Today Independence Day, or July Fourth, is simply a picnic or a celebration with fireworks, but I am sure the colonists had a much different view. They were fresh from a fight against fellow countrymen. Perhaps they met friends or relatives on the battlefield. It was a bitter struggle. The colonists were the underdogs, yet they persevered and won their independence.
Picture the ill-clad troops up against the well-healed British Redcoats. It certainly was a battle filled with emotion. I remember that the study of the American Revolution was in my day part of seventh-grade social studies. I was really interested in what we learned. Since I lived in New York we focused on the role of the New York battles and generals.
Mrs. Rotunda had taken time to write a story about the war with a generous number of blank spaces. After she lectured us about the information for the day we had time to look in our books for the information that was missing. This may be an old technique, but it proved to be one that allowed those facts to remain in my mind.
When the family plays Trivia or other information-rich games I find that I have an enormous amount of extraneous information in this head of mine. I have no idea why I remember some of these things, but I do.
I was in a third-grade classroom as the country celebrated the bicentennial. History is fun if it is approached in the right manner. We looked at how the colonists lived at the time trying some of the early crafts and activities. All of my lessons worked together so the children would have a better understanding of what Independence Day really was. We made samplers. We cooked a traditional dinner of stew with vegetables grown in the early gardens. The parents were wonderful. They contributed food and materials. On the final day of study we dressed in colonial garb and enjoyed a feast as we reveled in the joy of earning independence from England.
I look back on that unit fondly. I enjoyed teaching it and the students enjoyed learning about it. It was not in the third-grade textbook, but I managed to fit it in because it was a current event. I am so glad that all of the planning and hard work paid off. When I meet former students they remind me of some of the units that we did. They always remember what I like to call the active way of studying. Once you do something you remember. It was a lot of work to do these active units, but they were well worth the effort. It was what made learning fun.
The community that I grew up in did not have a Fourth of July parade, but they did have a band concert and fireworks. We usually had a family picnic at my aunt and uncle's cottage, then, loaded up the car to go to the band concert. The band played familiar tunes that we could all sing to. Marches were also big. They played all of the John Phillip Sousa marches.
We took lawn chairs and blankets and made ourselves at home. The concert lasted about an hour then it was time for the fireworks. The fireworks were set off from the dock so we could all see them.
Even though we had just eaten we were always hungry. My neighbor's family ran a hot dog stand just across from the park where the band concert was held. They also sold pop in glass bottles. They charged a deposit on the bottles, but many people were just too lazy to return them. My cousins and I collected the bottles that were tossed away and returned them for the deposit. Often we earned enough to buy some chips or even enough for a hot dog. Now, they charge deposit on aluminum cans, but people do no return those either. We find all kinds of trash along the side of the road.
As I became a farmer's wife I realized that farm work did not stop for the Fourth of July. Sometimes we had a picnic and sometimes we didn't. It depended on how the haying was going. If there was hay to haul, the best we could hope for was a picnic supper after the work was done.
Grandma's birthday was two days later so often we had birthday cake for dessert. Usually grandma's birthday celebration stretched over several days.
One Fourth of July we had a family reunion. Since the haying was finished we got to attend. It was a great way to celebrate our country's independence. We saw relatives who we seldom saw. We played volleyball and ate a delicious meal that we all contributed to.
When we first attended fireworks around here they were done in the school athletic field. Sometimes we parked at the high school and looked down from there. Gradually the celebration expanded to include a carnival. The fireworks moved. Now we take our lawn chairs and sit in one of the grassy areas to enjoy the fireworks display.
The big thing was sparklers. We always had our own sparklers. The adults lit them, and the children went around the yard with them. We always made them bring the wire holders to the porch so that we did not have to worry about running over them with the lawn mower.
With the Fourth being in the middle of the week, I am not sure what the family is doing. The parents will all have to go to work the next day so it is really just a day off.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa.