Fish Frying on the Fourth: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

Today is the 240th birthday of the United States of America! Today we fly our flags and set off fireworks! Today we celebrate our freedom and liberty!

In previous generations, hard work on the farm kept many from the celebrations but by the industrialized 1960s, many had the day off to celebrate with family and friends. So we headed to the lake, fired up the grills, cut the watermelon and cranked the ice cream!

In the early 1970s, most of my aunts, uncles and cousins still lived in our neighborhood. Uncle Dalton (who lived next door) had a birthday on the fourth so we would often gather to celebrate his birthday as well as Independence Day. We would bring potluck or sometimes have a fish fry.

One of the most memorable fourth of Julys, however, was when I was twelve. That year, all the neighbors gathered together and had a big fish fry at our house. On the morning of the fourth, the men and boys gathered up nets and seined several ponds in the area for fish. I still have vivid memories of watching them sein the pond behind our house. The men waded through the pond holding the net and dragged it across to the other side.

Often the net yielded more than fish. One time there was big bullfrog in the net. Several of the cousins had a race to see who would get to keep it. The frog was set loose and the boys had to chase it. One caught it and as he was washing it off in the pond, another one pushed him in!

Later that afternoon, family and friends gathered at our house to clean and fry the fish. Big cookers of oil were set up and the men spent several hours frying fish and swapping stories. The ladies, meanwhile, prepared potato salad, baked beans and of course, the ice cream.

Ice cream freezers at that time still had to be cranked by hand. The ice had to be broken up with an ice pick and placed in the bucket around the cream container. Then several took turns cranking the handle that caused the container to turn in the bucket. It seemed like it took forever but finally the cream would be frozen and ready to eat.

While the adults were preparing the food, the kids would usually organize a baseball or softball game in our back yard. With that many cousins (and most of them boys), we usually had plenty of players. Most of them played on a team at the Y.B.M.A. fairgrounds so the games were usually pretty competitive.

As I got older, the fish fries and family gatherings became less frequent. Several of my aunts, uncles and cousins moved to Colorado for a while and others moved to town. We still got together occasionally if some of them came back to visit.

When I became an adult, the fish fries resumed for a period of time at Tom Lindsey’s place. Tom often worked on construction projects with my Dad and uncles. He shared a birthday with my Dad and my Uncle Jim and so we would go to Tom’s place for a birthday fish fry. Many of my family members were there along with many more people who worked with Tom Lindsey. It was a lot of fun to again celebrate the fourth with family and fish.

Whatever you have planned for the day, I hope you enjoy the time with family and friends! Happy 4th of July!