The 4th of July has always been a thought provoking holiday for me. Of course with it being Independence Day, the whole country celebrates. There’s probably not much I can say about activities on the 4th that haven’t already been said.
To put things into perspective, there’s the hoped for rain-free weather, parades, speeches, hot dogs, hamburgers, sweet tea, cold soda, fireworks, swimming, games, car races, etc. You get the drift.
The 4th of July for my dad always seemed to be a sad time. He never talked about it, but through yellowed newspaper clippings and what mom and my grandparents told me, I have a clear picture.
The year was 1941. WWII was a mere five months away. My father and his brother James Columbus (J.C.) had just finished celebrating July 4th in Vernon, Alabama where they lived.
J.C. had plans for his 10th birthday two days later. Because of the closeness in events, I’m sure my grandparents combined J.C.’s birthday with the holiday where special food was concerned. Grandma would’ve made J.C. some ice milk as she called it.
She always did for me. Grandma Hankins took an aluminum ice cube maker and poured milk in it, then added sugar. She froze it afterwards. It was as close to ice cream as Grandma could get.
On July 31st, dad and his brother were walking through downtown Vernon early in the morning. It would’ve been Thursday according to the newspaper story. Dad and J.C. strolled by two men trying to start a truck. Curious at what was going on, they stopped to watch.
One of the men was pouring gasoline into the vehicle carburetor while another fellow cranked the engine over. When the truck backfired the can of gasoline caught fire.
The man quickly tossed it aside. James was standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. The flaming gas went all over his clothes setting him on fire. J.C. took off running and before anyone could stop the boy he was severely burned. The uncle that I never got to meet, James Columbus Hankins, died later that day.
I lnow the event left horrible scars on my father. He never talked about it. My dad passed away two years ago.
Three years back I had a telephone conversation with the son of the mechanic that accidentally threw the can. He told me he was a small boy when it happened. He remembered things well.
The man said that his father was never the same. He eventually moved their family out of Vernon to try and escape bad memories. That relocation didn’t erase such. Like my dad, he never openly talked about it. He had to live with such grief for the rest of his life.
July is not only our countries independence month, but a reminder for me each and every year, that I have an uncle I never got to meet, because of a most horrific accident. There is only one photo of J.C. that I know of and it appears to be lost.
My late Uncle J.C. is buried at Asbury Cemetery in Lamar County, Alabama. His granite gravestone now shows its age. The tragic accident took place 78 years ago so that’s to be expected.
My brother and I have plans for a new marker on J.C.’s grave. I know my Grandpa and Grandma Hankins would like that.