Unlike almost every other holiday, I have no fond childhood memories of Independence Day. Instead of making me feel patriotic, the holiday made me envious.
Among other subgroups (male/female; rich/poor; smart/not so smart, etc.) the social structure in my grade school was divided into two distinct groups: The Townies and the Farmers. I was a Farmer who rode the bus home after school each day, and after quickly changing into my Farmer Clothes, immediately went to help my dad feed the livestock, gather the eggs and milk the cows.
While I actually liked most of these farm chores, especially milking, I had visions of my lucky school mates who lived in town playing basketball or baseball or just goofing off while I was gathering eggs or throwing ears of corn to the hogs. I was convinced while I worked, they played. That made me envious of them.
Bear in mind the town where the Townies lived was Bloomingburg, Ohio, which had a population of about 500 back then. It had no movie theaters or shopping malls. In fact, the only businesses in town were a small restaurant across from the school, a barbershop, a farm implement dealer, a feed mill and a general store. Compared to Ashland, there wasn’t much for a kid to do in Bloomingburg. Shoot, even today’s Sandy Hook has more for kids to do than Bloomingburg did in 1955.
But Bloomingburg did have a park built by the Lions Club as a civic project. It has two ballfields, a couple of picnic shelters, a small playground and an outdoor basketball court. I imagined the Townies spending hour after hour playing ball in the park while I worked driving the tractor to rake hay or cultivate the corn and soybean fields, and when I became big enough to handle the bales, load hay.
Once school was out for the summer, I seldom saw my classmates, but I continued to imagine the Townies spending their days playing ball or even going to the swimming pool in Washington Court House while we Farmers worked. That’s why I never celebrated Independence Day. Oh, I knew there was a parade, a huge community day in the park and fireworks in Washington Court House, but since Independence Day was in a middle of summer, as a Farmer I was expected to work that day. Many times my three sisters and I begged Mom and Dad to take us to Washington Court House to see the fireworks. That did not seem unreasonable to us. After all, the fireworks were not until late at night when all the work on the farm was done for the day.
But Dad refused. He said we could see the fireworks from our back yard. Did you ever try to watch a fireworks show from a distance of 12 miles? If you haven’t, I can assure you that you haven’t missed much.
I think I was 12 when I saw my first fireworks live and in person. Before that, the only fireworks I had seen was during the opening of “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color,” and since we only had a black-and-white TV, it just wasn’t the same.
I knew why Dad did not want to take us to see the fireworks: By the time the dazzling display began, he had been in bed for at least an hour. He worked hard and lived by the adage: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Well, he was pretty healthy despite smoking way too much, and as far as I can tell, he was a whole lot wiser when I was 25 than when I was 15.
The holiday that made me almost as envious of the Townies as Independence Day was Halloween. I knew each Halloween, the Townies were out roaming the streets of Bloomingburg and getting bags full of candy. The parents of some of the Farmers let their children go trick-or-treating in Bloomingburg, but not my parents. Not only would Mom refuse to let her children go door to door begging for candy, she was adamantly opposed to the very idea of trick or treat.
Thus, my sisters and I stayed home on Halloween while our friends gethered bags of candy. No wonder we were envious.
As a father, I never forbid my children from going trick-or-treating and I always joined them in watching the fireworks. That’s what I plan to do this week: go to the Summer Motion concerts and watch the fireworks. And take time to thank God for allowing me to live in America.
Happy Independence Day.
By the way, Dad was not unpatriotic. He just chose to celebrate Independence Day by helping to feed America.
JOHN CANNON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2649.