Archived Story

Old-timey Independence Day

Published 10:28am Wednesday, July 3, 2013

People celebrate the Fourth of July in a variety of ways – a trip to the beach, a shopping excursion, a ball game or a fireworks show, none of which can match the fun and excitement of celebrating the nation’s birthday in rural Alabama 65-70 years ago.

Preparations were a big part of the celebration.

Farm families circled July 4 on their calendars as a target date for lying by their cotton and corn crops. Plow hands were married to the task, working in waist-high corn and knee-high cotton from dawn to sundown. Plow stocks were rigged to wrap up the crops in a six-inch mound of dirt that would keep them free of grass and weeds until harvest time.

What was to follow – a July 4 picnic under the shade trees in the front yard – made the big push to get the field work done seem like child’s play.

To get started, us four boys would grab a handful of tow sacks and race to the pickup truck for a rare trip to town. Our dad’s mission was to stop by the icehouse and purchase a 100-pound block of ice for use the next day. We’d stand at the foot of the platform and watch the ice block as it popped out of a chute and landed in the waiting hands of the iceman.

The ice was slipped into a large tow sack and loaded into the bed of the pickup. Several other sacks were used to cover it tightly to keep it from melting on the five-mile trip back home.

The ice went directly to the barn where it was buried in the cottonseed bin. It would remain there until the next day when it was used to chill a wash tub half full of lemonade and make vanilla ice cream.

Making ice cream was a major undertaking since it had to be done without the benefit of an electric-powered or hand-cranked freezer. A 10-quart feed bucket and a gallon syrup bucket were used instead. The smaller bucket was filled with the ice cream mix, placed inside the larger bucket and crushed ice, mixed with salt from the meat box, was packed around it.

The handle of the syrup bucket was grasped by one hand and twisted back and fourth to keep the mix moving. Every 10 to 15 minutes, the top of the syrup bucket would be removed and a table knife inserted to scrape the frozen part from the inside of the bucket. Having several hands available to do the twisting was necessary since the process was labor intensive, and us kids had to remain close by to take our turn.

When frozen the buckets were packed in ice and salt, the ice cream was allowed to freeze harder until it was served later in the day.

In the meantime, we enjoyed cold lemonade in between games of horseshoes, marbles, jacks, hopscotch and hide and seek.

With a dinner of country fried chicken, creamed corn and fried okra, cornbread, and blackberry cobbler pie topped off with cold lemonade and homemade ice cream, what more could you want for an old-timey Fourth of July celebration?

Clif Knight is a staff writer for the Hartselle Enquirer.

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