Editor’s Note: Following the death of Farm Collector columnist Perry Piper on May 12, his family enthusiastically agreed to our request to continue publishing his column each month. This and future installments are reprinted from his memoirs, “Growing Up On Muddy Creek.”
Celebrating the Fourth of July in our early days was a true event. In those days, people knew what we were celebrating, and why.
My city cousins fretted about the delay in being able to buy firecrackers and other fireworks, but every merchant observed an unwritten law that no fireworks would be sold before July 1, and none after the Fourth. How we saved our pennies, and lined up to spend them at Carter’s or Gafftner’s.
The celebration in Paris would be repeated in every county seat throughout the land. Always a great parade, and a guest speaker, probably one of the politicians holding or seeking office. One of the most sought-after speakers was the silver-tongued orator from Salem, William Jennings Bryan, who although twice defeated in his bids for the presidency, remained a great spokesman for sound monetary practices for the nation. Perhaps we should have paid him more of a mind.
Every boy loves a parade. For several weeks, the city band would be tuning up for the big event. The tubas and brass horns would be polished ’til they shone like the midday sun. The bass drums were tested out. In summer, Harry King beat the drum with several of the boys vying for the right to help tote it in the parade. This was a brass band. Most of the instruments were designed for noise, and noise they made.
The parade would form down by the high school, with the band following close behind the massed flags. There were still several Civil War veterans able to march. Fellows like Heddie Jennings and old Uncle Jack Piper would put on their Union garb with all the GAR medals and their slouch hats, square up their shoulders and march to a drum beat that only they could hear. The Stars and Stripes and Stars and Bars would fly side-by-side as Americans all marched together.
The Spanish-American veterans and the “boys” who had fought in the Philippines would be represented as well, dressed in their Rough Rider uniforms, and here and there would be a teddy bear, in honor of their commander.
The local churches would all have floats mounted on wagons pulled by well-decorated teams of horses. Dan Judy could be counted on to have his prize jack hitched to a cart, the Groffs brothers would bring out a couple of teams of matched Belgians, and Clint Caudle always drove a beautiful Percheron team that he worked in oil fields. They had elaborate harnesses with fancy leather shrouds over hames, and long dividers with hundreds of colored celluloid rings strung on straps with shined brass buckles.
There would be buggies with cut-under bodies, buckboards and spring wagons, with kids piled all over them; surreys with and without fringe, and some of those newfangled automobiles with their smoking and puffing engines, and the drivers sitting up there on the right side. Most all cars had right-hand drivers in those days. The kids took turns squeezing the big rubber bulb of the brass horn, or pushing down on the “ah-oo-gah” horns of the Model T Fords. The big bucks had, in the back, a special “mother’s-in-law” seat where the lady of the house proudly did her backseat driving. Both the driver and milady were dressed in their linen “dusters,” complete with goggles and a large scarf holding down the lady’s hat and acting as a veil to protect her face from the wind generated by driving 12 miles per hour. There were only dirt roads in those days, and one soon became covered with dust when touring.
Sailor suits were all the rage, and Mother had made one for me with its middy blouse of blue with white piping and a big, black silk neckerchief just like the Blue Jackets our sailors wore. Several of the boys from the Spring Hill neighborhood had joined the Navy, and while Woodrow Wilson kept promising to keep us out of war, Dad said not to count too much on promises made during (or even after) a political campaign.
The Modern Woodmen marched in formation with their axes over their shoulders, and performed an intricate order of arms with them.
The children had a field day. There must have been 50 decorated tricycles. I recall seeing at least three goat wagons, gaily decorated small wagons with a set of shaves and a billy goat trained to pull them. My cousin Randall had an Irish Mail, a four-wheel contraption that he pumped and steered with his feet. Some of the boys had scooters much like those we see today, propelled with one foot while the other rested on a platform between two small wheels. Here and there would be still a few of the high wheel bicycles whose riders I always envied because they could see over the heads of the crowd, and I couldn’t.
The parade was an “in between” event: in between the ice cream and fireworks. The drum and bugle corps, the flying flags, the color and respect, the participants and onlookers all sharing the memory of the fathers of our country and those who fought to preserve it. In those days, the Fourth of July had real meaning: it was not just another day off from work.
This year, it would be well to see a flag on every flagpole in town. And parents, be good examples to your children: stand and uncover your head when the flag passes by. Teach the next generation to respect the things our forefathers strove to attain that we might have a better life. No one has more to lose. FC
The late Perry Piper was a columnist for newspapers in Illinois and Indiana for more than 12 years. His columns, reprinted from his personal memoirs, appear in Farm Collector with the permission of his family.