Happy Fourth | Arkansas Blog

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Fourth

Posted By on Fri, Jul 4, 2008 at 6:16 AM

It's one of my favorite holidays.

Barbecue is generally involved. Sometimes band music.

You can get your Fourth on in a variety of ways today.

One is at the Clinton Presidential Center and Park, where there's free admission all day to the presidential library. Food vendors will be operating in the park, music is planned and there will be fun for kids -- Safari Train, bounce house, a water slide and obstacle course -- beginning at 10:30 a.m. The Delta Brass Quintent plays from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The Chicken King will distribute free chicken wings from 2 to 4 p.m. The Dell Smith Experience takes the stage from 6 to 9 p.m. and then it's time for the Democrat-Gazette's Pops on the River-closing fireworks at 9:30.

I'm also going to indulge myself by reprinting on the jump a July 4 column I wrote back in 1990 at the Arkansas Gazette and reworked once for the Arkansas Times. It's purely a guilty pleasure for me to stir July 4 memories of days long ago lakeside in South Louisiana.


FROM 1990

I love the Fourth of July.
It is a pure holiday. A day off with a minimum of the claptrap greeting cards, lawn displays, pre-holiday parties, and post-holiday bill remorse that can make a holiday more of a chore than a celebration.
On July 4, we pursue happiness. Some of us might even remember that the pursuit of happiness was among those rights listed in the Declaration of Independence, whose signing the holiday commemorates.
Everybody has an ideal way to celebrate the Fourth. Here's mine:
I join old friends and their extended family at their camp at Big Lake, a brown and brackish expanse near the Gulf of Mexico in south Louisiana. (Camp is the local word for a modest frame house with a screened porch, typically built beside a body of water. A camp is used for recreational pursuits such as drinking and bourre, or other card games played for money.)
We go fishing early, so as to be sure to have a sunburn before the day ends. If we happen to land any croaker or catfish, we give them away.
We also tie chicken necks to lengths of twine and then throw out the lines, which are secured along the rickety dock jutting into the lake. The children in attendance are instructed to check the lines periodically and, when possible, scoop up any nibbling crabs with a dip net.
The crabbing is punctuated by howls of children. Splinter-removal surgery helps some of them. Others just need a little comforting after poking a finger or toe too close to the claw of a big blue crab.
About midday, someone stokes up the Cajun cooker, a barbecue contraption made from a 55-gallon oil drum. There will be spare ribs and, for the cook and kibitzers, a few ropes of smoked sausage.
We swim a bit in the oily, spit-warm lake as the ribs cook. More cooling are the washtubs full of iced drinks.
In late afternoon, the feast begins. There's the barbecue. Platters of sliced homegrown tomatoes, salted and peppered. Huge pans of eggplant casserole, studded with shrimp. Homemade potato salad, heavy on the mayonnaise. Baked beans. Garlic French bread.
Then dessert. Watermelon. Brownies. Baked bananas with cinnamon, butter and pecans. (Don't ask me why.) Maybe hand-cranked ice cream.
Stuffed nearly immobile, we groan in the wicker chairs on the porch. The ceiling fans don't cool us much, but the breezes disturb the flies a bit. The sun sets on the lake, occasionally silhouetting a freighter passing on the nearby ship channel. At dark, a sackful of small-time fireworks might be ignited on the dock. The tradition, and not the firepower, is the thing.
When we were younger, the smart alecks among us occasionally staged mock Fourth of July pageants, full of sarcastically patriotic speeches delivered by players wrapped, literally, in the flag.
We were too ignorant to know how close to the rebellious spirit of the day we really were. Better than our own impromptu remarks would have been some of the words of the founding fathers.
" We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
Declare something like that in public these days and somebody might try to have you arrested.

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