Sunday, July 3, 2011

Remembering Past Independence Days

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Because I’ve been writing about memories, today I’ve thought about the ways we used to celebrate Independence Day.  I seem to have an onslaught of different memories from all different places, but much of it surrounds those picnic days of family gatherings. 
We have a quiet day today here at home.  We live by a park where teens appear, set off a pack of firecrackers, and then disappear.  The firecrackers flash into the air, the dogs along the park bark, then quiet moves in again.  I have food ready, because my son and family are coming in for the week, so we’ll have a good meal tonight, and decide what to cook tomorrow, and where to go to watch fireworks tomorrow night.  My daughter and her family will come out to visit, but that’s about all the family.  Others live too far away.
In the days of many family members living near, we prepared well ahead the picnic food for the big day.  Family members traveled on Independence Day morning to different homes, mostly those with some acreage, for the holiday.  They brought boxes of sandwiches-pre-made, like pimento cheese, ham and roast beef.  There was also fried chicken and potato salad, slaw, homemade pickles, watermelon and pies.  Sometimes, if lucky, one great-uncle came with his ice cream maker, ice and rock salt, and we cranked up several gallons of homemade ice cream, always vanilla, but berries and chocolate syrup came along too. 
During the day, we set up volleyball and badminton, and some of the men played horseshoes.  We kids were allowed the teeny firecrackers, with the punk smelling awful, but we were told to use it, not matches.  We also had a slew of sparklers ready for the early evening, and there were other kinds of fireworks that some of the older kids were allowed to set off, like fountains, and those that spun on the ground, sometimes chasing you around as you ran screaming. 
At the same time, some of the men made a big deal about the fireworks they brought for when it became full dark.  They had invested some good money for a few ‘big’ ones, they said, and were discussing them, putting them on a special table, and sharing what they had.   Looking back now, I think they only had about ten things, but it was a big deal to all of us then, anticipating the thrill of what we’d see in the sky after dark. 
When it was considered dark enough, we’d drag all our chairs together for the best viewing spot, and settle in to watch.  I can hear the murmurs of the women settling the kids, saying things like “Where’s Amy? Come over here to the quilt, John.  Did you pack up everything in the car already, Bill?”  Older kids sat on their own blankets.  The men hovered around near the table with the fireworks, deciding what was first.  And then, there it was, the stars and streams of color lighting up our sky, the ohs and ahs from hidden voices, and finally, the last one.  It was dark, a long and wonderful day ended.  We walked to the cars, calling goodbyes, making sure no fire had been started in the field.  I crawled in the back with my brother, falling asleep with my parents talking low in the front seat.  It had been a grand day visiting and playing and watching that magic in the sky.

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