The Ghosts of 4ths of July Past

20140628_160736As I prepared for my family’s 4th of July soiree, I scoured the internet looking for some ideas I could use to wow my guests.  I found myself amazed at some of the great ideas floating around the web and picked several of them that I really liked and thought would be good to have on hand to present throughout the day.  As I contemplated my menu, I couldn’t help remembering the 4ths of July past that I spent at my maternal grandparent’s house surrounded by my extended family. The 4th of July was my maternal grandmother’s favorite holiday, so she requested that all of her children come to her home on that day to have a reunion.  My paternal grandfather was an Italian immigrant.  He loved his new country.  He studied hard to become a citizen, and loved everything about living in the United States.  He was so determined to be completely American that he forbid anyone to speak anything but English in his home.

My grandparents  had 8 children and 33 grandchildren.  I have no idea how many great grand children they had.  The last time I heard anyone mention counting them, I was 13 years old and the great grand children numbered 21.  I know there are more than that now.    In addition to their children and grandchildren, my grandmother’s 3 sisters, and their families, would descend upon the house.

The days before the 4th were very busy.   My parents and my aunts who had come to stay at Grandma’s house because they lived quite a distance were all busy with preparations.  Everyone was enlisted to  help  my grandmother prepare delicious dishes that would be served when the guests arrived.  The house hummed with excitement, it was  was  full of activity and the smells of delicious food.  Two large tables were pushed together in the dining room at all times because my grandmother had never been able to sit all of her children and their guests around just one table.  This double table was always covered with a huge table cloth or two.  These were exchanged for fresh table clothes after dinner on the night of the 3rd.

As soon as the breakfast table was cleared on the morning on the 4th, we kids would gather along the side of the street that ran along the river’s edge to watch the 4th of July parade.  We were always accompanied by at least one of the adult women.  When the parade was over, we would rush back to my grandparent’s house to see if any of the other relatives had arrived yet.  No one ever arrived empty handed.  An aunt who lived a couple hours away and had a farm brought a dozen watermelons one year.  These were not the small seedless variety that are in our local markets.  These were huge oblong things that were full of black seeds.  She deposited these melons on the back porch along with a couple of butcher knives and a salt shaker that she brought from inside the house.   My cousins and I would slice off  huge wedges of watermelon, sprinkle them with salt, and then have seed spitting contests off of the back porch.   We had watermelon juice all over us.  It was on both cheeks and both arms, and we were a sticky mess, but we had so much fun. The following spring, my grandmother remarked that she had several “volunteer” watermelon plants that had sprouted up from where we had spit all of our seeds.

When I thnk of the 4th of July buffet in my grandmother’s house, I remember her large, double table being piled high with food.  There would be macaroni and potato salads, cold fried chicken a couple of hams, fruit salad, cooked potatoes, green beans, creamed peas, corn on the cob, boiled shrimp, and of course, there were pies and cakes galore.  I can still see us skirting around the perimeter of the table, exchanging the usual banter and good-natured teasing,  as we heaped food onto our plates and headed off to find a place to sit, eat, and catch up on the latest news.  Every chair from the dining room had been moved into other rooms of the house or out onto the front porch.  My favorite place to eat on these occasions was while sitting on the 2 foot wide concrete rail that surrounded my grandparent’s raised porch.

My grandmother had attended the chicago conservatory of music in the early 20th century, and she had played the score for the old silent movies.  She was a very talented musician, and it seemed to me that all of the older people in my family played musical instruments with considerable skill.  There were two pianos in the living room, and people brought guitars, violins, harmonicas and accordions.  Everything we did, every interaction, was backed by the soundtrack of old standards, hymns, and a few contemporary country songs. When one person tired of playing, there was always someone else ready to join in for the next song.  Inevitably, the children, as they called us in those days, who had been taking music lessons, were good naturedly chastised until we performed a song or two.

In the evening, as the sun set, the older adults would gather on  front porch which was raised at least 10 feet off of the ground.  There, sitting on chairs or the porch swing, they would watch the fireworks display that was presented at the local high school.  The teenagers and older kids would walk as a group to the school to see some of the pre-fireworks musicians who preformed more contemporary music.  Inevitably, one or two of the younger adults would follow us as chaperones. I remember those days fondly.  At one point, so many people were sleeping over, that every possible piece of furniture was being used as a bed.   I remember that my cousins and I slept three to a twin bed with one of us sleeping in the middle with her head at  the foot of the bed.  The memory still makes me laugh. The other thing I remember is that no one complained and no one argued.  Miraculously, there was never a long line waiting for the bathroom in spite of having only one bathroom for over 40 people.  The thing that I remember most is that we just enjoyed being together as a family.  Sometimes, I really miss those days.

Having shared my 4th of July memories with you, I have a confession.  My big 4th of July treat is red velvet brownies with blue and white  decorations.  I’m not posting  a recipe because my intellectually disabled son wants to help make them, so we are using a mix so that he can do most of it himself.   He wants to make YouTube cooking videos, so I may film him.  Of course, I am so far behind that you probably won’t see the video on the internet before next 4th of July.  When we finish, I may post a picture of them, but the recipe is all Duncan Hines.

Update: The Duncan Hines Red Velvet Brownines were pretty good.  Even my daughter, who is  a self confessed Red Velvet Cake Snob, said they were “Okay.”  From her, this was high praise.  It took my son a long time to make them while I sat on my hands on a kitchen chair and read the directions to him.  He did a great job.  Here’s a picture of the finished pan of brownies. 
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I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th of July.  I have posted photos that are links to a couple of sites with ideas that I really like.  I intend to make those two treats for the 4th, too.  Please check out their sites. As always, thanks for visiting.

Click on the photo to be taken to the recipe and the site that owns these images. Patriotic Koolaid Popcorn2This popcorn looks so cute and patriotic.  My daughter loves caramel and kettle corn, so she should really like this recipe.   When we made this colorful popcorn, we had an idea for a variation that we will be making for Halloween, so check back in October.watermelon stars 3-2I couldn’t get over how cute something as simple as watermelon stars with blueberries could look.  Not only are they cute.  They’re healthy, too.  These chilled watermelon stars tasted so good.  We saved the watermelon remnants and turned them into watermelon salsa.  Look for the recipe coming soon. 

2 thoughts on “The Ghosts of 4ths of July Past

  1. I love hearing about holiday traditions from other families. Between all of the decoration and preparing for guests, even I forget to sit back and take in the best part: spending time relaxing with family.

    1. I have a friend who realized that she was totally missing the point of holidays a while back. A few years ago, she realized the error of her ways. At that point, she cut way back on the expectations she puts on herself for the holidays. At Christmas, for instance, she only makes one large batch of cookies and attends a cookie swap. She limits her decorating as well. By doing this, she says she finds that she enjoys the holidays more and can remember the purpose better. I can’t bring myself to scale back as much as she has, but I did present a much simpler menu this year for 4th of July. Thank you for visiting my site.

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