by: Mildred Swanson
At last, the big event of the summer had arrived and everyone was so excited. It was the Fourth of July, 1917, in the small village of Clive. There were 12 families living on the adjoining farms. This was the first social event of the year.
Most of the families had lived in the neighborhood for several years. While we had a few new families, this was one way to get acquainted. Committees were appointed and had spent lots of work and time planning for the picnic.
A nice place along Walnut Creek had been selected. It was at a beed, selected because the creek made a half circle around this flat area. There were plenty of level spaces for the tables and many large trees providing shade most of the day.
A few days before the picnic, some of the men moved an old cook stove to the area and a good supply of wood was cut and piled near it for cooking. Long tables and benches were made from boards from the surrounding area. Large tarps were hung over the table, just in case it rained; there were also birds in the trees. A tent was set up nearby for the small children to take their naps in. Several swings were hung from the tree limbs and teeter-totters set up for the children.
The morning of the Fourth was clear and warm; the birds filled the air with their cheerful songs as the sun peeked over the horizon.
The men and boys were up early and hustling around doing the chores. The ladies and girls rushed around the kitchen packing dishes and all kinds of savory foods. Soon the picnic boxes were packed and loaded ready to be transported to the site and away we went to celebrate the Fourth of July.
Around ten thirty the folks were arriving at the picnic grounds. Hand shaking and happy greetings were exchanged among the older folks while the children shouted in glee as they played tag or threw rocks into the Creek. Occasionally one fell into the shallow water and had to sit wrapped in a blanket until his clothes were dried out, unless the mother had brought along some extra clothes.
A big fire was burning on the improvised stove, sending out clouds of smoke, which drifted among the tree tops. A big pot of coffee was brewing with that tantalizing aroma.
Each family brought a complete meal, so there were platters of crisp fried chicken, delicious home-cured ham, baked beans, sandwiches and bowls of salads, homemade bread and rolls with fresh butter and jam, gallons of coffee with thick cream for it, and plenty of rich milk for the children. It wouldn’t be a picnic without a big crock of lemonade, with chucks of ice to keep it cold.
Dessert consisted of cakes, pies and cookies, and everyone brought a freezer of ice cream. It was made with cream, milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla. This mixture was put in a container and set in a bucket of crushed ice and rock salt. Someone turned the crank until the cream was frozen stiff, then it was packed in more ice and kept until noon.
When all of the families had arrived and the food was ready, someone called out, “Come and get it,” which brought the folks on the run to find a place at the tables. When all had eaten as much as they could hold, they left the tables and found a shady spot to relax and visit. The men talked about the crops and weather, with some politics mixed in. The small ones were put in the tent on blankets for a nap. The ladies washed the dishes that would be used later on, place the food on one table and covered it with a cloth. They chatted about the children, sewing projects and the gardens.
Games and races were planned so there was plenty of action all afternoon. The sack races and three-legged races brought cheers and boos from the onlookers. There were races, games and balloons for all ages so that everyone had a part in the fun. All of this activity made the folks hungry, so in a few hours they would be back getting snacks. More coffee and lemonade was made for the thirsty contestants.
About four thirty, it was time for a few farmers to leave, so the horses were hitched to the wagons, picnic boxes loaded in, the kids rounded up and the families headed for home, amid shouts of “Good –bye. See you later. Hurry back.”
For most folks, this would have been the end of the celebration, but not for this crowd. While the men hurried through their evening chores, the ladies washed the dishes, made another supply of sandwiches, salad and a fresh freezer of ice cream.
Later in the evening, putting on our dress clothes, away we went to the home of the Day family, one of our neighbors with a large house. The living and dining rooms were cleared of furniture, except for the chairs. Soon as the folks arrived, the dancing started. Our neighbor was a fiddler, so the evening started with a fast stepping square dance. Our host was an excellent caller and soon the young and older folks joined in the fun.
Old time waltzes, two-step and a few polkas continued until midnight; then it was time to eat again and finish the food left over from the picnic. More dancing continued until about four a.m. when everyone was ready to call it a day.
Soon was the dawn of another day, the robins and other birds were singing gaily from the trees, along with the happy lilting song of the meadowlark. The barking dogs greeted the families as they arrived home. The roosters added their loud crowing to the other sounds. Another day was here and time to get up and go to work.
The happy ending to another enjoyable community party.