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Land of the Free

by Alma M. Womack


Already it is July and time to celebrate the Fourth and renew our commitments to our country. After all the cookouts and parties, I hope that people remember the real reason we are celebrating this day. It was on this day that the thirteen new-world colonies declared they ought to be free from the constraints of the king and parliament in Great Britain. It was a courageous stand by these people, and it set in motion a conflict that saw the thirteen colonies defeat the mighty British Empire and establish a new nation controlled by the “common man.”


Fourth of July to us means cookouts, fishing trips, swimming, playing in the sun, baseball, and all manners of things that freedom to congregate allows us to enjoy. It is my hope that we do not ever take these freedoms of life for granted, but are always vigilant in our protection of the rights penned by Thomas Jefferson in 1776.


For our celebration this year, we hope to cook hamburgers and swim in the pool and maybe get in a little fishing from the deck. The fish aren’t always cooperative, and sometimes there are baits thrown out with no hooks attached, but it’s still fun to watch the kids trying to outsmart the fish.


When we were children, Papa always barbecued on the Fourth. I should say that Papa was the one who sat in the chair by the pit while we kids did all the work. The day would begin with Mimi’s getting all the ingredients ready for us to take outside to the pit. Papa would place the meat on the grill; that was his job. Then, one of us would have to stand there and turn the grill continually; for he thought the meat cooked better if it didn’t stay in one spot.


There were the three of us big enough to work, Nub, Doug, and me. While one turned the grill, the others were busy fetching water and coffee and Camels for Papa. He told us Papa stories about his youth and his friends from those days and the pranks they pulled on the unsuspecting, and stories about his grandpa Matt Barron, who had settled in Catahoula Parish after the War, and how he built houses and boats and anything else someone needed.


One thing I most remember is trying to stay out of the smoke, for it seemed that the wind was continually changing directions when Papa cooked. We all smelled as smoky as the meat by the time the grilling was done since we had to stand next to the pit all morning.


While Papa was cooking the meat, Mama and Mimi were getting the side dishes ready to go with his morning’s work. Mimi always said that Papa barbecued the meat and she did all the work since she had to get everything ready for him in addition to doing the inside cooking. She didn’t do it all; for we three kids worked, too, taking care of Papa. Once the meat was done, we would have a feast; for no one on earth could barbecue like Papa. It was a real treat in our young lives even if our eyes were red from the smoke off the pit.


Since becoming an adult, a mother, and grandmother, I admit that I have never grilled anything. Buster enjoyed cooking meat on the pit, and I was always happy that he wanted to do it. Like Mimi, I got everything ready for him for the undertaking; and the girls and I kept up a steady trot taking supplies out to him. He liked to cook pork steaks; and they would be tender, smoky, and delicious, well worth the effort we all put into keeping the chef happy. Now that he is gone, his job has been taken by the sons-in-law and Claire—whoever happens to be on the place at the time. They all do a good job; and all are quite content to just move the meat on the grill, not turn the grill itself.


I am thankful for my childhood memories of Papa and his little grill that turned out so many good meals. I am mostly thankful for the positive influence that he was in our young lives, a fair and honest hardworking man who was never too busy to talk to his grandchildren and tell them about his life as a youngster. He came from a world we couldn’t imagine, and now I live in a world turned upside down from the one I lived in as a child.

 Have a happy and patriotic Fourth from us on Black River where the flag will be proudly waving on Independence Day.


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