This Fourth of July I’m feeling nostalgic with memories of a childhood long passed, memories filled with the smells of summer rain, mimosa trees, and women wearing lilac perfume.
It was the early 1960s in South Arkansas. Somewhere the Civil Rights Movement was blazing, but it didn't touch my idyllic corner of the world in Lewisville, Arkansas. We kids played outside all day in the summer, running with a dog named Rosie, digging crawfish from a muddy ditch after the summer rain, and tying thread to their legs for a crawfish race. Big kids discussed the merits of dirt dobbers versus wasps, while we little kids played cops and robbers with toy guns. My favorite weapon was a Winchester rifle until I fired it with the lever open and turned my hand into a bloody mess. After that I stuck with a toy pistol, which I wasn’t allow to point at a person, animal or car.
A guy on a motorcycle happened by one day. The big kids called him by name, which they infused with both awe and envy. I also stood in awe because even at age 4 I could see the driver was both cool and handsome. He was nice enough to give every kid a ride up the street and back. When it was my turn, he told me to hold on tight. I gripped so furiously he complained that I was choking him. Proud of my strength, I loosened my stranglehold and enjoyed the ride.
On slow days, we girls spent hours stripping leaves from a nearby mimosa tree, pretending we were adults shelling peas. Across the street, Mrs. Williams gave us frozen Popsicles which I thought I should enjoy but I really didn't. (Too cold!) However, I loved her RC Colas, which were sweet and fizzy and quenched my thirst.
Sundays we walked to church in cute little outfits. My brother, in his navy blue suit, was said to look like a preacher despite his one drooping sock. I was merely pretty in my starched and ironed dress. Our older cousins were immaculate in their belted A-Line dresses, spritzed with Avon perfume, curled hair laden with grease, which they had also rubbed on our little faces till we shined.
My favorite memory was the Fourth of July. The big kids stayed outside playing with scary fireworks, but I preferred the sounds of Rufus Thomas "Walking the Dog." I thought it was a patriotic nursery rhyme because it mentioned the Fourth of July, a magical jumping elephant, and Mary Mary Quite Contrary. I played the little 45 record over and over, trying to jump as high as the elephant that touched the sky. I don't remember what I was wearing, only that I wasn't allowed to wear my new patriotic outfit because I might get it dirty. Seems like a stupid rule even now, given the speed with which toddlers outgrow clothes and how few 1960s special occasions would have called for a red, white and blue short set.
Nevertheless, coming up on this Independence Day, I acknowledge my fond memories and the people who contributed to them. From the kid who invited us to help dig crawfish, to the handsome guy giving motorcycle rides, to my cousins who set the turntable to automatic replay. For all of them and to all of you, I send warm blessings and a wish for a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend.
Hal Hutchison, M.Ed.
Hal Wofford Hutchison, M.Ed., is a former columnist, writer and editor for the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette newspapers. She has also been a secondary educator, and a university counselor and administrator. She lives in Little Rock, Ark., with her husband of 23 years and their daughter.