Old fashioned Fourths a thing of the past

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 5, 2000

The Fourth of July used to be celebrated in grand fashion in small communities as this World War II vintage photograph demonstrates. Large celebrations, however, have given way to smaller, family oriented gatherings in the hustle and bustle of modern society.

Photograph courtesy of Nonnie Hardin

Ah, the Glorious Fourth!

It's a time of backyard barbecues, family reunions, trips to the beach and bargain hunting at the stores; a time for swimming, sunning, and fun with friends with fantastic fireworks to finish this glorious day.

But let's pause to look back on the Independence Days of yesteryear, shall we?

Years ago, the Fourth of July was the most eagerly awaited holiday next to Christmas for many kids.

Every precious penny earned or given would be saved to buy fireworks, flags and other special treats for the day.

Porches decorated with red, white and blue bunting lined many a street, and "Old Glory" was prominently displayed at homes and businesses alike.

By early morning, the pungent odor of fireworks filled the air.

Who could wait for nightfall when you had firecrackers just waiting to be lit?

Parades were common for cities and towns of all sizes.

Even neighborhoods would hold their own patriotic parades with little "Miss Liberties" and "Uncles Sams" marching, riding decorated bikes or pulling red wagons with the family dog on board, also dressed in festive red, white, and blue.

Prizes were given for best costume or "float" and everyone had a marvelous time.

Bigger parades would be held featuring local bands and drum and bugle corps.

Down Main Streets across America they would proudly march, flags held high, as the strains of "Stars and Stripes Forever" resonated in the ears of the spectators lining the streets.

Men removed hats or caps and solemnly held them over their hearts.

Children would wave their own small flags in time to the stirring patriotic music. Often military units participated, along with local dignitaries.

In war times, local Red Cross nurses in their familiar white uniforms with red crosses would also march.

Often, bands would make their way to a local grandstand where they would give a concert of patriotic music.

Local politicians would speak, while families enjoyed picnic lunches, greeting old friends and making new ones as everyone celebrated the national holiday together.

Of course, there would be children lighting yet more firecrackers, cherry bombs and the like-often with accidental burning, blindness and scarring resulting.

(For these reasons, many municipalities later banned fireworks outside of professional displays.)

Oh, and the fabulous food of the Fourth!

Big, ripe watermelons would be placed in ice-cold foot tubs of water to be properly chilled.

More than one impromptu seed-spitting contest took place as folks enjoyed the sweet red slices.

And would it really be the Fourth without ice cream?

In the old days, you couldn't run by a supermarket and pick up a gallon of Blue Bell, either-ice cream was truly homemade, created with sugar, eggs, cream, perhaps some fresh fruit.

Rock salt and ice would be packed around the cylinder of the old hand -cranked freezers . . .no electric motored ones back then.

Everybody who was big enough took turns cranking those freezer handles, an onerous chore, but absolutely necessary to create that creamy, dreamy concoction for which everyone's mouths were watering.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the cranks would no longer turn and the paddles could be removed from the cylinders.

But no ice cream orgy yet-the freezers would be wrapped in old quilts and put in the shade until the mixture hardened.

How long?

Well, that sort of depended on the "internal clocks" of those waiting.

Somehow, they just "knew."

Then, the wonderful moment arrived-and everyone held out their bowls for a helping of sweet, cold, creamy perfection-unless, of course, someone's freezer had an unknown hole in it.

Then some folks were surprised with a new and distinctly salty flavor . . . what a disappointment!

Many folks could only afford the frozen treat a couple of times a year, for ice was not readily available in the home and had to be purchased at an icehouse.

That simply made it an extra-extra special treat for all.

Of course, the grand finale of the day for many in the "good old days" was the chance to see a beautiful fireworks display.

Adults became kids once more as they and their children marveled at the night sky lit up with Roman candles, pinwheels and every other type of fireworks available.

There were many audible gasps, accompanied by cheers, whistles and clapping as everyone, young and old, joined in the spirit of the celebration.

It was a glorious way to end the Glorious Fourth.

May you and yours have a safe, happy, healthy Independence Day together.

Happy Fourth of July, y'all!