FOURTH OF JULY BEAN DINNER
R. D. ICE
[This is based upon what memories I have of Vinton and the things I have heard about from different ones. I have changed names and used my imagination to create the details. Yet this is as accurates as I could make it.]
The year was 1934 and the Depression had struck with a vengeance. President Franklin Roosevelt was in the second year of his first term. In this little southeastern Ohio town called, Vinton, people were coming out of their houses and gathering at the High School in preparation for the Annual Fourth of July Bean Dinner.
"Roger! Today is the Bean Dinner! Let's go to the parade!"
"Parade! Parade!" shouted Roger, age 5, bouncing up and down. "Daddy, I want to go! I want to go to the parade! I like the band and the firecrackers! It'll be such fun! Is Mother going?"
"Her stomach is sick again today. She is going to stay home."
"I wish Mother would go. She would like the music and the parade. Is Grandma going?"
"Your Grandpa is doing surgery this morning. She has to stay home and help him."
"I wish Grandmother and Mother both would go. It'll be such fun. I like to have fun! But we'll go together, won't we Daddy!"
Roger and his father, Virgil, began walking down the street and turned toward the High School at the edge of town.
At the High School, Jimmy Freshcorn, the constable, walked around speaking to everyone and keeping order. Some were shooting off firecrackers and rockets and waving sparklers that showered sparks into the air. Others were standing and talking and watching and waiting. Roger Hefflin and his father joined the crowd. Virgil lit a sparkler and gave it to Roger. Roger waved it around and laughed with glee at the sparks shooting out.
In the Park overlooking the town, Ike Hooper, the cook, had been busy since the day before. Beans and some chunks of salt pork simmered and bubbled in a huge iron kettle. A big wooden barrel of soda crackers had been brought in. A huge pot of coffee was beginning to simmer on the fire. Everything had been made ready for the Celebration.
Four WWI veterans had dressed in the Civil War Blue of the Union Soldiers. Everett Wood was the commander. Harry Green carried the American Flag. Mark Keener and Jack Sturm stood holding their rifles. All eight members of the marching band stood holding their instruments, ready to begin the celebration.
"Attention!" shouted Everett. The veterans snapped to attention.
Everett raised his hand in a salute. "Forward, march!"
The band began playing "Stars and Stripes Forever." With Everett leading, the veterans marched up the hill toward the Park, with the band and the crowd of people following. Roger ran ahead to catch up with the band and marched along behind them, trying to keep in step.
At the Park, the veterans stopped in front of the bandstand. The band took their places in the bandstand. The people gathered on either side to give the veterans room for what they were about to do.
The flag-bearer stood at the top of the steps, holding the Flag high.
"Attention!" shouted Everett. "Salute the Flag!"
Everyone raised his eyes to the Flag and saluted. Then each put his hand over his heart. "I pledge allegiance, to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands; one Nation, [under God,] with liberty and justice for all."
"Present arms!" The two veterans with rifles turned to look out over the town below them and stood at the ready.
"Ready, aim, fire." The two rifles raised and shot in unison, the sound echoing from the hills.
"Ready, aim, fire." A second volley of shots rang out. This was repeated twice more. Then they lowered the rifles, turned and stood at parade rest.
Thomas Bidwell, the mayor, went up the steps to stand on the edge of the bandstand.
"Ladies and gentlemen. Miss Effie Cheltenham will now sing 'The Star Spangled Banner,' assisted by the band. "Let's all sing along with her."
Everyone saluted the Flag and stood at attention, waiting for her to begin.
As the band played, Miss Effie began to sing. "Oh say can you see, by the dawn's early light..."
When Miss Effie finished, the mayor spoke again.
"Friends, we honor our great Country, the U. S. of A. And we honor the soldiers who gave themselves and sometimes their lives to make this Nation great. They left home and family and friends to go off to war in defense of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In the Revolution, they fought to set our Nation free from British rule to gain our Independence. In the War Between The States, they fought to preserve our Nation. In WWI our soldiers fought to set the world free. Even now our President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is fighting against this terrible Depression that has paralyzed our Nation. He declared a bank holiday, closed the banks and reformed the currency. We stand with him in his efforts. We pray that good times will come again. Let's all give a big cheer for our President!"
Everyone shouted and whistled and stamped their feet!
Then the band struck up "America" and Miss Effie sang again.
"My Country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee we sing..."
"Ladies and gentlemen," said the mayor. "Our Civil War soldiers had to live on dry beans and hardtack crackers. An army marches on its stomach, and it takes lots of food to keep it going. In honor of these soldiers we feast today just as they did: dry beans seasoned with salt meat, cooked in an iron kettle over an open fire. We don't have any hardtack crackers, but we do have these soda crackers. There's plenty of coffee in the big blue coffeepot, and lots of good, fresh water at the pump. As soon as the Reverend Brother Ed Harris says the prayer, you can all help yourselves and eat all you can hold. Thank you for being here today! We appreciate your donations that help make this Dinner possible. And now, Brother Harris."
Brother Ed lifted his hands, and the crowd grew silent.
"Oh holy God, bless this Day of remembrance and these Thy people. May we ever remember the soldiers of the past and all that we owe them. Bless our President and help him to act wisely. May good times come again and this Depression be over. Bless the one who cooked this feast. Bless us as we share in this meal, and as we eat, may we remember the privations of those soldiers who had to live in this way. May we be thankful for the freedom we enjoy and the blessings of life. We ask Thy blessings on us all, through Jesus Christ, Amen."
Each family had brought bowls and spoons. This was before paper plates and plastic spoons. You used it, washed it, and used it again. Recycling was the only way possible.
As the line passed the kettle, Ike Hooper, the cook, ladled beans into the bowls. Etta, his wife, handed out the crackers from the barrel. Eunice Freshcorn filled the coffee cups from the big pot. The people sat down at the tables and began eating.
Roger ran to get in line, with Virgil following.
"Here, Roger, let me help you."
"Daddy, I can do it myself. I'm a big man now."
Roger turned to the cook. "Mr. Ike, here's my bowl. Fill it up for me. I like those dry beans just like the soldiers used to eat."
Virgil picked up a stack of crackers and held out his cup to get coffee. Roger picked up a tin cup of water. They sat at a table and began to eat.
"There's plenty more," shouted the mayor! "Come back for seconds and
thirds and as much as you can hold! It's the Fourth of July Bean Dinner!"
The people ate and then went back for more. The festivities lasted until the bean kettle was empty.
Then the band took their places in the bandstand and began playing a series of stirring marches.
The people sat at the tables and listened with appreciation, some tappiong their feet and waving their hands in time to the music. Roger stood up and tried to emulate the band director.
"Daddy, I like the music and the band. I want to learn to play in the band. Can I have something to play music on?"
"I have a cornet that I play in the circus band during the summer. You can play that. I'll help you to learn."
"I wish I could play in the circus band."
"Maybe you can when you are older."
"I don't want to wait until I am older. I want to do it now."
Finally, toward the end of the afternoon people began leaving. The band gathered up their instruments and started back to town. It had been a most wonderful day! The Fourth of July Bean Dinner!