Six-bullet salute ushered in Fourth in neighborhood

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 28, 2001

On the eve of another glorious Fourth, it’s heartening to recall that patriotism was instilled and nurtured in the young of my family early in life.

Thursday, June 28, 2001

On the eve of another glorious Fourth, it’s heartening to recall that patriotism was instilled and nurtured in the young of my family early in life.

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At this late day I can’t remember who did the instilling and nurturing, but it has the earmarks of my Aunt Jess, one of my mother’s older sisters. Aunt Jess was all for nurturing the young and ready with advice. It was she who pointed out to us that if we really didn’t want to brush our teeth, &uot;Suck on your toothbrush. Your mothers will be so afraid you’ll suck a bristle down your windpipes and kill yourselves, that they’ll never mention brushing your teeth again.&uot;

The first manifestation of patriotism in the first person I recall is lying prone on the living room floor with my favorite cousin, a boy the same age as I was, between three and four. Our heads were bent over a large album depicting scenes from World War I. We had turned the pages to a picture of the Kaiser and, waving our feet in the air, pounded him with our fists while we intoned &uot;Kaiser Bill went up the hill/ to take a shot at France/ Kaiser Bill came down the hill/ with bullets in his pants.&uot;

That ditty could have been taught to us only by our Aunt Jess.

Fourth of July was a big day at my house. Relatives arrived from all over. Even before they arrived, though, the celebration began. Began in a somewhat weird way, I suppose.

To understand it, I think you have to know the kind of neighborhood in which we lived. As I remember my family was the only one in the block that remained on speaking terms with everyone else.

Though we had the smallest house in the neighborhood, the neighbors tended in the summer to drift to our porch in the evening and insult each other.

The woman across the alley complained that she had just put her washing out on the line when some idiot started a bon fire. The idiot who had started the bon fire said that Monday was the proper time for hanging out clothes. If some people were indolent enough to wait to the middle of the week to do their washing they deserved what they got.

The woman who sold milk said she got a little fed up with certain people bringing her back cracked milk bottles. Clearly suspicious of our neighborhood medium she remarked that no &uot;spooky old liar&uot; could fool her for long.

The new neighbor lady, who swore now and then, asked the elderly gossip who sat all day in her window keeping track of what went on, if she had seen the swearing lady’s son that evening. When the observing one made the mistake of replying, &uot;I never see anything my neighbors do,&uot; the swearing lady promptly countered with, &uot;You miss a damned good opportunity.&uot;

Mind you this went on nightly, more or less. Our visitors were never invited. They just dropped in. My mother moved quickly among them offering iced tea or lemonade, home baked cookies or candy, and doing her best to keep things from getting worse.

The Fourth of July, though, oh the glorious Fourth, that was the day of reckoning. My parents rose up early, well before daylight, dressed and with muffled thread left the house.

I know little about guns. The one my father had, I believe was a Colt Automatic. I know it shot six times without being reloaded. Whether or not it did more than one shot under each window in the neighborhood, I don’t know. But no neighbor was neglected.

Lights went on, angry voices were raised, accusations were hurled. By that time my parents were back home, clinging to each other, laughing like mad.

They were never suspected. Who is going to suspect anyone who’s that generous with homemade cookies, ice tea and lemonade?

As I say, my family is a bit on the weird side, but you have to admit, it’s a lovely way to usher in the Fourth.

Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears Thursdays.