Tomorrow, July 4th, marks the 236th year of our country’s independence. We celebrate with parades, waving of the flag, fireworks, picnics and other summer activities. It’s a work holiday and people are happy to have a day of celebration. We honor the signers of the Declaration of Independence and say nice things about those who labored to bring America to the point where we are today.
Some celebrate in public places, but for me, it’s a day at home. We’ll relax, maybe watch a bit of TV (a rare occurrence, but tomorrow I’d like to see what’s going on around the country with celebrations), have a barbecue later in the afternoon and just generally have a relaxing day.
When I was a youngster, we oftentimes spent the day at the Anderson Ballpark, where games among various local teams were played all day. A lunch was offered for sale – homemade chicken stew cooked in a large pot on the ballpark ground and hot dogs. Lemonade and soft drinks were also available for cooling thirsty throats on a hot summer day. I believe one year a vendor brought an ice cream cold chest and offered those for sale as well. Late in the afternoon, young boys would “shoot off firecrackers” and sometimes there would be more elaborate fireworks before everyone headed for home. I have fond memories of those days.
I’m always interested in having my mother tell me of times during her childhood. Today, during my visit, I asked her to describe how she celebrated the 4th of July during her youth, in the late 1920s and early 1930s. My mother was one of seven children, three of which—sisters—were quite a bit older than the others. By the time my mother was born, her older three sisters were already having children of their own. So on gathering days, there were many people there.
Mother said on the 4th, her daddy, Papa to his children, and Poppy to grandchildren, would cook stew outdoors. Poppy died before I was born so I only know him for old photographs. Mommie Howell would prepare other food in the kitchen, beginning early in the morning, because she cooked on a wood stove. This was before electric power was widely available in the area, and few could afford it anyway. After all, it was the Great Depression. Mommie cooked pies, cakes, potato salad, green beens, huge pans of cornbread. The men sat under the shade trees – stirring the stew pot – while the women slaved away in the hot kitchen.
This was something interesting: Early in the morning on the 4th of July, Mr. Jess Sharp, a Rogersville merchant, traveled into the surrounding rural countryside selling huge blocks of ice. This was the one day folks who didn’t have ice available to them the rest of the year wanted ice to cool the lemonade they made for the occasion. Mother said Mommie would wrap that perhaps 50 lb. block of ice in a quilt and place it in the chimney corner on the north side of the house so it wouldn’t melt before the lemonade was ready.
She said the Boosters Club of Rogersville traveled up the road throwing out balloons and little toys as they passed each house. She remembered what a treat that was –standing along the roadside and waiting for the cars to come along to give them something.
Those were simple times, hard times; no, VERY hard times. But they were happy. Which sort of brings me back full circle to where we are today. Has having more made us happier? Has it made life easier? In some ways yes, in other ways no, in my opinion. Or is the past glorified in ways that make us think times were better back then. These are questions I don’t have the answer to. I’d like your views.