston Pops Symphony Orchestra concert and fireworks display. I loved all the patriotic music, especially the John Philip Sousa marches.

Now that the kids are grown, we celebrate the Fourth of July with friends and neighbors in Pleasant Hill. Like many of you, we go to our hometown parade.

I still love the marching bands and all the kids parading by, but I do miss the Marching Barbecue Dads. They certainly added a "special flavor" to this marvelous day.

After the parade, I follow the rest of the crowd to Pleasant Hill Park for fun, food and games. For the last several years, Dawn and I have sponsored a petting zoo at the park. We get a real kick seeing the delight on the faces of young children playing with the baby animals.

The games, the music, the food and all the other activities make this event a delightful celebration for people of all ages. However, I always struggle deciding what to eat. They're too many good choices. But there is one thing you can count on. If there's a pizza-eating or pie-eating contest, I'm always eager to participate.

Like many of you, in the afternoon I take a break to recharge my batteries and get ready for the city's fireworks display. Each year, the Fourth of July Commission somehow manages to put on a bigger and better celebration.

As we enjoy the various Fourth of July activities, I'm reminded of two things. First, we live in a great country. I'm thankful that our Founding Fathers had the wisdom and courage to make the bold move to take 13 separate colonies and form one great nation.

As I said before about our founders and our veterans at the city's Memorial Day observation some years ago, when Francis Scott Key penned the "Star-Spangled Banner," he wrote that we are "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

With all due respect, I think he got it wrong. It should read that we are "the land of the free because we are the home of the brave."

And wouldn't it really be a shame if we had to spend the day eating steak and kidney pie instead of barbecued ribs? (By the way kids, they do have the Fourth of July in England, but they don't celebrate it as a holiday. I wonder why?)

Secondly, I'm reminded that Pleasant Hill is a great hometown. So many people give tirelessly of their time and effort, not just on the Fourth of July, but also on so many other occasions, to make Pleasant Hill a fun place to live and raise a family

We are so lucky to call Pleasant Hill "home."

Happy Fourth of July everyone!

Harris is the mayor of Pleasant Hill. Email him at columns@bayareanewsgroup.com.