Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River. It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.
Before we get started, please allow me to wish our great Nation a very happy 236th birthday! Although the United States is not completely perfect, it is indeed a more perfect Union than had ever been conceived up to the time, and remains more perfect than any other. As long as the People are in charge, this will not change. Actually, I sort of begrudgingly look at 04 July as the anniversary, because I believe that the Nation actually came to be with the adoption of the Constitution of the United States on 04 March 1789, making it 213 years old, but the Founders chose 04 July, so I shall not argue too much. Actually, the Declaration of Independence was signed on 02 August 1776, but the wording of the document was approved by the Continental Congress on 04 July 1776. By the way, John Adams preferred 02 July because that is when the Congress voted to secede from the UK.
There were not very many formal observations of Independence Day in Hackett when I was little. Actually there were none. However, we still celebrated it in our own ways.
Our family had another reason to celebrate this day. My cousin Mike, two years my junior and the son of my mum's sister, was born on this date. Until I was a big kid they lived across the street from us, so we would always to over to their house for a cookout, cake, and ice cream and then shoot off fireworks. Of course Mike had his gifts to open as well. Lots of times we both played with them when we were little.
There was no parade in Hackett at the time, since there were only 328 residents. Much later, after I had married and moved away we came back for the holiday and sure enough, there was a parade! Dad let me drive one of his antique cars in it (as I recall, it was his 1941 Packard that he restored from the frame up with assistance from me). It was not a big parade, but it was a parade.
Hackett did not have a public fireworks display. It did not have any traffic lights, either (and still does not) because it was just too small. I do not remember clearly whether or not Fort Smith had a public fireworks display. If it did, we never went because we could shoot off our own. The first public fireworks display that I ever saw was when we lived in North Little Rock because fireworks, except for snakes and sparklers were not allowed. I know that Fort Smith does now have a public fireworks display, and my friend Steve told me that it will go on this year because of extreme and expensive precautions to prevent fire. He also told me that Hackett now has a public display, but it is cancelled this year because of the extremely high fire risk.
By the way, here in my part of the Bluegrass there is to be a public display tonight. I generally walk about a quarter of a mile up the street and get a great view without having to fight the crowd or worry about parking. I find that the bit of extra distance is good for fireworks viewing because you can get the entire picture rather than be so close that you miss the forest for the trees.
Back in the day we just shot off our own. Not long ago I wrote about our escapades with fireworks, so there is not need to reiterate that since the link is right there.
We did the traditional cookout kinds of things, but with three very good cooks it was usually pretty elaborate. Due to the stifling temperature and humidity, we usually ate inside. My mum would mix the ice cream in the kitchen then put it the can of our old White Mountain ice cream freezer in the morning, then we would take it outside to the top of the cellar to freeze it. When I was not big enough to turn the crank, my job was to sit on top of the freezer as the ice cream hardened. After it was frozen, she would take the lid off of the can and remove and scrape the dasher. Then she would put a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the can before replacing the lid to keep the salt out of the mix. Finally, she would repack the freezer with ice and salt and insulate the top with several layers of newspaper. She always insisted on allowing it to ripen for several hours before we ate it.
That time of the year in Hackett the dewberries were ripe. A dewberry is like a blackberry except they grown on low vines rather than canes and are larger and sweeter. My grandmum would make blackberry cobbler with a double crust from scratch and after the feast we would put the cold ice cream on the hot cobbler for dessert. Mmmmmmm!
For the main course we would usually have home grilled hamburgers or sometimes steaks, usually sirloin. We raised our own beef so it was not that expensive a proposition for us. Dad usually did the grilling and he was great with hamburgers but he usually got the steaks too done for my taste, as I prefer a steak at the cusp of what the French call bleu (cold in the middle) and rare (warm and very red in the middle). The times that we had hamburgers we would have home cut French fries and something cool to go along with it, like fresh tomatoes from the garden. When we had steak we would always have baked potatoes.
Sometimes Aunt JoAnn would fix fried chicken instead of us having beef. Ma would always make deviled eggs and chill them when we had the chicken, biscuits, gravy, and tomatoes. Whatever we ate, we washed it down with copious amounts of cold iced tea. Sometimes Dad and my brother would have a couple of cold beers, but Dad never drank very much. At that time I sweetened my tea (I do not now), but my mum never made the traditional Southern sweet iced tea that is sweetened whilst it is hot. She was fairly large, and believed that using saccharin instead of sugar would help her weight. Of course that did not make up for the second portion of cobbler and ice cream!
As far as activities went, my cousin would shoot off firecrackers until it got dark and then do the colorful ones then. My dad and brother would usually watch a baseball game or two on TeeVee (both were big Saint Louis Cardinals fans) whilst the women did the cooking and the cleanup. That was the way that labor was divided in those days.
We were usually pretty worn out by the end of the day, and after finishing the fireworks were ready for bed, after another bowl of homemade ice cream. Those were some happy and carefree days, at least for the kids.
Here is an update from the piece from last week. Jace Junior has pretty much taken over my house now and we have really bonded. I take him over to see The Girl and The Little Girl every day, sometimes more than once. My suspicions were correct; The Girl is fonder of him than The Little Girl is. Here is a picture of him that I took this afternoon.
He has been tearing around my house all day today, betwixt bouts of sleeping and eating. His favorite toy is a simple piece of paper rolled into a ball. I can toss it to him and he will bat it about, pick it up, "dance" with it and just in general do things that kittens do. I had no desire to get a pet, but I am really just taking care of him for The Girl for a while until he gets used to living in this part of the neighborhood.
That does it for this evening. Please feel free to add stories about when you were growing up, whether in a little town or not. I enjoy reading them, and so do other readers. I shall be delayed to respond to comments tonight as our public fireworks display occurs just at about posting time. I shall be back later for comments.
Doc, aka Dr. David W. Smith