Saturday, July 2, 2011

Kids' Day

Everyone else celebrated the 4th of July. We celebrated Kids' Day. My mother said, "There's a Father's Day and a Mother's Day, so there should be a Kids' Day too." My father usually added in a fake grumpy voice, "Humph! Every day is Kids' Day if you ask me!"

There could be another reason why my parents decreed it Kids' Day. All of us in the US know that this is the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. Independence from England. My mother was English. She didn't see a need to celebrate. So perhaps Kids' Day was a compromise, a peace agreement between my very patriotic Dad and my very British mother (who never did become a US citizen)?

Whatever the real reason, Kids' Day was an event we looked forward to all year. It was almost better than Christmas. Definitely better than Easter, better than our birthdays; every other holiday paled in significance too.

The day before we prepared. Mm packed the picnic things and Dad went to Manassas Ice and Fuel Company and bought big blocks of ice. I remember the man loading the ice into our car with big ice tongs. At home, Dad put the ice into sawdust to keep it from melting until we were ready to use it the next day.

July 4th started early with a breakfast picnic at the Manassas Battlefield Park. A breakfast picnic was a real treat--the park would be empty, no other visitors in sight so we could run, shout and play as much as we wanted. The morning mist rising from the ground was cooling and made the woods magical. The smell of bacon frying over a wood fire--well, you can imagine that yourself.

After breakfast we headed home to prepare for the evening cookout. I don't recall eating lunch on Kids' Day, probably because breakfast was so substantial. Dad would get his ice pick and chip the ice blocks into big round galvanized tubs. Many cans of pop (we called it soda in Manassas) were shoved down into the ice to cool. We didn't have pop at any other time of year, so this was a real treat. My favorite was cream soda. Man, I can taste that ice-cold, creamy-smooth, bubbly pop even now. Another block was chipped into another washtub; this was to cool the watermelon. The melons were huge, long and pale green with a few darker green specks.

The cookout started around 4 in the afternoon. Hot dogs were the usual fare; we might have had hamburgers but I do not remember them, and it seems to me that the cost of feeding hamburgers to 13 children and assorted neighbors would have been pretty high. Maybe in later years we had hamburgers but I don't remember them at all. What I remember are hot dogs, with ketchup and mustard. And pork 'n' beans. And macaroni salad with celery seeds and chopped celery and lots of mayonnaise. And Mom's yellow potato salad. And all the pop I wanted to drink. When the cream soda was gone, I moved on to root beer. Or to black cherry. The choices seemed endless.The watermelon was the piece de resistance. Icy cold and sliced in long wedges, the sweet juice would run down our chins, soak our shirts and leave us in sugar shock.

As the sun set and the fire burned down to embers (we cooked on wood, not charcoal) Dad would get the marshmallows and the roasting sticks. It didn't take long for the whole bag to disappear and we added charred sticky bits to the watermelon juice dried on our faces.

Last of all were the fireworks and sparklers. We didn't have anything fancy, just a few Roman candles and a few snakes, usually. But we always had plenty of sparklers and we lit up the neighborhood with their fiery brilliance. When the sparklers were gone, Dad added wood to the fire and we gathered around to sing, remember the funny things that happened that day or on other Kids' Day, and watch the stars pop out in the sky.

Kids' Day was over. It would be another year before it came again, another year before the pop flowed freely and the melon was plentiful.

It was our way of celebrating our nation's birth, and simple as it was those days remain in my memory as some of the best of my childhood. Maybe we should consider creating an official Kids' Day in the US. But nowadays, would those simple pleasures mean anything? Maybe it's best to leave it to memory and be grateful that my parents with their limited resources found a way to make this day something that would live on as a happy memory for their children, even 50 years later.


A Vintage Green said...

A wonderful story, a wonderful memory. Thanks for sharing. I loved it.
- Joy

Pat MacKenzie said...

What a lovely memory. Breakfast picnic sounds wonderful. Everything sounds perfect in fact, except for the watermelon - I can't stand the stuff. Did you do Kids Day for your own kids?

Granny Sue said...

We used to do a version of it, Pat, but when my boys were young we were farming and growing tobacco and the work seemed to take precedence. Looking back, I wish I had kept the tradition alive as I did so many others that my parents taught us.

My guys are parents themselves now but we get together, or try to, each 4th of July to celebrate together. Nowadays it is centered around the local big 4th celebration with parade and a 2K run. So not quite the same.

Joy, you and I are in the same age group so some of this probably was familiar to you :)

Debbie Couture said...

Sue, What a great time you all had. That soda must have been a treat. We are all spoiled these days. Your parents did a great job raising you 13 kids. Love watermelon. It's supposed to be best starting on the 4th. Have a happy 4th. Richard and I are in Florida so it will be a different type of 4th.

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Here in England we only had Mother's Day (more correctly Mothering Sunday). Father's Day, was imported from the States (mainly by manufacturers of greetings cards). Kids' Day would be most welcome too.
Incidently Halloween was not celebrated in England when I was young either.

Rowan said...

That sounds like a perfect day - what wonderful memories. I'm a big fan of hot dogs and cream soda too and like you say 'pop' was a treat not an everyday thing when I was a child. Incidentally thank you for pointing me in the direction of your cousin John's blog, I'm enjoying it immensely.

Granny Sue said...

Rowan, I love it when my friends connect with each other. I've been loving John's blog too. The two of you bring England to me.

Anonymous said...

Sue--Your Kids Day sounds like a great treat for your family. In our family, we celebrated the 4th of July, as we did each holiday, by gathering at my great-grandparents' house. We didn't cook out; but, we did have a block of ice that was chipped into a tub for cooling the watermelon (had to be large enough to feed 12-15 people) and into the ice cream freezer for the hand-cranked product that we all adored.

Thanks for the memories!
Cop Car (via Ronni Bennett's)

Granny Sue said...

Debbie,we had watermelon last night and you are right on--it was amazing;y sweet and juicy.

Cop Car, welcome! I forgot about the ice cream! We did that some years,not always though. There is nothing like the taste of hand cranked ice cream is there? It sounds like you came from a large family too--12-15 people? My memory of melons back then is that they were huge, much bigger than melons today, but maybe that's because I was small?

Nanjemoy Nana said...

......and those sweet, fat, juicy black cherries. I loved those. I loved the Black Cherry soda too. Good ole Cragmont. I don't remember hamburgers either. Just yummy hotdogs. All you could eat of everything. :)

Granny Sue said...

And for us, all you could eat was not the norm, was it Maggie? So Kids Day was even more special because of that. We always had enough to eat, but not the over-abundance of Kids Day.

JJM said...

Manassas Battlefield is a magical place almost always, but early in the morning especially so. That's where I go when I have deep thinking to do, or more sorrow than I can hold within me. Most battlefields are haunted places, with or without ghosts. Not Manassas. It is a place of such great and abiding peace ... Shouldn't be, but ... somehow ... it is. --Mario

Granny Sue said...

I can see that, Mario. It is quiet there, and peaceful for all its bloody history.

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