Back home in West Virginia there was always a bean supper at George and Lucille’s for the Fourth of July. George and Lucille were first cousins to my dad, and they had a little, white house up on the ridge above the church.

Each year, Lucille would organize the event with a big kettle of beans bubbling out in the yard, cakes of cornbread, chilled watermelons, and every kind of dessert you could imagine prepared by the ladies of the community. It was a potluck of sorts, although you knew the ham and beans would be there, having cooked for hours and hours in the open air.

Men played horseshoes and told tales. Women fussed over the food and talked the day away. Children ran wild, looking for trouble to get into and usually finding it. Some years we’d have a few fireworks that set Lucille to worrying we might start a fire in the pasture.

And as evening fell, we’d gather–bellies full, tall tales winding down, and children wore down–for music. Men would gather in the little front room of the little house and play and sing. Folks would sit wherever they could–on the floor or the front porch–and listen or maybe join in.

And I would curl in Dad’s lap, dried sweat prickling my arms, equal parts exhausted and contented, and fall asleep to the sounds of music, crickets, and the voices of people who’d been knowing me my whole life.

God bless America. God bless Appalachia. God bless the people who loved me so well when I was young and didn’t know how blessed I was.