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Old-timey July 4

The Fourth of July observance is not what it used to be. If it wasn’t for the sound of fireworks going off or social distancing practices from the COVID-19 pandemic, it would probably slip by like any other day.  

Boy, oh boy, what a difference the passage of a quarter of a century has made. 

When I was a farm boy of age 10, the Fourth of July was as important, if not more so, as Thanksgiving or Christmas. It was the first and only day of the year when farm work was set aside in favor of fun and relaxation.  

The reason was the last middles had been busted in corn and cotton fields, and layby time had been achieved. Georgia stocks were stored in the barn shed, and the mules were turned out to pasture, awaiting the next crop. 

Harvesting the crops would wait for another day. It was time for a family day of feasting, resting and playing games.  

Our family started celebrating on the evening of July 3 by going to town for the express purpose of buying a 100-pound block of ice. The ice was placed inside three or four tow sacks to limit melting on the five-mile return trip home. It was then packed inside a cottonseed bin overnight. 

The next day, it was removed and split in half. One half was used to chill a washtub partially filled with lemonade. The other half was crushed and used to make homemade vanilla ice cream. In the absence of a hand crank freezer, a peck bucket was used as a make-do freezer. A gallon syrup bucket filled with ice cream mix was placed inside it, and us kids alternated twisting the bucket’s handle until the mix was frozen. Meanwhile, the remainder of the family played horseshoes, washers and hopscotch under two large oak trees in the front yard.  

Special treats for the day were fried chicken and fresh vegetables for lunch, ice cream over blackberry cobbler pie for dessert and all the cold lemonade we could drink all day.  

A watermelon cutting closed out the festivities.  

A focus on work resumed as our father returned from a walk through the cotton field with a report on the infestation of boll weevils. “We’ll start poisoning tomorrow,” he said.