4th of July Picnic

The Fourth of July family reunion takes over the entire town park. The men place huge picnic tables end to end to make one long trestle down the middle of the park.

The women set out the food—every morsel carried in from the farms covered with damp tea towels, held in laps, wedged in the back seat between kids.

The food:

          potato salad,

          fried chicken,

          corn on the cob,

          baked ham,

          jello salads in all colors—

                    green with pineapple

                    orange with shredded carrots

                    yellow with celery and bits of nut

                    tricolored with three separate fillings

                    each topped with cream cheese whipped to a froth and a tiny

                    edible icon

                    (There’s a competition around jello creativity.)

          baked beans redolent of molasses,

          coleslaw dressed with home-made mayonnaise,

          devilled eggs,

          pies— oh the pies!








                    banana cream


          ambrosias of fruit cocktail floating in clouds of whipped cream

          root beer floats

          cakes—oh the cakes!—

                    layer cakes

                    yellow cakes with chocolate frosting

                    angel food cakes crowned with drizzled strawberries

                    chocolate cakes

                    marble cakes

                    white cakes iced with butter cream

                    cupcakes for the little kids, available on demand.

Nursing mothers sit in the shade; men play horseshoes; kids run amok everywhere, dirty from sliding into home, sticky around the mouths and fingers from all the dessert sampling, tee shirts stained with spilled Kool-aid, a skinned knee or two. Tears and teasing and chase games.

The music:

          guitars come out from truck beds,

          harmonicas come out of pockets

          old Swedish songs and

          Hank Williams songs and

          country songs and

          Old Country songs and

          ballads of longing: If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison

          walls I would fly…

          The uncles sing rowdy songs: There was an old man and he had an

          old sow, rowseldy, rowseldy row, with an oink and a snort and a grunt

          and a snuffle, rowseldy dow. Us kids gather around them and giggle

          at the noises, pretty soon we are all oinking and snuffling as the

          tune is sung over and over.

Poetry is recited.

Little kids sleep on blankets under the picnic table. Ladies gossip about the scandalous town girl who dares to wear short shorts in front of all these boys and men. Old farmers, thumbs hooked in their suspenders, talk about crops and weather and stock and water. Courting couples sneak off behind the trees for a kiss and a promise and maybe the beginning of the next generation, foretelling a wedding right after high school graduation.

At last the fireworks!

Uncle Rudy (who refuses to go to the reunion, claims it’s because he hates pickle relish) stays on the farm, drives his tractor up and down the rows of sugar beets—we bring him an ice cold root beer float out to the field during the middle of the day and return to the park) saves all year and spends a fortune on a box of fireworks that comes from Michigan every 1st of July. We all go out to the farm for the fireworks. Little kids are given sparklers and poppers and “worms” that can fizzle under the mothers’ feet and make them scream. Uncle Rudy puts lit firecrackers inside an old oil drum and us kids ride it while they explode, call it our “motorcycle.” Rudy and his son Karl (all of the girls of all ages are madly in love with Karl) and a couple of other older cousins set off the Roman Candles and Fountains, bursting up and up and over the fields of ripening corn. Somebody starts cranking the ice-cream freezer, we all take turns as it gets harder and harder to turn the handle. When all the fireworks have been set off, there will be homemade peach ice cream.

Us kids get “over-diddled” as the saying goes, cranky and hyper. A hand reaches out, a bottom gets smacked, doesn’t matter whose hand or which bottom. A cautionary thwack. A pout appears, a finger points—it wasn’t me!—another hand reaches down and plunks another random kid on a lap until it stops wiggling and whizzling.

Stars come out, there’s coffee “up at the house.” Long after dark, if one can keep one’s eyes open long enough, one can see the line of cars driving out along the farm roads.


August 29, 2021, 8:59:07 PM

Nebraska Stories