I open up the old screen door on the front porch and take a seat on one of the rockers. My morning view on this July Fourth weekend is that of scented cedar trees, whispering pines, and the scent of salt from the sea. The small lane in front of the cottage is filled with oyster and clamshells. My mom even added to the road when she was here by dumping the clams from last week’s clamming adventure. My mom’s shadow and voice echo around the island for me as she enjoyed each and every adventure including a small wedding in this cottage, watching the full orange moon rise over the sea sitting side by side listening to the waves upon the sand, and meeting island folks. She made friends wherever she went.
With my mom leaving on the 6:00 a.m. ferry, along with my Indiana friends, the past and the present mingle in my imagination as I sit here letting the clouds go by. I think about the Fourth of July in Indiana as a kid. It was/is my favorite holiday (ok, second to Halloween!) The charm of an Indiana Fourth of July was always the same…parades with local bands, churning ice cream on the back porch, grilling chicken, fresh sweet corn (if the weather was just right), family and fireworks.
As a young mom, I made sure the traditions continued taking the kids to the parades, making ice cream out on the farm, picking our own sweet corn and fireworks. There was always Doc Headley with his fire truck and steam engine as well. I did add one tradition that I continued until those boys were raised and moved on, and that was bean hole beans. I read about it in Yankee magazine one year and knew that I had to make them. I am sure they remember this tradition, although probably not fondly. The beans never turned out, but it didn’t dampen my spirits as I continued to make them year after year. The recipe is as follows (from my memory) in case you are curious: Boil one bag of navy beans (preferably on an old cook stove!) the night before and then let sit til morning. Early next morning dig a deep hole by the garden and build a fire down inside the hole. Back in the kitchen mix up the beans in an old cast iron kettle, add an onion, salt and a ham bone (if you have one), water and stir. Make sure the lid is on tightly!
Back at the hole, wait until the coals have charred down into a fire suitable for marshmallows and put in the pot. Cover with dirt (again check that lid!) and let them cook all day. I think I always did something wrong as they were terrible, but my boys ate them anyway!
Ocracoke Island is full of tradition as well. Up until 1957 there was the pony penning every year as young men rode their horses to the north end of the island the night before and, early in the morning of the Fourth, brought the roaming herds into town. Old timers remember the stories of the stallions and their herds thundering into town. Island children sat in cedar and yaupon trees watching. The young horses were then branded and everyone enjoyed the day. There were parades, beauty contests, talent shows down by the harbor, and always a square dance at the old school house. The pony penning ended when the highway was built and the fireworks replaced the square dances. This year there won’t be fireworks due to last year’s tragedy and due to the fragile infrastructure of the island and the old wooden cottages. The boy scouts will still raise the flag at 9:00, and the Methodists will worship at 11 singing patriotic songs. There will be fresh shrimp and parades and a memorial service as well. However instead of fireworks, the square dance will make a comeback at the community square parking lot down by the docks. By the ending light of day and the beginning of night, residents and tourists will gather to dance as they did once upon a time.
I will think of all of you in my hometown celebrating the fourth with the new downtown area, the parade, the fireworks and my family gathered at the gardens of the White Picket Fence. In the meanwhile I will be do-si-doing on my island out to sea.
Happy Fourth of July!