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The aroma of Independence Day on the farm

People who study those things tell us that the sense of smell is most closely related to our memory. An odor or fragrance can trigger a memory more quickly, they say, than sound, sight, touch or taste

So it is with the smell of fireworks. For me, the first whiff of an exploding firecracker sets off a recall operation that brings back a host of memories of Fourth of July celebrations of long ago.

Some of my favorite Fourth of July memories go back to the early and mid ’50s and to my paternal grandparents’ farm west of Titonka in northern Iowa’s Kossuth County. In a setting that would have made Norman Rockwell smile, all of Opa and Oma’s children and grandchildren would gather at the farm to celebrate Independence Day.

It was at these gatherings I discovered that while all men are created equal, women could use a bill of dining rights. The women of the family prepared a magnificent meal in Oma’s big country kitchen and fed the men first. Then the kids were fed. When the men and the kids were finished, the women sat down to eat.

After the noon dinner, the men gathered on the open porch to visit and the kids ran off their energy in the massive yard. The women were left to clean up tables and wash dishes. By the time they were done, it was 3 p.m. and time to serve a mid-afternoon lunch of coffee, Kool-Aid and cake.

There seemed to be no end of things to do on the farm and there were plenty of cousins to do them with. The post-war baby boom was in full bloom at this time and the farmyard was crawling with kids.

One of the farm’s highlights was The Swing. A chunk of lumber had been attached to long chains which in turn were fastened to a high bough in a massive tree in the front yard. With some hard pumping you could swing out over the road ditch and even, it seemed, over the gravel road. It was about the most exciting thing a kid could do without getting hollered at.

The farm had so many things to explore. There was the creek (we called it the crick) which meandered through the pasture west of the barn. There was the big grove of trees and the outbuildings. I discovered I was claustrophobic while crawling through the drag tunnels of Opa’s corn crib.

The Fourth of July wasn’t complete, of course, without firecrackers. We children started out with Lady Fingers but as we grew older we graduated to Black Cats. The older cousins and the uncles ignited Cherry Bombs and Silver Salutes and a few other firecrackers loud enough to scare the babies.

It wasn’t unusual for one of us younger cousins to burn a finger or thumb. A glob of brown cow teat salve helped such burns heal quickly.

As the big July sun started to fall into Emmet County, the uncles began preparing for the fireworks display. A discarded rain gutter, some old boards and a few other odds and ends provided the necessary launching equipment for the display.

Though we didn’t want the day to end, we cousins could hardly wait for darkness so we could enjoy the brilliant grand finale of the holiday.

There were “oohs” and “ahs” and “wows” and “gees” as the fireworks lit the northern Iowa sky and scented the yard with the aroma of spent gunpowder. All too soon the fireworks had all been ignited and exploded and the smoke had drifted into the darkness.

Finally, in the light of the single incandescent yard light, uncles and aunts rounded up their respective broods and loaded them into their cars. After prolonged farewells, each family drove away on the gravel road, leaving Opa and Oma and the two youngest uncles waving good-bye in the dust.

It might be Christmas before we were all together again so the goodbyes were meaningful.

Many Independence Days have come and gone since then but those 1950s memories grow more precious as the years roll by. Opa and Oma are gone now as are all the aunts and uncles.

All it takes is a whiff of an exploding firecracker and memories of Independence Days on the farm by Titonka come rolling back with a bang.

Arvid Huisman can be contacted at huismaniowa@gmail.com. ©2024 by Huisman Communications.

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