My maternal grandfather, Guy Ward, was a Fourth of July baby, which you would think would be an excuse for great annual celebrations in the Ward family.
I honestly don’t remember but a few in all the years we lived across the street from Mamaw and Papaw in Lexington, Tenn. Even those, if memory serves, were more family picnics than birthday/July Fourth celebrations.
“Pop” Ward, as everyone called him, was born in 1901 and wasn’t much for celebrating. He was a hard-working, no-nonsense man who loved us all but saw no reason to dwell on – or even mention – what should be obvious.
Obvious because he did not do what his father did. He did not leave his sick wife, 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter one night, never to return, even when his wife died and the children were given away.
Obvious because he did not quit striving for a better life for his family than what he and his wife, Hallie, were providing as tenant farmers.
Obvious because he scraped and saved and went, hat-in-hand, to the local banker for money to buy a gas station in town, the culmination of that dream to be more than a dirt-poor farmer.
Obvious because, when his oldest child’s husband was killed in a crash of a U.S. Air Force plane, he drove her and her two toddler children back home and moved them into his and Hallie’s small house.
Obvious because, at several points in their lives, that gas station he bought on the downtown corner supported not only him and Hallie, but also all three of his sons who worked there.
No, Pop Ward was not one for celebrations, especially if he was the guest of honor. More than likely, he was at the gas station on most July Fourth holidays, selling ice and gas to the travelers headed to the lakes.
He did love this country and would give a little smile when one of his grandchildren reminded him that he was a Fourth of July man.
I didn’t have a lot of serious conversations with my maternal grandfather. I had one I would rather not have had when I did not yet have my driver’s license and was caught backing my mother’s car out of the driveway for a joy ride around the block. Unfortunately, I hit the garbage cans at the end of the driveway. Even more unfortunate was the fact that Pop Ward was sitting in his carport across the street and saw the whole thing.
But July Fourth brings back a memory of a talk Papaw and I had when I was about 9 years old. We were sitting in his carport, and he had just split open a big, sweet watermelon. I told him that Mamaw said she was baking a cake for July Fourth and his birthday.
“Do you like having your birthday on July Fourth?” I asked him. “Seems like people forget because it’s our country’s birthday, so I wouldn’t like it.”
“I like it just fine,” Papaw told me. “America and me, we are alike, so it’s good we have the same birthday.”
“How are you alike?”
“We were both born to always have to fight for the good things in life. And, when we do, we win, young lady, and that’s what we celebrate.”