“My Newfound Favorite Holiday,” column for June 25, 2013

 

I shouldn’t admit this. I might regret it later. But I have to tell you: The Fourth of July has never been my favorite holiday.┬áThere are several good reasons, not one of which has anything to do with patriotism or the lack of it.

Growing up in the ’50s, in the rural South, children were taught that we were blessed to be born in the greatest nation on Earth, and we should never take that gift for granted.

I never took it for granted. I swear. I loved my country with my whole heart and wished it the happiest of birthdays, with many happy returns.

But here’s the thing. I flat-out hated having to go to the annual Hatch Mill company picnic, a Fourth of July “Happy Birthday, God Bless America,” fried chicken and fireworks extravaganza.

At least, I think that’s what it was called. Words to that effect.

My stepfather worked for the mill. He was a weaver, and proud of it. The weavers ran the looms. When the looms broke down, the fixers fixed them. Then the weavers went back to weaving. It was a symbiotic arrangement, mostly amiable, except on the Fourth of July.

On that date, the mill would host a picnic and the mill hands would gather with their families to eat fried chicken and cheer for the fireworks and pull with all their hearts for one side or the other, weavers or fixers, in a do-or-die, no-holds-barred, last-man-standing tug-of-war.

That was fine. But it was hot, as my granddad would say, “Hotter than the devil’s toenails, or a firecracker in a feather bed on the Fourth of July.”

And I didn’t know any of the other kids, so I had nobody to play with, except my brothers. I already had to play with them too much at home.

So I’d keep to myself, swinging on the swings, watching the big boys throw chicken bones and firecrackers at each other. That was mildly entertaining, until they’d get bored and start throwing them at me.

I put up with it year after year for two reasons: One, I felt it was my patriotic duty; and two, my mother made me go.

That changed the summer I was 10, when my stepfather, a big man in size and stature, lost his footing in the tug-of-war and twisted his ankle so badly he was on crutches for six months.

They gave his job to one of the fixers. That Christmas, Santa didn’t make it to our house. But at least we never had to go to that company picnic again.

My children grew up on the fogbound coast of Northern California. Every Fourth of July, we’d bundle up against the cold, build a bonfire on the beach, do a picnic and watch fireworks with other shivering families.

I’d spend most of the evening trying to keep the kids from catching on fire or getting washed out to sea. I liked it better than the Hatch Mill picnic, but it was still not my favorite holiday.

Now my children are grown and we live miles apart. Like many families, it’s hard for us all to get together for holidays.

Last summer, my youngest and his wife and their 2-year-old came to Las Vegas to spend the Fourth with my husband and me. We barbecued and watched fireworks from our backyard. Then, while his mom and dad and Papa Mark swam in the pool, Randy buried his face in my neck and fell asleep. That was my favorite Fourth so far.

This year, on the Fourth of July, my husband’s oldest boy is getting married in California. We are taking the week off and renting a big house where our children and grandchildren will join us. We’ll sleep under the same roof, eat at the same table, celebrate the wedding of two beautiful people, and watch fireworks under the same sky.

It will be absolutely my favorite holiday. And I might not even have to dodge chicken bones or firecrackers.

Just when you think the best is past, life will tap you on the shoulder and say, “Watch this!”

Here’s wishing you and yours a happy Fourth of July. It really is a great country, isn’t it?

Comments

  1. john Hammond says:

    Sharon, Your step dad article was spot on. All your articles,and I am reading them all,make me laugh,cry,make all of us realize the importance of life,little things make a difference and that past/future experiences shape the fiber of our lives.You are a truly gifted individual and I’m hooked on your articles.Thank You

  2. Sally Wells says:

    Sharon – I live in Redding, California which you were kind enough to visit. I actually had dinner at the then publisher of our local newspaper with you and others that were on a mission to build a new library. The proceeds from your talk went to that cause. It took some time, but we were successful!

    Referring to your column “My favorite Fourth is coming right up”, though I don’t know to which part of California your family gathering is to be held, our paper predicts Las Vegas to be 116 degrees today and 113 tomorrow. It does not list Thursday. I surely hope you will be somewhere not nearly as toasty! Even Redding, the prediction is 112 – 115 degrees the next few days. We always claim “but it is a dry heat” which is true (under 10%). But beginning tomorrow (Wed.), the “they” of the weather world are predicting up to 25% humidity!!! YIKES! Not ideal for sure. I am guessing you will be somewhere in the middle of the state and not far from the ocean.

    Wishing you a joyous 4th and a glorious time with your growing family. I always enjoy your columns.

  3. Alan Crabtree says:

    I read your ‘favorite holiday’ colimn today. Sadly, I have never read your column before. Within one paragraph, I was pulled into the story. I truly love when a writer has the ability to entertain me, and keep me spellbound. You are a gifted writer. My paper doesn’t run your column regularly, so I am bookmarking your website. Thank you the good read today. And, when the Fourth rolls around, take lots of pictures, and tell us how it went. Thank you again, and may God bless you.

  4. Weldon Walker says:

    I absolutely loved this column.

  5. vicki hamrick says:

    Sharon, it’s strange after all these years and going to school with you that I have found out more about your life through your column than I learned growing up with you! I do hope this is your best 4th of July ever and that you never have one again where you are the target for chicken bones!

  6. libby nowell says:

    Sharon, you give me reason to look forward to sundays paper. it would be just fine if that was all the paper wrote about. I would love a good long paper for sunday morning that is nothing but your colums to read and drink my coffee by. you make me laugh, and you make me cry, but most of all you brighten up my day.

    thanks,
    Libby

  7. alicemarie from Tennessee says:

    Dear Sharon, Just wanted to tell you that I just came home from Fullerton, CA with a visit with my baby daughter, Andrea 52, her husband and 3 beautiful teenage girls. I am doing better health wise but still trying to get used to a more quiet life style for this 92 year old lady. It wasn’t 4th of July but it very seemed like it! Yours sounds simply perfect! Have the time of your lives. Alice

  8. Kathy McElroy says:

    Oh, Sharon this column touched my heart. We just returned from 5 days in Bolinas, CA for our son Kevin and Chloe’s wedding. What a wonderful family reunion with relatives (all 3 sons, Chloe’s brother and Dad, grand kids, aunts, uncles, and cousins) and friends, young and old, from TN, WY, PA, OR, CA, NYC, IA, London, and New Zealand! We shared a big funky beach house, visited others in cottages and homes of all sizes, strolled the beach, ate, talked, laughed, hiked, went tide pooling, and did Scottish dancing, or I should say, we Americans tried! The culmination was their lovely ceremony on Saturday afternoon at the lagoon followed by a beautiful and unique reception in the Peace Barn. We are still recovering , but we’ll treasure the memories forever.

    Congratulations and enjoy your upcoming festivities. I’m so pleased that you’ll all be together on the fourth for such a special event. With love and best wishes, Kathy

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