The American Girls Fourth of July

When I house sit, I like to paw through the homeowner’s bookshelves. To paw through bookshelves, you basically pinch your fingers together with slightly cupped hands and touch all the books.

Carry and Bob Wilcox’s wall-length, floor-to-ceiling library holds a preponderance of bird books, bee books and sewing books. I also found this:


The American Girls Handy Book: How to Amuse Yourself and Others.

I felt like I had already done pretty well amusing myself in the Wilcox home, taking regular drafts of Carry’s homemade fire cider, screwing and unscrewing hoses to different drip watering systems as instructed, feeding pimento cheese to Olive and Zuzu, the mop-top doggies, watching Mitch come crashing in to do his laundry, steal his mom’s coffee pot, and debate whether or not Lali is a genius. (Apparently he has not seen this video).

But none of these divertissements were recommended for an American girl circa 1887, when this book was first published.

They say what’s really fun for Victorian-era girls is collecting and preserving wildflowers, making your own lawn tennis net and decorating seaside cottages.

There’s also a timely and pertinent chapter on how American girls should celebrate the Fourth of July:

As the mothers and sisters of 1776 took a full share in the hardships and trials of the Revolution, and actively assisted in gaining our independence, it is eminently fit and proper that American girls should show their appreciation of such bravery and heroism by assisting in the annual celebration of our famous Independence Day.

Fourth of July seems heretofore to have been considered altogether too exclusively a boy’s holiday, and it is with a hope of stimulating a renewed activity, and awakening in the heart of every girl in the United States a sense of proprietary interest in the day, that we suggest new methods of celebrating our national holiday.

Patriotic sailor suit envy

What are these suggested methods?

Decorating the house and grounds, contributing clever fancies to the evening illumination and sending off “beautiful daylight fireworks.”

I read further and found out that by daylight fireworks they just mean things that make sharp, munitions-like noise. Paper fireworks, for example. Young girls blow into brown-paper bags until they are fully inflated and then simultaneously pop them (“bringing their hands forcibly and quickly together”). This “bursts the bags and causes a report almost equal to that of pistols.” If you’d prefer your pops sound like a volley of musketry they suggest bursting the bags in rapid succession rather than all together.

The other projects in the book involve significantly more work and materials–portraits of our forefathers, bunting, cheese cloth, tissue paper and broom straw. I won’t get into it here, typing is also work, and one of my favorite things about 4th of July is the indolence.

baked beans
Not my picture, but the beans I’m gonna bake will look something like this.

So let’s close with some lazy small talk. How will you be spending our glorious national holiday? How do you define independence? How do you really feel about America? Do you have a good recipe for baked beans?

If you do, send it my way, as I will be spending the day grilling some meat, baking some beans, popping some paper bags and trying to talk my friends into canceling our Thursday strength-training session.

Enjoy your holiday.


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