Early in the morning I would awake to the sound of pots and pans clanging out the simple symphony of a holiday morning at the ranch. My grandmother woke with the sun and was already on the other side of the spare room's door mastering the perfect blend of 2 parts mayo, 1 part yellow mustard, equal parts onion and relish for the potato salad. A pot of beans bubbling on the nearby stove smelled of sweet tomatoes and warm spices but my breakfast plate was filled with Eggos and Karo Syrup because she was busy.
As the morning progressed my help was issued off and on between the women folk fluttering through the kitchen in a nervous jumble and the men outside clearing the shop and sweeping the concrete where they would place long wooden tables with long wooden benches and serving tables covered with red and white checkered plastic for serving food. The side doors of the big metal shop would be cranked open by lunch time letting the country breeze flow through the open space and out the opposite side.
Sometimes the wind would change and the location of the big BBQ made of cast iron would have to be rethought. It took two grown men to move the pit of coal with the large metal crank for moving the rack closer and farther from the frame to the opposite side of the shop and sometimes they did it more than once to keep the smoke out of the shop.
In the shop next to the steady hum of the antique refrigerator we stole soda's from when we were hot a circle of ice chests would be begin to form. Each one overflowing with white ice chunks and cans of soda and beer. The counter nearby would slowly fill with little plastic high ball glasses, big red Dixie cups and bottles of adult beverages that never interested us kids at all.
Instead the kids could be found dividing our time between the shady front yard with it's lush green grass playing games that only came out for holidays like boccie ball and polo, the concrete driveway on bikes or with chalk, in the fields bothering the horses and jumping from the hay bails and intermittently at the buffet table sampling the assorted appetizers that made their way outside.
When we got really hot we'd wander into the shop and drink ice cold Pepsi from little plastic high ball glasses and feel very adult while we played games of Blitz with real quarters for betting that we talked some unsuspecting adult into giving us. And every once and a great while they'd humor us with sprinklers or plastic pools filled with water to keep us out of the way.
Mid afternoon the relatives came. They came in big trucks & shiny town cars with the windows rolled down filled with sweaty kids to play with and woman with big hair and bright red shirts. The men would gather at one table and the women at the other and they would talk about things adults like to talk about and laugh. They would shoo us kids outside over and over until it was time for dinner then they would spend just as much time begging us to come back in to eat.
We'd eat from grandma's famous platters of southern food and a large selection of covered dishes brought by the relatives, friends and relatives/friends of our friends and relatives. We sampled a little of everything until we were too full. And then the quite hum of visiting would wash through the echoing big shop while people had that one last slice of the type of desserts that kept Cool Whip in business.
When the darkness came we would flow out the big doors like lines of ants and a semi-circle of lawn chairs with orange and yellow slats would form on the concrete while the kids rushed to put the bikes away. Then the fireworks would come out in boxes, bags and buckets to be placed for the men to light.
They'd stand around with their beer in once hand and a lighter in the other laughing and making dares while one by one we oohed and awed at the magical sparkling and whistling and popping. Some of the things were small and they would be lite in big groups to make them compare to the fireworks that my grandparents had brought home from their vacations back to Oklahoma to see family.
Eventually the oh and aw feeling would be replaced by shock and awe as one man always managed to catch his shirt on fire or accidentally send a flower firecracker under a little old woman's chair. The more meek children would watch through the big picture window from the house and the others would beg for sparklers and dance around in their open toed sandals spelling names in the sky and trying not to burn themselves (back when sparklers actually had sparks).
When the fireworks were done we'd look to the horizon and watch the big show from town popping over the sky to our left or right. And then suddenly tired and hot we'd gather back into the big shop and the women would start a parade of half platters of food and the last of the deviled eggs back into the kitchen to be tucked away until tomorrow. And the men would stack the big tables and the big benches until next year.
One by one the families would pile into their big trucks and the sound of country music would fade away as their lights dimmed into the night sky. They drove away with their covered dishes and they sauce stained bright red shirts, with their dirty children falling asleep in the bed of the truck.
And right about the time everyone fun had wandered off I'd hear my dad whistle out back by the big metal American made car that had sat in the sun all day... and I'd crawl into one of it's hot fabric seats and click my seat belt and let the vibration of the road lull me into sleep while the breeze through the open window tickled the hair falling out of my braids against my dusty skin and I'd start dreaming about next year.
Happy 4th of July! May you have the sort of Indepence Day that your kids will still remember 25 years later. May you be thankful for the freedom you have and pray for the people who gave it to you every day.