Fourth of July brings back fond memories for me, as well as most of my family. We had grand celebrations when my siblings and I were young. Every Independence Day we would get up early (my older brother had a paper route and those papers needed to be delivered before seven because it was a holiday) to roll newspapers and stack them into my brother’s delivery bag. Sometimes he would let me tag along and help deliver them. When we got back from delivering papers Mom would have breakfast ready and waiting for us. Then the preparations began. Dad would get out the horseshoes and stakes, the large metal coolers, and wooden ice cream makers. We kids would load the coolers with soda and then cover it all with ice. We’d load them into the back of the van where the lawn chairs were already waiting. Mom would grab whatever dish she was taking to the family reunion then we would head out to my grandparent’s farm.
Usually, we were the first to arrive as well as the last to leave. Dad would drive the stakes for horseshoes. We’d drag the coolers under the large oak tree, it was the shadiest spot in the yard and still very close to the house and the garage. Then we’d help Grandma set up the long tables along the side of the house where the food would be placed. As the cousins, aunts, uncles, and great-grandmothers arrived everyone unloaded their own coolers and the dishes that they brought were added to the table. My sister would often help Grandma set up the carnival-like games for all of us little kids. Each of us younger kids would get a handful of tickets to use to play a game. After each game we got a prize, I remember bubbles, paddle balls, and other little prizes like whistles. All things that we could play with that day while running around in the country. While we kids played the games the adults would play horseshoes or volleyball. Though the kids were allowed to join in if we wanted to. I used to love joining in on one game of volleyball. It was always fun until one of my older cousins spiked the ball and hit me in the face, it happened every year.
There was a talent show. Usually it was just us younger female cousins who participated in that. Every year my cousin Julie and I would sing God Bless The U.S.A ( I still sing this song every 4th of July). As the sun climbed into the sky Grandma and Mom would get the ice cream ready. Two of the ice cream makers were electric, the third was a hand crank one. I would sneak into the garage and offer to crank the ice cream for a while. Really I just wanted to sit in front of the fan that Grandpa had put in there for Grandma. When I was tired of cranking the ice cream I would run out to join the rest of my cousins (there were 21 of us first cousins) it never failed that one of the older boys would grab a handful of ice out of someone’s cooler, sneak up behind one of the aunts while she was sitting and talking, then drop the ice down the back of her shirt. That always kicked off an ice war. All of us would run around trying to drop ice down someone’s shirt, or tossing a bucket of cold water onto someone.
When the ice cream was done we would all eat. Filling our plates we would find a spot to sit and enjoy the food that had been brought. Most times I sat under the tree as the aunts and uncles took up the picnic tables, though sometimes I would go around to the back of the house and sit on the deck. Grandma and Mom would dish up ice cream. By the time we had finished eating I needed to get away. My brothers and the male cousins could often be found in the pasture, near the little creek that ran through the bottom. There was a stand of about five trees there and the boys were attempting to build a fort (it never did get finished). I would climb the hill on the opposite side of the creek where my lighting struck tree stood. This lone tree that had been split in two was my hideaway. I often climbed the half that overhung the hill, sat, and read or daydreamed. The only souls around to bother me were the sheep that were out in the pasture. From my little perch I could see what the boys were doing but was far enough away that their noise didn’t bother me.
As the sun moved closer to the western horizon the family began to pack up and leave. Everyone heading back to their homes so they could get to the fireworks displays. As the farm quieted down my parents, siblings, grandparents, and I would gather on the back deck to watch the sun set behind the woods. Our sparklers would wait until we got home that night.
I have to admit I miss those gatherings. They stopped after my grandparents passed away. Some of my uncles tried to carry the tradition on but it fizzled out after a few years. It just wasn’t the same. Our gatherings are much smaller. This year it will just be myself and my kids, perhaps my nephew. We’ll enjoy some sparklers and glow necklaces while watching the town’s fireworks. Perhaps we can make it down to watch the soap box derby but nothing compares to the Independence Days that I knew as a child.
What is your fondest Fourth of July memory?