An Old Fashioned Fourth of July
To celebrate Independence Day, I looked for posts I’d done in the past about the Fourth of July family reunions that were so much a part of my childhood. I couldn’t find the posts. So instead, I’m running that chapter from my never-to-be-published memoir, Glass Houses. For background, Mom is the baby of eight Glass kids with four sisters and three brothers. Enjoy the read, and may none of your fireworks be duds.
Throughout the sixties and well into the seventies, my Uncle Deezer hosted a Fourth of July family reunion and cook-out that was the biggest Glass family blow-out of the year. Everybody smoked, alcohol flowed freely, and the language would make a sailor blush.
Count on at least fifty showing up. Uncle Deezer’s in-laws usually came and several of his neighbors. Aunts and uncles of my aunts and uncles came and brought their kids and grandkids. Others came and went as various aunts, uncles, and cousins brought friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, and neighbors along. Toodles always had an entourage. Over the years, several hundred people turned up at one time or another.
Deezer’s backyard had plenty of room for the kids to play, an aboveground swimming pool, tall shade trees at the back of the lot, and a horseshoe pit for the adults a safe distance from the kids. The event started by noon and lasted until after dark.
Dad made sure we were the last to arrive and the first to leave. Nothing personal. It was part of the dance. No matter where we went, he followed the same pattern.
Next to Bobby, Uncle Deezer was Mom’s favorite brother. Gene (the third brother) and Deezer were like night and day. If Gene was sometimes cavalier, Deezer was earnest and not afraid to get his hands dirty. He worked at the newspaper as a printer and was a do-it-yourself kind of guy, while Gene generally paid someone to do stuff for him. I doubt Deezer ever set foot in the Coach House or any four-star restaurant for reasons that didn’t have a thing to do with money.
Deezer was the youngest son and an average-sized man, perhaps on the short side, with a long face and always-smiling hazel eyes. His receding hairline reached ground zero before I was born. Perhaps because of his three sons, he was more into sports than Uncle Gene, but didn’t appear to have ever been much of an athlete.
Deezer’s wife, Beverly, was younger than Mom and the youngest of the aunts. With her brown hair, brown eyes, and wide face, people sometimes thought she was the Glass rather than the in-law. Beverly worked at the newspaper, too. She had a college degree, read a lot of books, and subscribed to Playgirl. My interest in and reaction to those magazines should’ve been a clue for me.
Everybody brought food. Supervised by Aunt Mary, the aunts and their daughters spent days preparing dozens of deviled eggs; huge tubs of potato salad, coleslaw, and macaroni salad; and trays with cheese, onions, lettuce, and pickles. Uncle Deezer grilled burgers and hotdogs most years, but changed it up now and then with chicken. One year we even had steak. Green beans, baked beans, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes, and other produce harvested from several family gardens rounded out the fare. Coolers full of beer and soft drinks materialized, and somehow, stayed full all day.
After a few years, the coolers of beer were replaced with a keg. The keg took up less room, was easier to keep cold, and eliminated the need for beer runs by drunken family members. The keg also made it about a thousand times easier for the kids to help themselves. The first year none of the grown-ups noticed. The second year, things got a little out of hand after a significant percentage of the cousins got more than a little drunk. As usual, we left before things got interesting.
Though we had plenty of it, food was not the main event at Glass family get-togethers. Uncle James pulled teams together for football, kickball, softball, basketball, badminton, or volleyball while the men played horseshoes. Each kid was assigned to a team based on strengths, identified or manufactured by Uncle James. He made us feel like we were all stars. Whatever we played, he coached both teams and served as umpire, referee, and line judge. If needed, another uncle was called in to offer a second opinion.
Uncle James demanded good sportsmanship. Bullying was not allowed. If one team dominated, he swapped team members around to level the playing field. Gloat about winning and you got moved to the losing team. Whining about losing wasn’t tolerated, either. Those who knew more and had more ability were expected to help those who didn’t. The games went on all day.
After everybody ate, the tables were cleared and the playing cards came out. All my aunts and uncles on the Glass side of the family played bridge. Whether part of the dance or for his own reasons, Dad never played. Toodles, Beverly, Aunt Betty, Aunt Dee, and Aunt Mary carried two decks of cards and a score pad in their purse wherever they went.
Bridge games popped up any time a fourth could be found. Glass family gatherings always included at least one table. In nice weather they played bridge at card tables under big shade trees. If it rained, games sprung up around the kitchen table, spread to the dining room, and if needed, to card tables set up wherever space permitted. Having three and four tables going at the Fourth of July picnics was not at all unusual.
Anyone old enough to count points learned bridge basics, regardless of his or her interest in the game. Cousins who could play spades played someone’s hand while he or she grabbed a plate of food or ran to the bathroom. After enough of us knew how to play, the younger cousins weren’t forced to learn because they were never needed.
Once you learned the game or they really needed a fourth, you got to play your own hand. Help came from another table, someone who wasn’t playing, or your partner. These early bridge games launched a lifelong interest in card games.
Contrary to what you might expect, family bridge games were often loud and boisterous. I’ve yet to meet a Glass who was ever wrong about anything. Arguments broke out about how the hand should have been played or bid. Accusations and insults flew back and forth as the next hand was dealt. Even the worst arguments ended and were forgotten in time to bid the new hand.
Except for us, most the family stayed until after the fireworks. Fireworks displays were sometimes close enough to watch from Deezer’s house. If not, whoever wanted to go piled into two or three cars and went elsewhere for a closer view. Dad sometimes took us to see the fireworks, too. I guess he was trying to create our own family memories.
The Glass nieces and nephews grew up together. We didn’t have the same parents and lived in different houses, but we were part of the same family and knew that no matter what, we were loved. Considering most people barely know their cousins, we were close.