“Isabel Greene, if you don’t stand still you will get stuck with a pin,” Mama said as she pinned the blue fabric with straight pins from her mouth.
“But I like to swish!”
“That’s fine,” Mama said as she removed another pin from her mouth and turned the child around to get to the back of the dress. “You may swish all you want – after I finish hemming your dress.”
“Yes Mama,” Isabel said quietly but swished her skirt as Mama bent over to retrieve the pins she had just dropped.
“Baby Maggie didn’t have to stand up to get her dress hemmed,” Isabel said as she looked at her little sister sitting in the high chair nibbling on a piece of crust.
“Baby Maggie doesn’t know how to stand yet. Now carefully step down from the stool and look at your dress in the mirror.”
“Oh Mama, it’s beautiful.” Isabel said as she swished from side to side. Ouch! It bit me!”
“That was just a pin dear. Now turn around slowly,” Mama said as she stood back to get a better view. “Isabel, you will look like a doll on the fourth of July! Just like a little sailor girl.”
Just then the screen door clapped loudly and Mama turned to see Isabel’s two older brothers racing to the ice box. “Just a glass of milk boys, lunch will be ready soon!”
“Mama,” Eugene said as he glanced at Isabel swishing in her new blue dress trimmed in red and white. “Do we hav’ta wear those silly costumes to the parade and picnic tomorrow?”
“Yeah,” five-year-old Curtis chimed in. “Those look too sissy!”
“No, they do not look sissy and yes, you must wear the sailor suits I made for you. It’s perfect for the occasion.”
“The other boys will laugh!” Eugene plopped into the kitchen chair and reached for the cookie jar.”
“If anyone laughs at a sailor suit, they should be ashamed of themselves.” Mama took the cookie jar and placed it into a cupboard. “Besides, your nephews will be wearing the same thing. After all, your half-brother Jim is in the army and Fred is in the navy. You are wearing the suits to honor them. They are fighting for freedom. Don’t ever forget that,” Mama said softly as she placed her sewing notions into her basket and put it away. “Isabel,” Mama said as she reached for the child. Carefully take off that dress and put your play dress back on. Here, let me help you. We’ll get you changed in your room while the boys finish their milk.”
The next morning, Isabel awoke to the sound of Papa whistling a new song they had heard on Grandpa’s radio. Over There by Mr. George M. Cohen. “Catchy tune, aint it?” Papa said as Isabel entered the room wearing her new dress. “Well, don’t you look pretty?”
“Thank you, Papa.”
“Oh dear,” Mama said. “It’s too soon to wear your new dress; it will get dirty. We’ll get you all prettied up when it’s almost time to go.”
“Yeah,” Eugene said, “Don’t want to spill milk on it” and stopped short; whispering in Curtis’ ear.”
“Boys,” Mama said sternly, “if you mess up your suits before we go, I will insist that you wear the sailor hat Jim sent you.”
Eugene and Curtis looked at each other and then quickly shoveled oatmeal with their heads bent over the bowl.
“Mama, we could make bows for their hair just like the ones you made for Maggie and me.” Isabel said with a twinkle in her eyes.
“No way!” Curtis shouted and looked at Papa for help.
“Better do as your Mama says boys, I wouldn’t want to see my boys running around with a girls bow in their hair!” Papa looked at Isabel and winked.
“Are we there yet?” Isabel asked from the back of the buckboard.
“We’ll be there in three shakes of a lambs tail,” Papa said with an edge of impatience in his voice.
Isabel closed her eyes and imagined a fluffy white lamb shaking it’s little tail three times. “It shook three times. Are we there yet?”
Papa turned to Mama. “She can count?”
“She can count to ten!” Mama said proudly, “By next month, she may be able to…” Music, clapping, chatter and laughter filled the air with excitement.
“Papa, they’re playing the song you were whistling this morning,” Eugene said and began singing along with the music.
“And we’ll all be glad when it’s over-over there!”
“I hope we didn’t miss the parade,” Curtis said as he cast a sidelong look at Mama who, in his estimation, took too much time packing lunch and dressing the girls.
“Nope, the parade doesn’t start until two so that everyone will have time to eat lunch. I would like to catch some of the baseball game. How about I take the boys over to the stands? The game will begin after the band plays a couple of songs.”
“That’s fine,” Mama said, “but don’t buy any hotdogs or peanuts! We have better ways to spend our money.”
Papa made quick work unloading the buckboard and herded the boys towards the baseball stands.
“Lizzie! Isabel! Over here!”
Mama placed baby Maggie into the pram and reached for Isabel’s hand as they followed Lindy’s voice.
“Hello little sister,” Lindy said as she picked up Maggie and spun her around. “Why, Isabel! You look like a china doll in that lovely sailor dress.”
“Oh look, little Maggie is wearing one too. Where did you buy them?”
Mama beamed at her two little girls and addressed her step-daughters and daughters-in-law. “I made them. The boys are wearing sailor suits too although it was like pulling teeth to get the boys to wear them!” Laughter filled the air as relatives welcomed them to the Fair Grounds.
“Don’t unpack your food yet,” Aunt Jenny said as she turned and reached for Baby Maggie. Cleo is checking with the vendors to see how much the hot dogs cost. They smell too good to pass up! Oh good. There she is now.”
“I can’t believe it!” Cleo said as she reached the group. “The prices are actually reasonable. You can buy two hotdogs for a nickel or a big hamburger for a nickel. Peanuts are only 2 cents per bag. What do you think? Shall we feed our gang with Fair grounds food?”
Isabel chimed in with the other children. “We want hotdogs, we want hotdogs! Pleassssssssssssssssseeeeee?”
Mama opened her coin purse and smiled. “I think we have enough – this time. What shall we do until lunch time?”
“The swings are free. Why don’t we take the children over there. They can play in the sandbox too.” Lena said as she picked up her baby Grace, soothed her and placed her back into the baby carriage. “We have so much to talk about. The game will be over before you know it!”
Isabel ran to catch up with her nieces and younger nephews. “Isabel,” Mama’s voice rang loud and clear. “Don’t get your dress dirty!”
Just as Mama finished speaking, Isabel tripped on a tree root and skinned her knee. Tears filled her eyes as she looked down at dirt covering her new dress and a large red spot on her white, torn stockings. “I’m sorry Mama. I’m so sorry,” Isabel repeated as Mama stooped down to assess the damage.
“Oh, you’ve skinned your knee!” Mama reached into her pocket and pulled out a small container of water and her handkerchief. “It will be okay. It’s not a deep cut but it may be sore for a while.”
“But I got my dress dirty.” Isabel’s blue eyes filled with tears as she looked up at Mama’s compassionate face.
“That’s alright dear. The dirt brushes away and we’ll just slip those stockings off and no one will know the difference. Besides, do you know why we are here today?”
“There’s a parade and a picnic and a-a-fire?”
“Fireworks. Beautiful but loud streams of light fill the sky in a beautiful show!” Mom said as she finished cleaning the scratch and blew a kiss over the spot to make it heal more quickly. “Tender loving care always helps,” Mama said with a smile. “Now about the special day. Did you know that a long time ago our land was owned by a king far, far away? The king had never been to America but he claimed it anyway by sending ships of soldiers to make sure we obeyed his rules and paid high taxes. We sent letters to the king. We sent men to the king to tell him he was being unfair; that we could work something out but the king was selfish. He wanted the land and people to do his will. Well, the reason people came here so long ago was to be free of the king and his unreasonable rules. Did you know that America was the only place people could go in order to worship God and The Lord Jesus Christ without people trying to stop them?”
Isabel shook her head and listen wide-eyed. “Well,” Mama said as she reached for her grandchildren who gathered around, “people prayed for a solution. They prayed for the king to change his mind.”
“Did he?” a little boy spoke up. Isabel suddenly realized they were surrounded by children she had never seen before and the swings were empty.
“No, sad to say, he didn’t.” Mama said softly. “He made it harder for our people. They had to pay taxes on just about everything. Finally, some men in Boston – up north- had enough. They couldn’t take it anymore. Back then, Americans liked to drink English tea instead of coffee. Fabric from clothes were brought on English ships. Just about everything we needed came from there but we decided we would make our own fabric. We had sheep and goats to sheer and spin the fibers into wool for knitting and weaving. We called it homespun.”
“Homespun!” a little girl spoke up. “My grandma made that!”
Mama nodded with a smile and continued. “One night when the supply ship was in Boston harbor, some of the men dressed up like Indians and sneaked aboard the ship and threw all the barrels of tea into the water. To this day, we call it The Boston Tea Party.”
“Wow!” A little boy exclaimed and leaned in closer. “What happened next?”
An older boy stood up. “It started a war didn’t it?”
“Yes it did.” Mama said and took a deep breath. The king was so angry, he sent thousands of soldiers, wearing fancy red coats with lots of guns and swords. They thought our men were not very smart and wouldn’t know how to fight so they expected the war to end quickly. But they were wrong. Oh, we didn’t have fancy uniforms – except for the officers. George Washington led our men. We had “militia” which meant they were farmers, black smiths, wheelwright’s, merchants, regular men who volunteered to protect our land.
Our men fought to protect their wives, their children, their parents and their land. They fought in the fields. They fought behind trees and fought in ways the British soldiers were not used to. Very important, smart men; the Continental Congress worked together in secret so that the kings soldiers wouldn’t know what they were doing. John Adams persuaded a plantation owner from Virginia named Thomas Jefferson to write a declaration of independence. In fact, that’s just what it is called. The Declaration of Independence. It declared we were free from British rule and were a country now with 13 separate states working together for our freedom. The Declaration of Independence was signed by some very famous men including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Hancock. Each man who signed represented their state. Isn’t that wonderful?
Isabel watched boys and girls nodding their heads and nodded with them. Another child stood and cleared his voice to get Mama’s attention. “Ma’am we won that war, didn’t we?”
Mama’s smile lit her face. Yes indeed we won that war and became a free nation under God. The Declaration of Independence was accepted by all of the men on July 4, 1776. Today is July 4, 1917. We are celebrating today because today is the birthday of our great nation – The United States of America!
Isabel watched in wonder as the band played songs that night and men in the same uniforms her older half-brothers wore marched to the bandstand. One man in each different uniform carried a flag and one held a large red, white and blue flag with white stars in the top corner. Everyone stood. Man raised their hand to their forehead in a salute, other men, women and children stood too. Mama showed Isabel how to place her hand on her heart and whispered in Isabel’s ear, “To honor men who fought for our freedom, to honor men like your brothers who are fighting today for freedom and to show that we love our wonderful country, the beautiful United States of America!”
Suddenly, there were loud blasts causing Isabel to jump and baby Maggie to cry. Papa picked up Isabel and put her on his shoulders. The sky was filled with beautiful colors and shapes. “Fireworks,” Papa said.
“Like birthday candles?”
Papa chuckled. “Well, it’s our country’s birthday so I guess so.”
Little Isabel thought about the story Mama had told her earlier; that men died so that we could live free. “Happy Birthday, America, Happy Birthday!” she shouted. “Thank you God for giving us a free country – like Mama said!”