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Fourth of July holds special memories for Victoria kid

July 2, 2011 at 2:02 a.m.

Jacklyn De Leon, her mother Mandy Hernandez, sister Eli May Salinas, and Alma Gonzales talk about their favorite Fourth of July memories. Jacklyn said she believed Independence Day is important because it "honors the soldiers."

My favorite July 4th memories were, last year, 2010. My mother, Mandy Hernandez, sister Eli May Salinas, and I, Jacklyn De Leon, were invited to my cousin Monica's house. They made barbecue, shrimp shish kabobs and we also ate some watermelon. My sister and I had a chance to dance and play with our cousins.

I can remember it like yesterday, my family dressed up in red, white and blue. Then it started to get dark outside, so my family jumped in the cars and drove toward the Victoria Mall. We found a parking spot in front of a shopping center. We sat on the back of a pickup truck and waited for the fireworks. I remember looking behind me at my sister and a loud boom went off and my sister moved toward my mom. Then I could hear everyone cheering and clapping.

The fireworks were so beautiful with so many different colors. My mother, sister and I got off the truck, and just in that minute my Aunt Michelle said, "Y'all look this way," and she took a picture of us. I have this picture hanging up in my room. I will always remember that Fourth of July, 2010.

- Jackyln De Leon

"Guadalupe Arellano, will you be my bride," Matthew softly asked, down on one knee.

I could say that we were all alone having a romantic dinner or strolling through the park on a cool peaceful evening, with no distractions and eyes focused only on each other, but that's not even close to what really happened when he popped the question.

There had to have been hundreds of people, thousands perhaps, packed in around us on a very hot Fourth of July evening.

There was a live band, lots of food and refreshments, kids running around everywhere and two people very much in love sitting on a blanket in the gravel parking lot of the Victoria Community Center; all waiting for the show to begin.

My two young nieces and nephew, who we took with us that night, could hardly contain their anticipation of what was to come. Neither could Matthew!

What a cool show of patriotism we witnessed in the sky above us that evening. The display seemed more intense and vibrant than I had ever remembered seeing before, so when Matthew proposed during the grand finale, I saw the crazy fireworks - literally - and I knew I would see them for the rest of my life as Mrs. Matthew Schaefer.

Although it wasn't a storybook, lovey-dovey proposal that night, it was the perfect ending to a perfect day. July 4, 1992 was truly one of the most memorable days of my life. Early that morning, my then best friend, Matthew Schaefer (and by the way, we are still best friends), a blond-haired, blue-eyed country boy from Southern Indiana sat nervously next to me on the sofa in the living room of my childhood home at the southern end of Vine Street (a few blocks from Moo Moo on Moody).

Sitting across the room, also a bit nervous, were my parents, Herbert and Josephine Arellano. Sensing what was about to happen as Matthew approached them, my mother began to cry, followed by my father. Matthew told them of his love for me and how he desired for us to be married, and would pursue it with their blessing.

With all of us in tears, Matthew and I knelt in front of my parents as they laid their hands upon our shoulders and gave us the blessing of our lives! A year later, July 24, 1993, we became man and wife.

- Lupe Arellano Schaefer

My daddy, Pofirio Perez. I had him all to myself on the Fourth of July. He now lives with my little sister, Belinda Coker, in Austin, but he visits me whenever I can get him.

We had a wonderful afternoon at my house eating all the usual favorites that day. Love you Daddy!!!

- Alice Gomez

I grew up on the McFaddin Ranch, which is about 18 miles south of Victoria on U.S. Highway 77. The acreage of the ranch was over 40,000, so through the years much labor was required to operate the various aspects of the daily activities. During the middle 1930s the population count, including children, was estimated around 550. Life on the ranch was quite different.

The Fourth of July was really celebrated on the ranch. Numerous steers would be slaughtered and, beginning in the evening July 3, beneath a cluster of very large oak trees a large pit would be dug. Sections of pipe were laid over the pit and then hog wire was placed over the pipe. A large fire was then started in the bottom and allowed to burn down to a bed of red hot coals. Large hunks of beef were placed on the wire and watched all night. The meat would be turned with a pitch fork, and a regular floor mop was used to sop the meat.

On the morning of July 4, beans and campfire stew would be started in large black iron wash pots and cooked very slowly, and the beef continued to cook until noon when all were served. For many years, Lee Powell, a cowboy on the ranch, was in charge of the cooking.

Wide boards were nailed between trees for tables (we sat on quilts on the ground) and water would be hauled in large oak barrels brought in by wagons pulled by mules. Large blocks of ice were added to make the water cool. There was a dipper attached to the barrel to be used all day. There was lemon and peppermint stick candy for the children and all the watermelon you could eat. Each family would bring side dishes.

As a child, I remember many happy Fourths. This event was originally set up for residents of the ranch, but, as the years passed, outsiders intruded so the event was finally canceled around 1950.

- Patsy Hand

From the red bow clipped in her black hair to the red, white and blue stripes of nail polish on her toes, Jackyln De Leon, 10, is ready for the Fourth of July.

The holiday celebrating the Declaration of Independence is Jacklyn's favorite day of the year.

"I've loved it for as long as I can remember," Jackyln said.

Her family has a long-standing tradition of celebrating the day by getting together for a big party with barbecue, cake and watermelon.

Every year, the adults talk and laugh, the children play games, music is played in the background and everyone dances.

The celebration of the birth of the nation is just three days before her own birthday. It has always felt like the entire country was celebrating her birthday.

"She has always loved it, since she was about 5 years old," Jacklyn's mother, Mandy Hernandez, said.

Jacklyn submitted the top essay in the Advocate's July Fourth memories promotion.

Last year, Jacklyn attended the family party with her mom and her sister Eli May Salinas.

The family ate barbecue and the children played. Everyone danced, as usual. But the day felt special to Jacklyn. She has always loved the holiday, but it was the first time she stopped to really appreciate it.

"My other holidays have been fun, but this seemed different," Jacklyn said.

As it grew dark, everyone piled into their cars and trucks to go watch the fireworks at Victoria Mall.

The sky filled with a dazzling array of light while the air was filled with the booming explosions.

Standing with her mother and sister, all three turned to look back as an aunt called for them to smile.

The camera flash captured them, standing close together, happy smiles already on their faces.

Jacklyn hung the picture on her bedroom wall, and whenever she looks "I think it was different because we were all together, the whole family. It was so much fun," she said.

She had such a great time last year, Jacklyn is celebrating her 11th birthday on the Fourth of July this year.

On Monday, she and family and friends will gather in her front yard to eat barbecue, dance and break open a red, white and blue star-shaped pinata filled with candy.

Even though she'll be celebrating her birthday, Jacklyn won't forget what the nation is celebrating - the Declaration of Independence was signed 235 years ago.

"I think it's good that they did that before. It's good we remember it," she said.

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