June’s blue moon shone last night, although at 5 o’clock this morning it was full and orange. Matthew called me outside to look at it, as wispy black clouds floated over the surface and clothed it in eerie shadows. As it sailed away over the horizon, it carried the last vestige of June with it, making way for the hot days of July. Half of our year is already gone.
Independence Day is upon us, and the weather is “hotter than a firecracker.” July brings so many good things, though, in addition to the hot, steamy days and humid, breathless nights. Family reunions are common this month, and on through the warm summer months. We had our “Grandpa Day” this past Saturday, when the Samples clan gathered to renew family ties and touch base with home. Many of the older cousins were there, enjoying the recalled memories of the past and partaking of the overflowing tables of delicious food. As Cousin Karen put it, “We Samples women know how to stir a pot!” It was more a case of “putting the big pot in the little one,” as there was such a variety of food.
Family reunions are important to hold a family together, and are a way of life here in the hills. No matter how far away a relative has moved and settled, there is something about the hills and family gatherings that calls a person home again. Mom always said that a drink of water from one of Clay County’s cold, mossy springs will always bring you back.
Independence Day has become just another extended weekend to many people, who never give a thought as to the meaning of this particular day. I asked my almost 12 year-old grandson what the Fourth of July holiday meant to him.
“C’mom, Mommaw, get real!” he quickly answered. I persisted with my questioning.
“What is this, Mommaw-school?” he questioned suspiciously. I assured him that I was serious, and merely wanted a child’s point of view.
“Fireworks!” he blurted without hesitation. “And going to Deer Creek on a camping trip. Say, just what is the Fourth of July, really?”
I began to explain the birth of our nation, and patriotism, as his attention wandered. Later, I began to think of what the Fourth of July meant to me when I was his age. It was almost the same thing-picnicing and swimming with the whole family down on Big Laurel Creek. It meant watermelon and fried chicken, and sometimes the first mess of half-runner green beans out of the garden. It was a time of fun and recreation. I reckon kids haven’t changed that much.
My first brush with patriotism came when I started in the first grade at Hagar Grade School. With the sound of the vigorous ringing of the school bell, we formed two lines at the foot of the wooden steps leading to the schoolhouse porch. Then we placed our hands on our hearts and recited the “Pledge of Allegiance.” After I more or less learned the words, they still had no meaning to me. But I loved the chant and rhythm.
We sang lots of patriotic songs out of the green-backed song book including “America the Beautiful,” and of course “The Star-Spangled Bnner.” I had a lot of weird impressions that year. When we sang, “Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean,” I thought for a long time that Jim Columbia had discovered America! I became highly insulted when Mom laughed at my version of “Home on the Range.” When I got to the line, “Where seldom is heard-” I was singing, “Where sea-doms are heard-” I pictured them as some sort of a huge sea creature.
Somewhere along the line, a loyal feeling for our country began to seep into my consciousness. How proud we were of Cousin Leo, who joined the Marines, and went overseas to fight in World War II! He came home with an array of medals, including a Purple Heart, which he never talked much about. My brother Larry and I, though still young, felt a personal interest in the War because of Leo. It must have been about that time that I realized that our freedom was bought with a price.
Later, when the Korean War took its terrible toll, I began to count the price of freedom. It was real heartache now, and bitter tears. My childhood sweetheart, at the tender age of 18, was killed just a few days before he was scheduled to come home. He did come home to his beloved hills, and is buried on a lonely hilltop in Clay County.
Just as it has always been down through the years, young men and boys paid the ultimate price for our liberty down through the years. And mothers, wives and sweethearts paid their own price too.
We can never afford to lose sight of the cost of our freedom. And yet, to our children, the Fourth of July is still fireworks, picnics and fun. That’ really the way it should be-liberty to enjoy childhood, to romp and play. The price has already been paid. Their turn will come later.
TRIBUTE TO THE FLAG
By Senator George F. Hoar
I have seen the glories of art and architecture and of river and mountain. I have seen the sun set on the Jungfrau and the moon rise over Mont Blanc. But the fairest vision on which these eyes ever rested
Was the flag of my country in a foreign port.
Beautiful as a flower to those who love it, terrible as a meteor to those who hate it, it is a symbol of the power and the glory and the honor of millions of Americans.