Wednesday, July 04, 2007

What America/Independence Day Has Meant to My Family - Part 2

Over at my AnceStories2 blog, I've posted some journal prompts titled "Your National Holiday," encouraging people to write about the traditions they have (and had as children) in their national celebrations.

I don't remember any specific "first" Fourth of July that I celebrated, but I do remember celebrating the Bicentennial. First of all, on the state level, there was an essay contest in which a set of bicentennial coins would be given to one boy and one girl in every elementary school in the state who won first place. The theme was "What America Means To Me" (sound familiar?). Of course, I entered, but sadly, I did not get the prize for girls' first place in my school. Only much later did I discover I had gotten second place, but as that did not earn a prize, much less an honorable mention, it was rather a disappointment. I still think of that prize (I guess I really wanted it!) whenever I come across a Bicentennial coin.

I also loved the huge sheets of Bicentennial stamps. My maternal grandfather worked for the post office and was a stamp collector himself, as well as my dad and I. Grandpa plastered the large boxes that were mailed to us at Christmas and birthdays with these huge sheets. Of course, they were used and cancelled, so they weren't worth as much, but we patiently soaked them off and put them in our albums. Later, I displayed mine at the Prince of Wales Island fair and received a blue ribbon.

Even in our little village of Klawock, Alaska, population 300, a grand celebration was planned. My mom was on the planning committee, and brimming with secrets which she refused to tell me! The main celebration was held on the school grounds, and one of the big events was the greased pig chase! A small young white sow was flown in from somewhere, and the terrified animal was sent squealing all over the playground, much to the amusement of the crowd. One young man finally wrestled it to the ground. Having no idea what to do with it, he gladly accepted Dad's offer of payment, and thus our little farm had its first pig. We named her Jezebel (all animals that were to be butchered were given names like Dinner or Supper, or those of Biblical villains...we had a horribly mean rooster named Nebuchadnezzar!). Jezebel lived up to her name; she'd dig out of her pen and chase us around the farm--probably revenge for the greased pig race. She once got into the chicken coop and helped herself to some fresh chicken. I was simply terrified of her!

Anyway, I believe it may have been the Bicentennial...or at least another Fourth celebration... when a log-rolling contest was held down at the waterfront dock. The whole community watched as two young men tried to maintain their balance on a log floating in the water. One of the Jackson boys was the loser and down he went, into the bay. I was standing next to my Dad and all of a sudden, he was kicking off his shoes and jumping in. My heart was in my throat...I had a healthy fear of water, since I couldn't swim and had been always been cautioned to be careful on the dock and boats. I burst into tears...what was my Daddy doing in the water? What I didn't know is that he had been a lifeguard in his teens, and had recognized that the Jackson youth, like many of the native fisherman in that community, could not swim, and had jumped in to save him. Dad had his hands full when he got out...chilly wet clothing, the commotion following his lifesaving success, and a sobbing little girl to reassure!

A big temptation of those days were firecrackers. I was told never to play with matches, lighters, or fireworks. A lot of my little friends were not well supervised, and one year, one of them managed to obtain a small brown bag full of firecrackers, along with some matches. We tried and we tried to get them to light, without success! (That was probably a good thing!) Some years, we would go down the road to the community of Craig, which was larger and had a nice little fireworks show. I only remember seeing them once, so I suppose I must have fallen asleep most of the other times.

As I got older, my parents started having a tradition of having a small bonfire and picnic every Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. We'd roast hot dogs and marshmallows and eat around large spools Dad had salvaged from the crews that were bringing electricity to the outlying areas of the island. After we moved to Washington State, I started working summers at The Salvation Army Camp Gifford on Deer Lake in Stevens County. We would always have fireworks on the lake courtesy of the camp director, and there would be other lake residents setting theirs off all around the was always very beautiful over the water, viewing them by mirrored image. Occasionally, someone around the lake would set off an illegal firework, and the hills around would reverberate with the explosion.

Now that I'm an adult, we get together at my parents' log home and celebrate with family and friends. I blogged about it here on my personal blog, &Etc. We return home at the end of the day and enjoy the fireworks displayed downtown from the campus of Gonzaga University. Last year we had a lightning storm going on at the same time, and the view was spectacular...nature's fireworks were more impressive than the man-made ones!


Apple said...

Happy 4th of July Miriam! We always had sparklers and watched the fireworks from our back windows. You probably were lucky you couldn't light the firecrackers, my husband still has a scar from one lit by a cousin.

Miriam said...

Hi, Apple! I was reminded of how dangerous they were while helping my little nephews with their sparklers this afternoon!

Janice said...


I loved your story, especially the part about "all animals that were to be butchered were given names like Dinner or Supper, or those of Biblical villains."

The only creature that I buy alive and kill myself is lobster, and I have an annoying habit of naming them before their hot water bath. In the future I'll be sure to give them a Biblical villain name!


Miriam said...

Janice, Beelzebub is always a good pick for a meal's name! ;-)

I've never had lobster, but sure have had a lot of those are one evil looking animal!

barbara said...

Hi Miriam,
I'am always happy to meet fellow genealogists.
I enjoyed reading your post on Independance Day. I can understand that you have some very found memories.
I'am a U.S. expat. So, I rarely have the chance to celebrate like back in the States.

You are welcome to stop by my blogs. I'am also a big genealogy fan, and try as best as I may, to conduct my research from a far.My roots are Irish,Danish, English... and from Mom, Japanese.

You have a nice day

Miriam said...

Hi, Barbara! I have read both your blogs from time to time and enjoy them very much!

On the Fourth, I thought about ex-pats in general, and my husband's niece, nephew-in-law, and grandniece in particular, who are currently in Germany. I would SO miss celebrating the Fourth in a big way!