Monday, July 11, 2016
Letter from Harrisburg: A Small-town Fourth of July
On the Fourth of July, the feeling is mutual
By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
JULY 10, 2016
The harvest smell woke me on the Fourth of July, the vibrant dry scent blowing on my face from the windrowed ryegrass field to the north and the open window by our heads.
It was a good day to be from Harrisburg.
“The breakfast crowd is strolling in,” informed the Harrisburg July 4th Celebration Facebook page at 7:34 a.m. “No long lines yet so hurry down to avoid a wait. Mike is at the 1st station selling raffle tickets, ... Hubert & Caroline are at the 3rd station selling breakfast. Volunteer firefighters are making breakfast, bussing tables, selling petunias.”
In Harrisburg, the day is about community, celebration, first names and investing in your own. It’s also about adding new ideas while keeping the traditions that everyone counts on, such as the Knox Brothers singing in the gazebo by the river at 6 p.m. as they have done for more than 30 years.
At 10 a.m., my daughter Jenny and her friends, dressed in carefully coordinated red, white, and blue outfits, went to the annual library book sale, as always overseen by Cheryl, the friendly librarian. They stayed for the parade, which included, Jenny says, “Gigantic farm tractors, dancing horses and a little Amish-style carriage pulled by four huskies!
“There were lots of little kids around us, so I didn’t get much candy,” Jenny added.
The day’s schedule filled a full page. Face painting by Calvary Chapel, a 5K run, a classic car show — “Smith St., between 2nd and 3rd St., Free!” — kids’ races, craft and food booths, and much more, all of it the result of long tradition, community enthusiasm and a lot of hard work from people willing to be anonymous.
Like many rural folks, I couldn’t join the festivities until evening.
Some farmers took a break from harvesting for the holiday, which is why our middle daughter, Emily, had the day off from driving a Massey Ferguson combine and also from cranking the plugged header backwards by propping her feet on the side of the combine and hanging her full weight on the wrench. We celebrated her birthday over dinner, two days early, with a pie adorned with stripes of raspberries and blueberries, dotted with whipped cream stars.
My husband, Paul, left the table to go back to the warehouse, as more seed was arriving. He said he’d join us for the fireworks.
Steven, our youngest son, gallantly carried my woven-webbing lawn chair and helped me find a place to set it, near the gazebo. Steven got his start as a firefighter volunteering with the Harrisburg department. This experience, and his captain’s encouragement, propelled him toward the firefighter/EMT program at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, where he is now in his second year. He wandered over to the firetrucks on Moore Street and talked with a few old buddies. “There’s a lot of new volunteers I don’t know,” he told me.
Hundreds of others already had arrived at the riverbank park: retired farmers in billed caps, children on blankets, neighbors and relatives. The Willamette River flowed and the sun shone on our left. Food booths and strolling teenagers filled the street to the right. And in front of us, in the gazebo, the Knox Brothers sang the songs they always sing, “Amazing Grace,” “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and “There's Peace in Knowing.”
Over on Kesling Street, Yvonne Bender displayed her baked goods on tables under a canopy and was “pretty much sold out in an hour and a half,” her son Nate reported.
The Knox Brothers left the stage and were replaced by Cornerstone, also a local family singing group. We stood to join them in singing “God Bless America,” and we meant it.
When my friends Gina and Sharon arrived, I sat with them and learned which sons were working at which warehouse or hay business, who was attending Life Bible, and who moved out of that house and into this one.
Our teenagers asked for money, disappeared and returned, wading through blankets and lawn chairs, with cinnamon-y elephant ears and paper dishes of curly fries, the smells of hot grease drifting behind them. Sharon’s little grandson ate sweet shaved ice and shivered miserably, but kept eating.
In an era of rampant suicide bombings and violence around the world, I couldn’t help but look around the pleasant crowd and think, God forbid, could it happen here?
But everyone within sight looked like they not only belonged there, but knew someone. Two policemen walked by, purposeful but smiling. One drank lemonade.
Safety is not so much in numbers as in people who are mutually invested.
The singing ended and everyone turned their lawn chairs around to the south, strategically avoiding the trees, in preparation for the fireworks to come. A fireman walked by, collecting donations in a tall yellow-trimmed boot.
Paul sent me a text: “Truck had problems unloading. I guess I can’t make it.”
In this community, harvest comes before fireworks.
Glowing plastic wands waved from children’s hands as the dusk and chill grew. And then the sky above the bridge burst out in the first starry cascade.
Just like always.
Afterwards, we groped for our lawn chairs in the dark, walked with the crowd headed north, and admired a friend’s new baby while waiting at Harrisburg’s only stoplight.
The rest of the country could learn from this town, I thought. We are not as homogeneous in politics, beliefs, backgrounds or opinions as it might appear, but here is one day a year when hundreds of people appreciate the place they’re from, celebrate together, offer what they have, and make an enormous daylong project run smoothly.
The Fourth of July is a good day to be from Harrisburg.
Dorcas Smucker is a homemaker and mother of six. She can be reached at