It would be hard to decide which holiday was most important to us as children -- Christmas or the Fourth of July at Grandpa's. The Fourth was the one day when everyone in the family made every effort to be at Grandpa's for dinner, fireworks and watching our men do their thing.
We nosed around Grandpa's tiny barn, with the six jersey cows and Ned and Molly, the tired team of old draft horses. We poked under the chickens for eggs, fed Petunia, the huge sow, and laughed at her little pigs. We went to the spring house to fetch a couple of milk pails of water for dishes after dinner. Rural Electric eventually came through, making it possible to have water inside the house. What a luxury.
There weren't any laws against fireworks in those days, so we had our exciting little bags of firecrackers and skyrockets we'd worked for months to buy. But most of all, it was about listening to the men sitting on the running boards of their cars telling how their lives had been since last year and feeling a part of a tradition we weren't old enough to quite understand.
I heard my dad say that society took a big turn downward when they took running boards off of cars. That was one place where men really related to each other.
But one year, 1939, was special. Several of my cousins and I were 14 and we were old enough to sit among the men with their cigars and pipes and listen to the jokes -- which, by today's standards, were pretty tame.
Dad and his brother Webster's mother had died when they were small boys and Grandpa had tried to raise them by himself. Some in the neighborhood would say that he did the best he could with "Peck's bad boys." Grandpa had remarried when they were teenagers, but by then the die had been cast, as the saying goes.
Dad and Web loved each other but they both felt insecure in the achievements of the other. Web had a new Essex and dad drove an old Ford. The new Essex was the center of attention and Web was showing off the two little flower vases on the doorposts with a real rose in each one. He had a brand-new straw skimmer and a fancy big cigar clamped in his mouth.
There was a cousin named Roy who was about 50 and was what we called "simple" in those days. He had had scarlet fever when he was small and never developed mentally past about age 12. He didn't have any teeth and sported a huge walrus mustache. He played the harmonica and was often the butt of good-natured jokes.
That Fourth of July, the men were gathered on the various running boards as the women were doing the dishes. Someone had dragged out an old shotgun and they were taking pot shots at tin cans, but no one was doing too well. In fact, between the old shells and the relic of a gun, they couldn't hit anything. Finally, they came down to the last shell and there was quite a commotion as to who would take the last shot.
It was decided Roy would take the last shot. Dad reached out, took Web's new hat and shouted, "Here, Roy, hit this!" and sent it sailing in the air like a Frisbee. Roy got up and shot the hat, taking the whole top out of that straw skimmer just as clean as a whistle.
Web almost swallowed his cigar. He was not pleased and in a few minutes, he and his family went zooming down the road in his new Essex in a cloud of dust.
Don Booth, of East Aurora, remembers celebrating Independence Day at his Grandpa's farm.