If you were to ask me what my biggest concern was a few years ago during the Fourth of July holiday, I would have probably told you it would be deciding what brand of barbeque sauce to use on our family chicken recipe.
This year marks a different Fourth of July.
Now my biggest concerns are avoiding crowds so that me and my family aren’t exposed to a silent virus. It is whether or not I should leave the television on news channels so my three young children aren’t exposed to images of chaotic times and events their innocent minds don’t quite understand. This year I fear what my bank account will look like in a couple of months as uncertainty looms over our local economy.
I could care less what brand of barbeque sauce is poured over my chicken.
But I am still going to celebrate my country’s birthday. The gathering at my home may only be immediate family members, but we will be together around the lunch table as we sample some of my Momma’s cheesecake and my husband Jason’s hamburgers. I may ask that all screens be turned off so that we can enjoy the hot sun and maybe a quick run under a running water hose in the backyard. And I am not going to worry about money because so far, my bills are paid, there is a roof over my head and food in my pantry. And that is something to be thankful for as many don’t have those blessings.
I may not understand what times we are living in at the moment, but I am still very much proud to be an American. America has provided my ancestors, myself and my family an opportunity to create a life for ourselves. And it may not always have been a yellow brick road; it may have had some bumps and valleys. But I am still walking along those upward mountains in the hopes that there are smoother paths ahead.
The earliest record of my ancestors includes a boat trip from Ireland to Virginia with their tickets bought and paid for under the assumption that they would work as sharecroppers to relieve their debt. They eventually made their way down to Lawrence County, Mississippi and remained there until my own generation.
They remained sharecroppers most of their lives, picking cotton and planting whatever row crop was in season. Yes, they were poor as dirt and even when the Great Depression hit, they almost had no idea because “they didn’t have anything anyway.” My grandmother did not finish school because she had to work on the family farm, help raise her younger siblings and took up sewing from a few of the upper-class families who lived in town. My grandfather worked alongside his family in the fields, and his reputation of being the best hog butcher spread over three counties. It was said that he could scrape just about every usable piece of meat from a hog and what was unusable, he made it work into a slab of meat that could be eaten with a cracker.
My Paw Paw and Maw Maw had no titles, no awards or trophies and no vast fortune or bags of money. They would come to town once a week with no shoes on in the summer and coats made out of flour bags in the winter. Some residents in the nicer neighborhoods within town would refer to them as poor white trash from time to time, sneering at their tattered clothes and dirty feet.
But, when Paw Paw and Maw Maw were children, they were of a proud family who worked for what little they had. And to be honest, a few of those sneering comments may have ended with a closed fist, but they were later punished for embarrassing the family.
Shotgun shacks were replaced with a bigger homestead after Paw Paw and Maw Maw eventually married and began raising their own family. The newly constructed paper mill provided a job for Paw Paw, but he still worked the land and kept food on his table.
And although our family continued some of the ancestral traditions from generations past, they were always thankful for the opportunity they were provided in America.
The blood, sweat and tears from my Paw Paw and Maw Maw’s generation provided an education for my own mother. It led to my own education. And although I never worked a field in my life, I knew that cool dirt gave my family a living. Perhaps a poor existence but a life.
And because of their hard work and pride in what they did, I can walk through that same hometown with my head up high because I am known as “James Jackson’s grandbaby.”
That is the story I choose to celebrate today on the Fourth of July. Yes, times are uncertain and injustices should be corrected. But I am still proud to celebrate the fact that I came from a poor, hardworking family who taught me that regardless of what is going on around you, be kind and thankful for what you do have in the midst of a dark time.
As my own three kids finish their hot dogs and run in the backyard, I look to the heavens to my Paw Paw and Maw Maw. I guess we have done alright for poor country folks.