Smoky Mountain Family Historian

Sunday, July 01, 2007

What Do America & Independence Day Mean to My Family?

That's the question for this week's Carnival of Genealogy. There are many things that it has meant over the years to my family. I'd love to quiz my 17th century ancestors who migrated to this continent about their reasons for coming to this continent. I can only imagine them at this point. Some of these same ancestors must have shared the frustrations that those who instigated the Boston Tea Party felt. Many fought for this country's freedom. One of my families did not fight for the country's freedom. They were Amish and as such were pacifists by nature. I came across a reference to a document that showed that my ancestor Johannes Lantz supported King George. However, since the family had come here to escape religious persecution, they remained in what became the United States. Many of my Southern ancestors also fought in the Revolutionary War.

Throughout the years my ancestors have fought in various wars including the War of 1812, the Civil War (both sides), World War I, and World War II. The picture below is that of my grandfather James Thomas Thornton in his World War I uniform. He was awarded a Purple Heart.

My grandfather was a carpenter by trade, but he always had a fairly large garden at his home in Becker, Monroe County, Mississippi. As a child, my favorite thing in his garden was the watermelon patch. In Mississippi they used to say that you couldn't get a decent watermelon until the 4th of July. We would always have watermelons from Pappaw's on the 4th of July. We had a picnic table in the back yard of the house in which I grew up. We'd take the watermelon or watermelons out to the table (after we'd eaten ribs or grilled burgers and hot dogs). One of the men would slice it up and serve a piece to every family member present and often half of the neighbors as well. We'd get the salt shaker and put some on our slice and then begin to savor the ripened fruit. Sometimes we'd see who could spit a seed the greatest distance. That person was never me. I never really mastered seed spitting. A little later in the day, someone would get out the ice cream freezer and we'd take turns cranking it until it was "set." Then we'd all enjoy a bowl of delicious homemade ice cream. It used to always be vanilla until my Dad returned from one of his "school trips" to Texas with a recipe for a homemade butter pecan variety that he'd tried when he went to Oklahoma for the weekend to the home of one of the other "students". (Dad sometimes had to go for three-week training classes at an Air Force Base in Wichita Falls.) After we were introduced to this wonderful variety of homemade ice cream, we rarely settled for "plain vanilla." At the end of the day, most of us kids on the street would shoot off a few firecrackers, bottle rockets, Roman candles, and sparklers. That's about all most of our parents would let us have. I refused to do firecrackers, but I did shoot some bottle rockets. Compared to the elaborate displays of fireworks we see nowadays on the 4th, our stuff was boring, but it was fun because we only got to do them on the 4th of July and around New Year's Day, and we'd never seen anything better.

Years later, when I was on my own and living 9 to 10 hours away from my family, I decided that it was time to have a traditional 4th of July. I called several of my other single friends over, and we had a 4th of July cookout--complete with watermelon (although it obviously wasn't from my Pappaw's garden). I didn't have an ice cream freezer, but I think we made a Graeter's run instead. Of course, all of us had long ago graduated from doing our own fireworks, so we made our way to the front of the television and watched all of the wonderful fireworks shows--the local and national ones.

Of course, no 4th of July would be complete without all the wonderful patriotic programs in the churches, honoring those who have served this country. Ours was this morning! Beth Greene did an incredible job on an outstanding arrangement of the national anthem. We did the "Procession of the Patriots" honoring our veterans. Don Connell sang the solo on "I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb" with the choir backing him up. It was great! Dr. Price's sermon was "America with One Foot on the Wrong Fork in the Road." He used illustrations of how modern interpretations have changed the intentions of our country's forefathers concerning some of our basic constitutional freedoms.

Independence Day is a day for family and friends to share their freedom. It's a day for us to celebrate that we are "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

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