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Family Fourth of July rituals in rural Northeastern Oklahoma

July 4th Northeastern Oklahoma Family Traditions
July 4th Northeastern Oklahoma Family Traditions

My paternal Grandfather was seriously into Americana. The 4th of July was hands down his favorite. As a Grandfather, he was the only one I ever met. My Father's father died when my Dad was a pre-teen. This article is about my Mom's Dad, who was an attorney in Tulsa, Charles Skalnik.

When he was a little boy, his family lived on a farm near the Kansas border, in a town called Medford. His parents were one Czech and the other Slovak immigrants, who obtained the property via the Land Run. For some portion of his childhood lived in a sodhouse. He did not speak any English until he went to school at age 5. He was one of 4 kids.

Apparently, there was time when he was a boy, that he decided he wished to try his hand at making explosives at home.

He agreed that he got his Father's gunpowder and his Mother's coffee grinder and ..... well. I think they maybe didn't have coffee for awhile. I never heard of any injuries incurred.

And he did not go on to be a chemist, so... that pretty much appeared to be lesson learned. A couple of his siblings were living when he turned 80, and the grandkids reinacted what that experimental scenario for his birthday. The sibs all laughed in recognition. Some stories never go away, suppose.

One of the very coolest things about him, about Grandfather.... ( BTW he and my Grandmother lived in a wooden house, in the woods... little cottage in the woods was in fact over the river and thru the woods) was every year he requested a catalog from the BlackCat Fireworks Company.

Every year. And every year, he would order a box of 100 fireworks items, with the intention that we ( the grandkids) would put on a fireworks show for the whole family. Typically the box was taller than this writer. BIG box.

This was remarkable for two reasons, one was there were PILES of firework stands along the road in Tulsa, and in fact that still goes on there, though outlawed in many places but he never bought from them, nor did we. The other was, that we knew absolutely noone else who had a grandfather who was THAT into fireworks.

And every year, my brothers and I had to look over that same catalogue, and determine which personal item we wished to purchase besides the pyrotechnic display items ( important not to duplicate the purchase). The kit had both basic and exotic things, and it became pretty important to be able to read, and discern from pictures what might be of interest and then choose so the order could be made.

My grandparents lived in one city, and my own family lived in another. My second cousin and her brother (who was much older) lived in another and my remaining cousins lived in yet another.This writer was the only immediate family female (only daughter and only granddaughter on this side of the family) However, neither this second cousin, nor this writer were ever shy about it all, and there was never any such thing as "no girls."

So, this catalog went from hand to hand, house to house and back to my Grandfather so he could order the collection requested. My second cousin ordered extreme things like M-80's long before we had any idea that might be of interest. We, unlike this video were not allowed to blow up objects, but the ant-lions pits probably did not fare so well.

This writer did manage to fail to release at least once, and am even to this day absent a finger print or two. ( forgot about that.... owwww)

We began the day on the 4th of July with the flag out. Breakfast at the grandparents was always scrambled eggs with sausage and french bread toasted bearing tons of butter and some family member's home preserved jam or jelly.

Mornings were spent talking, playing games indoors and watching cartoons. Cartoons were much more cosmopolitan and diverse in Tulsa. Mighty Mouse was removed from OKC television, it was too violent, so there was some catching up to do.

Lunch typically included sandwiches of some kind. Dessert of hand scooped Pepsi Float a house specialty of my Grandmother.

And all afternoon we would spend in the sweltering heat, often lurking at 100 heat index covered in OFF spray for the ticks and mosquitos in the woods..... running and shooting off the lesser fireworks. Playing in the creek or talking to the Shetland ponies and climbing up to a tree house designed for us, two storeys in the air accessible only by extension ladder. With a porch.

Supper was a traditional menu. So, along with hickory smoked burgers and potato salad,and a wide variety of other foods, these giant family gatherings typically capped with home made peach custard or vanilla icecream and sweet tea.

Grandmother made icecream much prior to the event. She was notorious for putting the giant wooden bucket from the freezer on the wellhouse which preeded the entry of the home.

This icecream maker bucket was like 2 or 3 feet tall was strategically placed, facing OUT so everyone could nostalgically cross paths with it EVERY year upon arrival So, it looked a good bit like this, but was whitewashed. and probably this writer's Grandfather had converted it from a hand crank to motorized, because he favored doing his own conversions.... and could.

The reason the freezer bucket was out there, was so all could recall the stick man, painted in red around the drainhole from my maternal uncle's youthful exuberance.

My maternal, Uncle, Karl Skalnik... a former KTUL Tulsa Channel 8 commentarian on farm issues, farmer and chemistry professor... among other things.... apparently was promised this treat annually from childhood, as the response to his chosen action. If perhaps this makes no sense to the reader, find someone who does know about making homemade icecream and they'll explain.

After supper, chairs were set up on the gravel drive and we ( as many as 27 of us) would commence to see the fireworks show. I think that my grandfather and father and uncles shot off the roman candles.

There was never a fire, or any accidents of significance and the whole process was a tradition that happens now at other relatives homes and on a much smaller scale.

There is nothing quite like holding a punk in hand and learning to strike a match to light it. Or the beginning, middle, end facts of firework lives and the need to plan accordingly. This writer often laments the separation of kids from processes of family and life. Not to press one over another, but there is huge lifetime value in rituals and processes for the young to pass through.

It is hard to beat giant shows of fireworks. And having lived in the South for years, so near Atlanta, I could see the stadium collection go off at the Ted ..... everyone shoots off field fireworks for Christmas in the South.

For more Oklahoma in the 1960's check here

Family Czech Rye Bread

Memorial Day Southern Family Traditions

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