From my childhood, I remember one holiday every year even more than Christmas or Thanksgiving. I remember the 24th of July. Almost every summer of my early life, I spent in a small Mormon community in Eastern Arizona. The community's celebration of the 24th was easily the biggest event of the entire year. The festivities lasted for almost an entire week.
Why the 24th of July? This marked the entrance of the pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. To this day, if you tried to drive through any one of the small towns in Eastern Arizona around the 24th of July, you might end up waiting for an hour or two and watching the parade through the main street.
The 24th was a signal for all of the former residents of the towns to return to their traditional homes. Many families, like mine, planned family reunions around the 24th and the town soon filled with old and new friends and relatives. The official beginning of the 24th celebration was the Camporama. Everyone in the community was invited to a location nearby to "camp" and fix their dinner over an open fire. Instead of wagons, they would drive their cars and trucks into a huge circle and every family would have their own camp. The highlight of the evening was walking around the circle and greeting old friends and meeting relatives you hadn't seen for a while. As the years passed, I would take my own children to the Camporama. Since I was related to about half the town, there were always a lot of relatives.
The next day literally started off with a bang in the form of a simulated cannon, usually setting off sticks of dynamite. The big event was the parade down mainstreet with homemade floats and marching bands and lots and lots of horses and riders. There were usually some wagons and a few authentic looking pioneers. Many of the people on wagons and floats would throw candy to the children along the route and there was always a huge race to get to the candy before others.
In case you don't know what a float is, it is a wagon or trailer or truck decorated with fancy paper flowers or streamers, usually with a theme, and then driven or towed through the town for the parade.
There was always a barbeque lunch, parties and for many years a real rodeo with mostly local participants. The rodeo also had some featured horse races. I never did get up my courage to ride a calf in the rodeo, but I did a lot of horseback riding and participated in some of the events. Some of my favorite events were the wild cow milking contest, usually for very fast and very strong cowboys and the hide races. I don't think you can imagine a wild cow milking contest, but the cows were at one end of the rodeo ground and the teams of three milkers were at the other and the participants had to race across, catch a cow and milk her, the first team to get back across the finish line and actually pour some milk out of their container won. Let's just say the cows did not cooperate.
The hide race consisted of a rider on a fast horse and a younger, smaller participant on a cow hide on the ground tied to the saddle horn of the rider by a rope. The race consisted of pulling the cow hide around the rodeo grounds in a race to the finish line. Not only was the boy on the hide bounced by the uneven ground, you have to understand that Arizona is dry and the rodeo ground was solid dust. The hide riders would end up covered in dirt. The winner was the one who held on the longest or crossed the finish line first.
Every night of the celebration there was a dance. Of course, when I was younger, I didn't get to go, but as a teenager, I did get to participate. In my earliest years, the town would have a special program of skits and blackouts. Blackouts were short skits, usually very funny, that would end with the lights being turned off since there was no stage and no curtains. The end of the programs would always be a diorama of pioneers, usually pulling a handcart, and everyone singing Come, Come Ye Saints.
The celebration would end on Sunday with a special Church meeting where most of the talks centered around our pioneer heritage.
I am sure that my deep feelings about genealogy and my ancestors come, in part, from these types of early experiences. Now that I live in the big city and I am not surrounded by relatives, we do not remember or celebrate the 24th as extensively as before, but I still carry the celebrations in memory and my heart.