Last Independence Day brought back many fond memories. After retiring and moving to Elk River in 2010, I began the custom of ringing my dinner bell to celebrate Independence from England. Being a “passive-aggressive personality with redneck undertones,” I would’ve preferred marching on Washington with fellow citizens armed with pitch forks and driving the privileged scoundrels from our beautiful marble buildings. However, that would get me time in Federal prison. I don’t have time to serve; I’m too busy scratching to pay taxes to keep the scoundrels up there. Anyway, passive-aggressive personalities never take action – they only make threats. The latter part of my diagnosis is because I “allegedly” (a weasely lawyer word meaning guilty as sin) own a Bible and a Colt .38. I figure if reading scripture to an intruder won’t dissuade him, the .38 will.
The previous Fourth I decided to trim tree limbs. The chainsaw wouldn’t start. “Dadblame, no account, good for nothing, foreign built piece of ….” I gave up and drank coffee until my nerves were squirrely. At 8:30 a.m. I walked outside and rang my dinner bell replicating what our Founding Fathers did at Philadelphia in 1776. The bell pealed loud and clear in the morning stillness. Shortly, a pick-up rattled down my driveway. It was my neighbor Bob, coming to check on me. He got out, looked around for smoke and asked, “Is something wrong?”
“Nah, man it’s the Fourth! I’m ringing for freedom,” I said. “It’s about the only thing a citizen can do without violating some darn law or regulation.” Of course, making noise is unlawful too, but I didn’t care. I drank more coffee and thought about previous Independence Days. The first one I remember was in 1946, when I was 5 years old. Mama went to Cud’n Walthar Thomas’s (that’s what Daddy called his cousins) on Nick Davis Road and helped shred barbecued pork. I’d never heard of barbecue. Cud’n Walthar was the granddaddy of all barbecue cookers in Limestone County. Mama’s compensation was a pan of meat. I ate until I was sick.
In 1949, Mama and I rode Joiner Brother’s bus to Anderson and attended the Burch family reunion at Aunt Dixie’s house. A No. 3 washtub was filled with ice and “dopes” – that’s what Granddaddy Robert Holt called soft drinks. Roger Burch and I competed to see who could drink the most Double Colas. I won, and again, got sick.
When we farmed at Madison Crossroads in the mid-1950’s, I attended the annual barbecue held at the school. I tried to persuade a silly girl to give me a kiss, but she just giggled. Who cared? We played hide and seek and I ate barbecue, until I was sick.
In 1985, I spent the Fourth at a lovely adobe hacienda overlooking Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sam (not real name), a well-known Indian artist who crafted beautiful knives drove up in his wealthy Texan wife’s Rolls Royce. We were sitting on the patio watching the sun lower into the desert. “I’ve seen some of your knives and they are beautiful,” I said trying to make conversation. “How did you learn to make them?”
“In prison,” he said. “Oh… well… that’s nice,” I stammered.
“I didn’t mean the prison…uh, I meant learning how to make knives.” I had to be careful not to rile Sam, who was known for regularly shotgunning his TV.
“I was innocent,” he said.
“Of course!” I exclaimed.
“I was sitting in my car minding my own business when a bank was robbed. Cops claimed I was driving the get-away car.”
“Yeah, just like the cops, always accusing folks,” I said, trying to be agreeable.
Another memorable Fourth was when I attended a Boston Pops concert on the banks of the Charles River. When the 1812 Overture was played, cannons fired. Scared all the dogs and babies half to death. One fellow fell out of a tree.
In 2006 I was sitting on the “green” in Philadelphia in front of Independence Hall, along with thousands of other folks listening to Pete Fountain’s Orchestra. Fireworks followed. Wow!
But, my most memorable Independence Day was shortly after divorcing. I worked out daily, lifting weights, doing push-ups and sit-ups. Chicks like a hard body. I was attending a pool party at the home of Huntsville physician, Dr. Smith (not real name) parading my buffed and tan body when Dr. Smith walked over and pointed at my chest. “Do you know what that is?” he asked.
“Yeah, a mole.”
“It’s a third breast,” he said.
“Yeah, it’s a breast all right,” Dr. Smith said.
“Shhh, not so loud.”
A chick standing nearby overheard him. “Freaky man, freaky!”
Mama had birthed a mutant. I felt like a two-headed calf at the County Fair, and that made me sick too.
I can’t wait to see what Independence Day, 2017 brings. If we are still a free people, I’m going to ring my bell louder and longer than ever before – and with my shirt on.
By: Jerry Barksdale