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Tomorrow is Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July. It is a federal holiday in the United States. It commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, which declared our independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Each year, on July 4, Americans celebrate that freedom with barbecues, picnics and family gatherings. Many politicians appear at public events to show their support for the history, heritage and people of their country. The American flag, the most common Independence Day symbol, is displayed in front of many homes and buildings.

As far back as I can remember, the Fourth of July was a big day at our house. My parents came from a generation of proud Americans who weren’t ashamed to demonstrate that pride. To them, Independence Day was special and should be celebrated enthusiastically!

It was my father’s favorite holiday.

Although he’s been gone for many years, I cannot think about Fourth of July celebrations without remembering him.

My father was a monumental presence in my life. He was the happiest man I ever knew. I thank God every day for beautiful memories of him that live in my heart.

One of my most vivid memories centers on this special holiday.

When I was very young, we lived in a small coal-mining town. Every Fourth of July, my dad had a three gallon container of ice cream, packed in dry ice, delivered to our home early in the morning. Refrigeration was poor in those days so it was important that all of it was eaten that day.

My father got word to every child in the neighborhood that there would be free ice cream cones at our house all day. He’d sit on the back porch and, as eager children appeared, he’d dip ice cream into cones and hand them out, smiling broadly.

Later in the evening, he’d slice up the biggest watermelon he’d been able to find and give the juicy slices to anyone who wanted them. He thought it was great fun to watch the kids eat it — spitting out seeds while juice dripped off their chins and ran down to their elbows. It was a big day for the children of this humble coal-mining town, and for my dad, as well.

It is hard-working, generous people like my father who helped make America the greatest country in the world.

I was almost 7 when my dad left the coal mines. We moved to a small town where I, his only child, went to school, made new friends and eventually married my high school sweetheart. We had a family and were very happy.

We celebrated the Fourth of July, too, but not as lavishly. We grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, had lots of beverages and yes, ice cream. But our celebrations didn’t come close to being on the same level with those long-ago “fourths” of my childhood.

One year, when my children were young — ranging in age from about 12 to 4 years old — my parents decided to show them what an old-fashioned Fourth of July was like. Before noon, they appeared on our doorstep with food and supplies.

First, several containers of ice cream were placed in my freezer. Then, my mother started taking prepared food from a big box. For starters, there was her traditional platter of crusty, golden fried chicken, fresh green beans cooked with new potatoes, corn on the cob and several ripe tomatoes.

When my dad kept going to the car, I investigated and found that he’d taken two large tubs to our patio and filled them with ice. In one, he placed as many canned drinks as it would hold. Every drink you might imagine was in that tub. In the other, he placed his favorite — the one item that to him no Fourth of July would be complete without — a big, round, juicy watermelon.

After we’d stuffed ourselves with the scrumptious dinner, my dad started dipping ice cream into cones. When he kept dipping after each child had already had one, I started to protest, but my dad shushed me: “It’s the Fourth of July,” he declared. “Let them have as many as they want like you always did.”

My kids were in Heaven!

Finally, Dad sliced the ice-cold watermelon. As he watched his grandchildren enjoy the juicy treat, nighttime began to fall on this magnificent day. There would soon be fireworks.

It was truly a memorable occasion. One that none of us will ever forget.

This July 4, as we watch fireworks and wave flags in celebration, let us take a moment to solemnly thank God for all that our freedom allows.

May God bless the people of America with His salvation and the full knowledge of the truth in His Word.

Have a safe, happy Fourth of July.

Happy Birthday, America!

Peggy Toney Horton lives in Nitro.

Essays on Faith may be submitted to gazette@wvgazettemail.com.

Find more Essays on Faith at www.wvgazettemail.com/life/religion.