This column that I wrote 22 years ago placed first in the annual North Carolina Press Women’s contest. I believe some of our readers will still enjoy calling up old times.
I’m yearning for an old-fashioned Fourth of July. I want a dipper full of fresh lemonade from a metal bucket that has a chunk of ice floating near the rim.
I want a glass bowl of ice cream from a hand-cranked freezer that’s been wrapped in a burlap sack for several hours and then I want a slice of red ripe watermelon that’s chilled in a washtub on the well porch all afternoon.
The Fourth of July of my youth meant the beginning of a long, lazy summer. The last of school in May was forgotten, the crops were in the ground and little else was needed now except to while the days away until harvest time.
It was a time for youth to dream dreams and the ideal place for that was a slatted swing hanging between two oak trees in the backyard. Overhead, barely visible through the shade, were blue skies and fluffy clouds, and in the grass and flowers were buzzing bees and darting hummingbirds. All part of the summer’s special magic.
The iceman had delivered an extra block for the lemonade and ice cream freezer. Mixing the ice cream meant my mother had to settle an argument among us children whether it would be vanilla or banana. The Fourth meant biting into a cold slice of the biggest watermelon that my dad could find in the market. It also meant fried chicken, potato salad, and maybe the first servings of sweet corn and vine-ripened tomatoes from the garden.
We weren’t counting calories in those days, but then we weren’t dining on fast food and soft drinks the rest of the week either.
Sometimes the Fourth meant a picnic with the neighbors’ children or our visiting city cousins. Our urban relatives didn’t go to camp as today’s city children do. Grandfather’s sprawling farm in North Brook was their camp and we welcomed them each summer. There wasn’t much in the way of supervised play, but there were acres of freedom.
There were kittens, puppies and calves to pet and an occasional ride on a clumsy work horse. Our swimming pool was a creek that ran near the house where summer storms would often wash out a whole new place for paddling and wading.
By the Fourth of July, country children’s feet were conditioned. But our city cousins went through the usual hazards of the tenderfoot — a bee stepped on, a brier puncture or a stone bruise. The camp “counselor” — mother — put baking soda on the sting (or snuff if a user happened to be nearby), took a needle to the brier and advised rest for the stone bruise, which usually stopped hurting when all the children ran around the house again.
There were no organized Fourth of July parades on the rural scene, but we were flag wavers. Sometimes it was a red bandanna on a stick, and by backyard vote the carrier got to lead the washpan “drummer” and his motley crew across the yard singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Had we known or even heard of a flag burner, we would have treated him like we did the man who plowed his fields in a dress and bonnet during World War II. It was whispered that he was a draft dodger, but it wasn’t polite to talk about him because sooner or later he would “get his.”
It was if time stood still and even then the days weren’t long enough. For we had time then. No race on a jammed highway to get there and back in a three-day weekend.
It’s that kind of leisure I yearn for. I need relief from new of deficits and budgets, child abuse and overflowing jails, failed banks and flag burnings and bureaucrats wasting both time and money arguing until either the issue resolves itself, for better or worse, or their bandwagon needs to head home for another holiday.
If I could, I would offer all of you a chance at one of those carefree days again, but they just don’t make Fourth of July like that anymore.
Kathryn Yarbro is former managing editor of the Lincoln Times-News.