Watermelons were one of my main thoughts when I was a child and the Fourth of July was approaching.
I knew that the first watermelons would be cut on that day. My aunt usually came from Florida during this holiday, and we would sweep all the yards clean as a whistle with the gall-berry yard broom. Daddy selected a few of the finest melons, and they were placed under beds to stay cool until the holiday.
Yes, the Fourth of July was special, but back then I had no idea why.
I have been reading an interesting book, “It Couldn’t Happen At Uncle Charlie’s … But It Did,” by J. H. Strickland Jr. He was the grandson of Charlie Strickland, who was a Georgia state legislator, minister of the gospel, farmer and upright man who spent his life in service to humanity. He also was the first pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Claxton. They grew up on a farm near Perkins Mill, between Gooseneck and Claxton.
I want to share a part in which the community got together to celebrate Independence Day in 1906.
Uncle William was the boss on the farm and directed all the workers on the day’s activities that had to be performed each day. They gathered at a certain spot each evening to get instructions for the next day. About a week before the Fourth of July, William announced that the big bash was going to be at his house that year, but there was a lot of work to get things ready, along with their usual chores. This bash would be attended by about 100 people. The community looked forward to it each year.
Much wood had to be collected for the barbecue. Not any kind of wood; it had to be the old sand-ridge oaks or post oaks, as they were the best wood in the whole wide world for making smoke and seasoning the meat. This was going to be a “two-two” occasion — two pigs would be butchered and made ready to barbecue, as well as two young goats.
There was one great problem that had to be overcome. As usual, all the women prepared their very best pies, cakes and vegetable dishes. There had to be plenty of ice tea to drink. Aunt Mary made the worst tea one ever tasted. As the teenage boys thought about her tea, their faces automatically would turn into grimaces. The other women always tried to get her not to make the tea, as they had it covered. But this year, she told them fast that she would make enough tea for the whole crowd.
One of the boys in the group told them they would have to pray that Aunt Mary would not bring her awful tea. He told them he had been going to Camp Meeting at the Tattnall County Campground, where Uncle Charlie had been preaching and he learned about prayer. He would pray hard about it.
The working hands decided that Uncle William shouldn’t have to pay for all the meat and other things. After all, he could sell the pigs for $5 each and the kid goats for $1 each. They would put $10 in the pot to help pay for necessities. For instance, they would need 40 loaves of light bread that cost 5 cents a loaf. If it wasn’t all eaten for dinner, they would eat them for supper. Light bread was a delicacy!
They would need three 100-pound blocks of ice, which cost 75 cents a block. They decided to splurge, as they did not celebrate Independence Day but once a year. They also would get store-bought ketchup and pickles, as they were so much better than homemade stuff.
The fires were started at 5 in the morning by the young boys in the fire pits that had been dug the day before. When the ashes were hot enough, wire racks were put over them. Then the meat was placed on the racks.
Breakfast was called, and there was enough cooked for a log rolling. Before anyone could sit down, Uncle William asked that everyone be still while he checked the weather. He set his cup of coffee and chicory on the table and poured in some sugar and fresh cream. He watched it intently, as did all the crew to see which way the cream went. If the cream stayed in the center of the cup for a specified length of time, there would be no rain for that day. If the cream floated immediately off to the side of the cup, one had better have a raincoat. There would be no rain on their barbecue that day.
People arrived early to hobnob. They made all kinds of excuses about coming to help work, but everyone knew they just wanted to be around the barbecue pit. They also whetted their appetites. They sat around, watched the meat cooking and inhaled all those good scents. By dinner time, they could eat everything that wasn’t nailed down!
Aunt Mary arrived in her buggy. Uncle Waldo helped her unload the bowls of food she had prepared. She went to the back and pulled up the cover to get all her “wonderful” tea, but no tea was there! She thought Waldo had put the tea in the buggy, and he thought she had. The Lord had seen to it that Aunt Mary’s tea did not get to the bash!
Uncle William took out his old, trusty Barlow knife and banged on the table at exactly noon by the professor’s railroad watch. Uncle Charlie asked the blessing on all the food, and everyone dug in. The tables were loaded with everything fine that could be wanted. Plenty of good ice tea was available. People went back to the table for seconds and some for even thirds. When almost everyone was finished eating, Uncle William again pounded the table with his Barlow. He asked Uncle Charlie if he had a few words to say that would be appropriate for the day.
“Well, son,” Charlie said, “I didn’t prepare a speech, but I do believe we should be reminded of the true meaning of ‘independence.’
“These reminders are appropriate on this day, the day we honor the memory of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The word ‘independence’ may have different meaning to different people, but I believe to us here today, the word means ‘freedom.’ Freedom is enjoyed more in this country than in any other country on the face of the Earth. We are a self-governed people and not subjected to the control of others. We enjoy the absence of coercion and do have the freedom of choice.
“Freedom was not given to us as a gift, but was won with a great, personal sacrifice by a determined people who place their faith in God and have received His abundant blessings since the day the pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock.
“One may think that we who enjoy these freedoms have nothing to worry about, since everyone is in agreement that we have the best system. One would tend to believe there could be no opposition, but friends and neighbors, I wish that was the case. As you all know, I served two terms in the Legislature of this state. I saw at state level those politicians who were so ‘power hungry,’ they were willing to sacrifice some of our greatest achievements for their personal gain. We have some of the same type politicians at the national level, and you can imagine the dangers.
“Our only defense against these dangers is for everyone to get involved. Try your best to keep up with what is going on, know your candidates for public office and exercise your privilege at the ballot box. It has been said, ‘Give us pure candidates and a pure ballot box, and our freedom shall stand as firm as a rock.’ When you vote, place the good of the country above personalities. I wish it was not true, but I visualize political trouble ahead, maybe not in my lifetime.
“But just remember, freedom will exist where people take care of the government. I am afraid our people will take freedom for granted and forget that it, like health, is often appreciated only after we no longer have it. Most of us here today are far from being rich, but I ask you to take a good look at all your blessings.
“I believe we stand of the threshold of the greatest achievements made by man since the beginning of time. I am told that the scientists in our universities already know that we can communicate without wires. Wireless signals have already been sent across the Atlantic. We have already witnessed the invention of the automobile and the airplane, and soon, high-speed transportation will be made available to everyone, even the country folks. Motion-picture theaters will soon be in small country towns. There will be great changes in agriculture. Out west, they are using machines that will increase production and profits.
“But, remember, we in Georgia have some of best farm land in the country. Great opportunities are in the making. I can only say to you young people: Hitch your wagon to a star. Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood. Make big plans, aim high in hope, and work. Above all, remember the Lord’s blessings are our greatest wealth. Always seek His guidance.
We as sons of our Revolutionary forefathers, who insisted in winning liberty from the British, will not fail this nation now or in the future. We have a creed and a song to sing. We have a flag to wave proudly and without apology. Our patriotism will not wane, because our roots go back to Jamestown. Let us teach our children about our heroes of years gone by. Tell them the stories of America, its greatness and its goodness. Tell them about Patrick Henry, John Paul Jones and Nathan Hale. Now, I asked you to all stand and join me in the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Everyone stood, faced the flag of the United States of America, placed their right hands over their hearts and repeated after Uncle Charlie: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”