Another Fourth of July arrives and I am sad to realize the holiday has lost its allure for me except as a day off. It was not always that way. Once the Fourth of July meant a big family gathering at Grandma's house. It meant fried chicken, cousins, fireworks, and my father and uncles around for the entire day. As children we seldom saw our hardworking fathers. Most importantly, the Fourth of July meant home-made ice cream.
After the meal was cleared and the mountain of dishes washed, Grandma whipped up the ice cream concoction, handing it to the men for freezing. The men gathered around the old freezer bucket which they packed with ice and salt then wrapped in burlap. They shared the cranking chore beneath the shade trees, maybe indulging in a cold beer as one or the other turned the freezer. Only the men did this - not even the teen-aged cousins were allowed. Idle time never sat easily on those men, but their genuine friendship and caring for one another infused their easy circle as they chatted and smoked and laughed quietly together.
The fathers' circle was not a strict one like the mothers' often were. The men tolerated the children coming through to check on the ice cream's progress. Mothers would have scolded after the second check, but the men would not. Maybe the men enjoyed a day with the kids as much as the kids enjoyed the men.
When at long last the ice cream was ready, the cousins were called in from far and wide. Everyone was given a bowl of the most delicious, icy cold, sweet treat ever invented. There was no air conditioning in those days and no junk food. Ice cream was a genuine treat made even more desirable by the anticipation built waiting for the long process of making it. Every man, woman and child enjoyed that home-made ice cream.
Another round of dish washing by the women and then, finally, it was time for the fireworks - the other holiday chore handled by the men. The meager fireworks were never spectacular to anyone over the age of five, but the entire family enjoyed the display. The "fizzles", the dud fireworks, brought the most laughter. Far too quickly the day came to an end and everyone left for home. It was always a grand day.
Only one uncle is still living. Beginning with my father who died at the young age of 33, all the others are gone: Grandma and Grandpa, my mother, her sister, her sister in law and brother in law. Some of the cousins are gone, too. It is not that I am so old but rather that those times passed quickly away when America moved from the farm. In a single generation, the families scattered far and wide. My children have never had the grand pleasure of anticipating something as simple as homemade ice cream and cheap fireworks and cousins on the Fourth of July. They hardly know their cousins or uncles or aunts, and their fireworks are in fact spectacular - but not as wonderful as those cheap mystery fireworks sputtering in the dark at Grandpa's farm.