Summer has truly begun in our neck of the Appalachian mountains, and the heat and humidity of the day creates a blue haze that lingers over Big Frog. Summer in Appalachia is my absolute favorite time of year…yes, moreso than autumn itself. The aroma of campfires drift in the breeze and the sounds of laughter and 103.9 FM can be heard almost everywhere. The lake is at full pool and watermelon juice drips down the chins of both the young and the old. The locals love it here, the out of town visitors love it here, it’s just hard to hate these mountains during the dog days…especially on the Fourth of July.
Growing up in a small town, the Fourth of July has always been my favorite holiday, and it also happens to be one of the biggest celebrations of the year. The town is decked out in red, white, and blue balloons, streamers, and wreaths. Little American flags line the medians in the center of town and Lee Greenwood’s God Bless The USA can be heard playing from the radios of the cars sitting in the once a year traffic. Vendors line the street side selling cotton candy and kettle corn and the smell of grilling hot dogs wafts from truck beds through the thick summer air while teenagers set off irrational amounts of firecrackers which in turn results in everyone looking to the sky, thinking the fireworks started early despite it being high noon. Every year the local churches host block parties with bounce houses, and the youth groups try their best to paint patriotic doodles on little ones’ faces. Kiddos are running around with cotton candy stuck in their hair decked out in glow sticks, and mamaws sport their traditional Old Navy shirts. When I was younger, my mamaw would buy the entire family matching shirts from Old Navy, and still to this day, she and my papaw wear them together. She used to buy Papaw white shirts, but it never failed that he’d stain it with watermelon juice or baby me would stick my blue cotton candy stained hands all over it. The perks of having such a small community is that if you follow the scent of hamburgers or hot dogs, the likelihood that you know the folks cooking is pretty high, and since everyone is so kind and generous, they’ll probably offer you something to eat and you can sit for a while and share stories. The sense of community is at its all-time high. The local gas station, the Conoco, is always stocked with every flavor Nehi (now we settle for Fanta), and Dad would always buy a bunch of orange and grape ones for my brother and I to share.
Every year we park at the local bank in the same spot, which sadly is becoming a terrible viewing spot due to a growing crape mertle (trust me, we’ve tried to petition), and we play cornhole, walk town, buy Mom her lemonade and kettle corn from the same vendor, in the same spot, and watch the fireworks being shot from Tater Hill. It is a tradition. The traditions, however, can’t be found in parking in the same spot, eating the same kettle corn, or wearing the same shirts year after year. One day the crape myrtle will grow too tall and we will have to move ten feet to the left, and Old Navy might stop selling their famous shirts. Our tradition is found in the joy and spirit of the families gathered together. It is found within the community that decorates the war memorials every year without fail. It’s a feeling of patriotism and closeness that creates a tradition for us all. My favorite tradition however, is the ice cream I share with my papaw…even 18 years later.