Averyell A. Kessler
I wrote this several years ago and post it before every 4th of July.
For me, the Fourth of July is a silver dollar day. My grandfather, WG Avery, started this tradition and it goes way back. When he opened his business in Jackson, he celebrated the Fourth by giving each of his employees a silver dollar for good luck. He did not reveal that he needed good luck more than most. He’d lost his business twice during the depression, one from fire, the second from a vicious tornado combined with economic loss. Mississippi was his last chance to make a go of it. Thankfully, our state was hungry for industry and welcomed him with enthusiasm. WG knew the ropes of manufacturing having learned the art of the assembly line from a master teacher in Detroit. His name was Henry Ford. Mississippi possessed timber and men seeking better paying jobs in the automobile industry. It was a good match.
After the first tenuous year, his business took off like a downhill locomotive and he added a second silver dollar to the good luck pot. The next year three, then four. He was up to seventeen when I joined him for silver dollar day. Late on the afternoon of July 3, he blew the quitting time whistle and gathered his men on a loading dock fronting on the Illinois Central’s Mill Street train track. The day was blisteringly hot, but no one cared.
My grandfather gave the same speech every year. “No work tomorrow. It’s the Fourth of July! My men need spending money in their pocket and a new shirt on their back.” (In today’s money, seventeen dollars equals about $160.00). Behind him were envelopes of silver dollars and stacks of shirts, all large or extra-large. No one wanted a medium or a small, and if they did, they wouldn’t admit it. I watched as each man’s name was called and he stepped forward to shake hands with WG and select a shirt. Once done, my grandfather ripped open a money envelope and poured a shower of silver dollars into his hands. I stood beside him as it happened again and again, until all 103 men had a new shirt and celebration money. When it was over and the men drifted away, he handed me a silver dollar and said “Remember, girl, you can do anything you want to do.”
It was a casual comment, tossed off like a high pop fly straight into center field. An odd one also. He was a 19th century man, born, raised [ak1] and working long before women had the right to vote. I was a shy nine-year-old still negotiating my way through the intricacies of Power School, swimming lessons, neighborhood boys with cap-guns, and the perils of being an only child. At first, I didn’t understand. Me? Anything? Unusual advice for a young female in the 1950’s south. Not the traditional life plan offered up during those years. But his words stuck with me, and I still think about them.
I don’t focus on “you can do anything,” because I certainly won’t be a coloratura soprano, a hot shot investment advisor or win an Olympic gold medal. I hear the words “anything you want to do.” I call it chasing dreams. The Declaration of Independence calls it the pursuit of happiness.
Independent thought and authentic dreams are a rare commodity these days, especially in a cut and paste society. If thoughts are clear and dreams are strong, they’ll blaze like a torch in the midnight sky. That’s the gift of July Fourth. The right to dream, imagine, try, fail, and try again. Dreams are the basis of all creative endeavor. Age is not a diminishing factor, neither is youth, race, sex, or another other factor. The pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right, and an important as the right to life and liberty. What a blessing!
WG continued his silver dollar event adding one each year until his bank complained about locating so many silver dollars. All the fun dribbled away when he handed out cash instead of a handful of sparkling silver. But he kept at it. Shirts too.
I’ve still got my silver dollar. It’s called a Morgan dollar and features a radiant lady liberty and the words E Pluribis Unum. If anyone tries to pry it out of my hands, take care! Lady liberty rules the day, and we are still out of many, one. Happy Fourth of July.
Blest with victory and peace may the heav’n rescued land,
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
from verse four of the Star-Spangled Banner