Remembering the Fourth

My Grandfather Ham was a special man. He loved God, his family, and his country. Now that I think about it, probably in that order. Those were his priorities, his ideals. He cherished them so much that he created a place for our family to gather together and celebrate them.

Behind his house, with his own hands, he built a carport. It was a large, covered space capable of housing up to three cars and still have room left over. Without a doubt, his greatest joy was to see all of us there, together. In fact, that’s the only reason he built it.

Now it shows the weathering of twenty-five years, but in 1989, this carport was state-of-the-art. Everything about it was first class. It was equipped with an air conditioning fan, ice maker, outdoor kitchen, and best of all, a large picnic table.

This was his little slice of heaven that he shared with all of us.

Liz (cousin), Matt, and Mark circa 1990

Liz (cousin), Matt, and Mark (brother) circa 1991

No time was more ideal for these festivities than the Fourth of July.

As the smell of hamburgers filled the air, we would gather at his home and celebrate. Grandma would slice tomatoes, fresh from her garden, and boil ears of corn while Paw Paw worked the grill. When no one was looking, I would taste the garlic salt–Paw Paw’s go-to seasoning. Just last week, I caught my four-year old doing the exact same thing. It made me smile.

To this day, when I spin a steaming ear of corn over the top of stick of butter and watch it melt underneath, I think of the Fourth of July at my grandparents.

As I reminisce, I can still hear Paw Paw laughing, overcome with joy as his favorite people shared his favorite things in his favorite place.

Our family's Fourth circa 1989 - Greg, Paw Paw, Larry, Grandma, Trish, Dad, Mom (back) - Mark, Liz (cousin), Matt (front)

Our family’s Fourth circa 1990 – Greg, Paw Paw, Larry, Grandma, Trish, Dad, Mom (back) – Mark, Liz (cousin), Matt (front)

After Paw Paw passed away, it was difficult to carry on our tradition there, at his house, without him. Once our patriarch was gone, our family made the decision to rent a beach house as a tribute. Of course, we picked the week of the fourth.

For nearly ten years, we would spend the week together, carrying on the traditions that Paw Paw loved so dearly.

And it wasn’t just family.

If Paw Paw taught us anything, it was the importance of welcoming others. So we did.

During my college years, we opened the doors to all of my friends. By the carload, they would pile in on blow-up mattresses downstairs and join us for the week. It didn’t bother my family a bit, that was part of the story.

Jason and Ryan. Chris and Gerry. Marie and Liz. Rebecca and Chambliss. Memory and Tyler. Hank and Tori. Jake and Laura. And the list goes on.

Paw Paw would have wanted it that way.

Fourth at the beach

Fourth at the beach with all the family 2002


My family’s friends came as well. At our beach house, we believed in a revolving door. Our friends were our family.

I think back to the times spent there and the conversations shared–the love that went into the planning, meal preparation, and cleaning. I think about the countless friends, that joined us over those ten summers, rich memories I will treasure for a lifetime.

I remember time with my Aunt Trish and Grandma Ham before they passed away; an eleven-foot skiff built by my maternal grandfather, Paw Paw Sheneman; fishing and swimming and fireworks and cookouts.

I remember kissing my girlfriend, on the dock, under the moonlight–the innocence of falling in love.

July 4th at the beach house circa 2002

July 4th at the beach house circa 2002

As I bask in these memories today, I ask you to remember yours.

These memories sing to me the song of freedom. Our ability to choose our traditions and live them out.

Maybe your memories aren’t fond. Maybe holidays and family make you cringe. If that’s the case, you have the choice to change that. All traditions begin somewhere.

What legacy will you create?

Men and women have valiantly fought and died for us to maintain this essential freedom:

The freedom to choose.

My grandfather began a tradition when I was a child that I choose to continue today. I will talk with my boys about our God, our family, and our country. I will teach them about freedom and we will celebrate them together.

In fact, I may even do it around that same picnic table, which now sits in our backyard.

And in the faint distance, I hear my Paw Paw laughing.

Happy Fourth, everyone!

Our boys around Paw Paw's picnic table

Our boys around Paw Paw’s picnic table


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9 Responses to Remembering the Fourth

  1. Stan Stinson July 4, 2014 at 9:11 am #

    Thanks for sharing your family traditions with us Matt. They help me remember some of mine too. I hope you enjoy this Independence Day more than any so far and have a safe and fun day with family and friends. God Bless America!

    • Matt Ham July 4, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

      Stan we’ve already braved the pool and got the kids naps behind us. Daddy snuck in a quick nap too 🙂 Happy 4th!

  2. Anne Peterson July 4, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    Great post, Matt. Loved hearing about your traditions which sparked memories of mine when I grew up. And absolutely love that you sit at the same picnic table.

    • Matt Ham July 4, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

      Keep those traditions alive Anne! Happy 4th!

  3. Kathy Brinkley Turner July 6, 2014 at 8:20 am #

    Matt, thanks for sharing… others posted below, my family’s story is similar to yours. Dad’s “little piece of heaven” at Topsail isn’t elaborate or filled with frills. But it always did keep together as a family and now, though my family is spread out, we always get together during the week of the Fourth! Faith and Family – sounds like your Paw Paw and my dad were similar with beliefs and values….How fortunate we are that God chose them to be our parents!

    • Matt Ham July 6, 2014 at 5:41 pm #

      Absolutely Kathy! Topsail is a great spot! Hope ya’ll enjoyed it.

  4. John Patrick Weiss July 6, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

    Matt- I enjoyed many 4th of July BBQ’s at my parents home in the hills of Los Gatos, Ca. Great memories. My father was a former marine and an administrative law judge. We lost him in 2004 but his love of country carries on in our family. As a police chief I now work every 4th of July, driving the mayor in our town parade and helping to reunite lost children at our city fireworks show. But the fond memories of those days at my parents home are still with me. Thanks for a great post.

    • Matt Ham July 6, 2014 at 5:51 pm #

      John, your father sounds like a patriot and a great man. Thank you for your service and sharing your memories.

  5. Caleb July 17, 2014 at 7:59 am #

    Matt, thanks for sharing. God, family, friends and country – the true american dream!