Nobody worked on 4th of July. Except around the house; there, work never stopped. Meals still needed to be fixed, barn chores had to be done, and of course, tomato worms loved July. Still, The 4th of July was always a fun day; always, always company was over for a picnic and games and of course sparklers.
Devil-eggs, potato salad, hotdogs, chopped onions and cucumbers in soured milk, and lots of fresh tomatoes, and pitchers and pitchers of Kool-Aid. Nancy’s mom brought over these neat-o metal glasses for ice tea and Kool-Aid. All the adults loved those glasses ’cause they weren’t plastic and because they wouldn’t break like glass glasses did. Dad hated to drink out of plastic. I hated those metal glasses, ’cause if the Kool-Aid was ice-cold with ice right in the glass, just the way I liked it, my lips stuck to the metal and it hurt to peel them off, besides the metal got all slippery-slimy wet on the outside and pretty soon somebody spilled Kool-Aid all over the picnic table and Mom would say “Why can’t you be more careful?” in a way that wasn’t a question at all. Outside, I could just let a spill go right on through the cracks in the picnic table. In the house, me and Bonita and Deanna and Vickie got super fast at picking up the edges of the plastic tablecloth while a Little Kid ran to get a rag out of the ragbox. That way, no sticky Kool-Aid mess got on the floor. I guess that kinda of stuff never happened to adults, ’cause I never heard anyone complain about those metal glasses. Still, I have to admit, those cups sure were pretty, sometimes that’s more important than anything to adults. Nancy’s mom was super-proud of them like the way she was super-proud of how Nancy could sing the ABC song. Nancy’s mom never said that, but I could tell ’cause every time Nancy got to the part where she sang, “Now I sang my ABCs, tell me what you think of me.” Nancy had a look on her face like she thought she was the smartest girls in the whole wide world. I wanted to say, “So what? Nobody uses them in that order. Everybody knows words have the letters all mixed up, not in order like the alphabet,” but I kept my mouth shut, ’cause Nancy was so proud and I didn’t want to hurt her feeling. That would be mean. I found out later, when I got to fourth grade that sometimes I did have to use them in that order, which meant I had some catching up to do.
When company came over in the summer, I got sent to the garden to get tomatoes. I loved tomatoes, especially picked right out of the garden. Mom let me put a little sugar on top of the slices a dinnertime, but I liked to eat them just like an apple, except tomatoes are way, way juicier. I took a bite and sucked all the juice I could out, then took another bite and sucked out more acidy juice. The smell of those tomatoes made my nose tickle and my taste buds start to beg, so I had to eat at least one tomato every time I went out there.
One bad thing about tomato plant, there’s always tomato worms. I hated those worms, chomping up the leaves and stems, like nobody’s business. Tomato worms were the same color as the tomato leaves, and they had big scary black eyes, and a big spiky horn with a red stingy looking tip, right by their rear ends. They chomped up the tomato bushes, ’til there was only stems left. Grandma showed me how she sliced off the tomato worms’ heads with her thumb nail. She wasn’t the tinsiest bit afraid of a tomato worm, like I was. Much as I hated them, I didn’t even want to touch one, let alone slice off it’s head. I just picked the tomatoes and got the heck out of there. No matter how much Mom and Grandma told me that the spike was harmless, I never believed them. It looked like a poisonous spear to me.
Even though I still had chores to do on 4th of July, it seemed like it didn’t count as real work, ’cause before I knew it, everybody was playing ball, or watching the adults play croquet and horseshoes. Dad and his bothers loved horseshoes; they played that game all afternoon. Sometimes they measured and re-measured and got one of the women to measure, ’cause in horseshoes, “close counts for something.” That’s what Uncle Gerald said, anyways. I knew how to play croquet, but that was so slow, it was no fun. I knew how to play horseshoes, too, but I could only throw the horseshoe a little ways. There’s a difference between knowing how to do something, and being able to do it, and still different from liking it. I liked badminton, but only up to four can play that, and if it’s windy, forget it. I liked playing Piggy-in-my-Pen, the best of all the outside games, ’cause any number over three can play, and any age, too, as long as you explain the rules.they know the rules.
Okay, here’s how to play Piggy-in-my-Pen: First somebody gets chosen to be IT: Everybody puts their fist in the middle then somebody says ” bubble gum, bubble gum in a dish, how many pieces do you wish,” while touching a fist with each word; when the word “wish” lands on a fist, that person picks a number, then count the number, same way, by touching the fists, and ending with “you are not IT;” this gets repeated until just one person is left, that person is IT. IT hides her eyes against the huge Boxelder tree and counts to one hundred by tens, then to 100 by fives, while everybody else hides. When IT is done counting, she shouts out, “Ready of not, here I come.” If IT forgets to shout out, that’s against the rules, so she has to do it all over again. Next IT tries to find everybody, that’s when the real game starts. Little Kids are easy to find, ’cause they hide where you can see them. IT says, “Julie’s in my pen” or “Frankie’s in my pen.” If IT calls out the wrong name, a do-over, just like if IT forgets to say, ‘ready or not.’ If you get called in the pen, you have to go to the Boxelder tree, that’s the pen. If you’re in the pen, you have to stay touching the tree, until you get a sign from somebody else hiding. Once you get the sign, you get to run away and hide again. IT wants to stay pretty close to the tree, ’cause if she doesn’t, all the piggies will escape, but if IT just stays by the tree, she won’t be able to find everybody. Same thing for the hiders: if the are too far away, they won’t be able to give a sign to those captured, too close, and risk getting caught. Piggy-in-my-Pen never, ever ended, until it was dark and we got called in for bedtime, or in the cases of 4th of July, when it was time for water melon and sparklers.
Summer days seemed to last forever when I was a little girl. Somehow now the days just slip away, crowded with gardening and housework, and shopping, and all sorts of other tasks. I think I’ll take some time out to relax and teach my grand kids how to play Piggy-in-my-Pen, or throw a ball around, or maybe set up a badminton set. Wait a minute, I’m too slow for badminton these days; maybe I’ll go get a croquet set.