Splash: Traditions and memories abound for Independence Day

Pretending to be firebenders in 2016 from TV series “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” are, from left, Hannah Tetzlaff, her nephew, Isaiah, and her sister, Sarah. Even floating in water, one can still bend fire, apparently. Emily Tetzlaff photo

by Hannah Tetzlaff


That’s one of the traditions my family seems to have for celebrating the Fourth of July.

Now, I don’t mean the cutlery; we don’t worship spoons.

What I am referring to is the card game “spoons,” which involves sticking a spoon on your nose.

However, in my family, we play the game with clothespins, and now that I think about it, I’m not sure why.

Maybe spoons are too dangerous for us to handle; you’ll understand why I say that in a minute.

At first glance, my family appears to be nice, loving, funny and maybe a tad bit odd.

I remember hearing quite a few times from people at church or from family friends how nice my parents are and how kind my siblings and I are to each other.

But I have to think, these people probably never witnessed my family and I play a round of spoons. And it’s probably for the best, or rather for their safety, because when we play, it gets dangerous.

When the cutlery is out, the game is on, and all those mannerisms and niceties fly out the window. “Mercy” is just a word that is no longer in our vocabulary.

I vividly recall memories of pregnant women lunging across the table; young men wrestling beneath the table; and grandparents and grandchildren turning on each other for a spoon.

I don’t know what it is about cutlery, but my family becomes competitive when it involves that one card game.

In fact, I still have a scar on my hand from a rough game of spoons that happened more than a decade ago. I was about 10 or 12 at the time.

When one of the other players achieved a four-of-a-kind, my great uncle/godfather and I both grabbed for a spoon. At that time, we were still using spoons instead of clothespins.

Let’s just say my great uncle won, and I came away with a deep scratch on my hand.

He was profusely apologetic; however, I was done playing the game that night.

Though I may tense up whenever someone suggests a round of spoons, I still enjoy the game because of the people and the memories.

When I think of Fourth of July, I recall my family and the traditions we can enjoy because we are free.

I imagine the family cottage in Michigan that we often visit during the July 4th week, along with the rousing games of spoons we have there.

I also recall sitting on the dock, watching the fireworks burst in the night sky above the water, hearing the blast echo around the lake and everyone “oooohing” and “ahhhhhing.”

These are just a few traditions or memories that are tied to the Fourth of July for me and my family.

HANNAH TETZLAFF’S mom, Cathy, and Hannah’s grandma, Shirley, smiles as they dip fish fillet in beer batter and fry them for a Friday night fish fry during the Fourth of July week in 2016. Mark Becker photo

However, everyone has their own way of celebrating, which is why I asked around to see how others in Green Laker country celebrate America’s birthday.

Got to have the salad

Now, I don’t know what it says about the holiday, but it seems, besides cutlery, some families have traditions revolving around food.

Green Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Liane Walsh explained “Taffy Apple Salad is a must! And a great cookout for sure.”

As a foodie, I’m totally behind this idea.

I might just add it as another of my family’s traditions; I mean what could be better than using spoons to gobble up a sweet, fruit salad?

Maybe using a fork?

However, beyond food, Walsh’s family also know one of the best spots for viewing fireworks around Green Lake.

“Viewing from a boat can’t be beat,” she said. However, if you don’t own a boat or can’t rent one, then another good area is “Deacon Mills Park.”

Though salad and fireworks are a fun way to celebrate Fourth of July for Walsh, the holiday holds a deeper meaning for her.

She is reminded of “freedom and all of the sacrifices made by our forefathers for that right.”

in the Color Guard

Speaking of military service, Vietnam veteran and Green Lake American Legion Commander Mark Kramer clearly recalls his favorite memory of Independence Day.

“I remember the first times I marched in the [American Legion] Color Guard for the [Fourth of July] parade back in the mid 1970s,” he said. “As we turned the corner to come up Mill Street [in downtown Green Lake], it was filled with people of all ages cheering and clapping for our veterans.  It was special back then and has remained the same over the 40-plus years!”

Now, Kramer spends his time celebrating the holiday by participating in the many Legion events that day, such as the pancake breakfast, riding in the boat parade, marching on Mill Street and more.

He added he’s so busy that he doesn’t always get a chance to enjoy the fireworks.

Popcorn and Pajamas

Caestecker Public Library’s recently retired director, Linda DeNell notes she doesn’t watch the fireworks anymore because the loud noise scares animals, such as dogs.

But, when she was younger, she enjoyed them as much as the rest of us.

“When we were kids, my folks would pop up a paper grocery bag full of popcorn, and we would pile into the station wagon and drive over to Highway 45 (along Lake Winnebago, just a few miles away) so we could watch the fireworks from both Fond du Lac to the south and Oshkosh to the north,” DeNell said. “[There were] lots of windows, so we could all get a good view …”

That night would always result in DeNell and her family staying up later than usual, and eating loads of popcorn, which “made for a good night.”

New place, new custom

Green Lake Renewal’s Marketing Manager Jorge Gutierrez noted his family didn’t have a tradition for Fourth of July.

“I grew up in Mexico, so when I came to the U.S. at the age of 10, we didn’t really have a way to celebrate the 4th of July,” he said. “Because my parents would get the day off, we would make it a picnic day and go to the park, grill carne asada and eat cactus salad.”

Years later, when he moved to Wisconsin to attend Ripon College, Gutierrez met many people who had their own traditions.

“Some of whom were happy to share those traditions with me,” he said. “One of those people was my girlfriend, Kathryn. She and her family celebrate by going to their local park in Brookfield, Wis., to watch the fireworks over a hill.

“The day is also celebrated with steaks, festive drinks, and red, white and blue Jello shots.”

Since he is a first-generation immigrant, Gutierrez still is trying to get accustomed to celebrating July 4th.

However, he hopes “to one day be able to start my own traditions, but I can’t say what those look like for now.”

Hannah Tetzlaff can be reached by emailing hannahtetz@riponprinters.com or by calling the Ripon Commonwealth Press office at 748-3017.