This year, the Fourth of July was be quieter than any in our lifetime. That was most obvious, perhaps, in small towns such as Piggott, where July 4 is the biggest event of the year.
July 4 in Piggott is the kind of small-town family-friendly Independence Day celebration many of us remember. It is a homecoming, carnival, and political event rolled into one day that ends with fireworks. Many a politician has campaigned at the Piggott Fourth of July Picnic. I attended my first one in 1986, and I campaigned there when I was running for governor in 2014.
But this year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Piggott to cancel its picnic, carnival, beauty contest, and fried-chicken dinner for the first time since 1931. The fireworks show was the only tradition the city didn’t cancel.
The picnic is Piggott Cemetery Association’s biggest fundraiser. Fred Ort is president of the association, and he’s not sure how the association will make up the lost funds, but he’s confident it will.
Fred’s family moved to Piggott when he was 12, and he has attended every picnic since then. He’s 68 years old.
In past years, the carnival would already be up and running and members of the association would be busy with final preparations. He said life feels a little empty and eerie at the moment.
But the town’s leaders decided to go ahead with the fireworks show Saturday night. Most people watched from their own yards anyway, and you can see the display from the outskirts of Piggott, population 3,700, so there wasn't a crowd in one place.
I like Piggott’s spirit. The businesses and churches have followed health guidelines to protect their residents. The school district canceled athletic programs and postponed graduation until late July. The cemetery association canceled the traditional picnic, its primary source of money and a source of pride for the city.
In the midst of it all, they found a way to safely preserve a sliver of their tradition with the fireworks show. Saturday night, members of the fire department lit up the sky.
The spirit of Piggott is the spirit of Arkansas, and the spirit of Arkansas is the spirit of American independence that we celebrate on July the 4th. We work together, whether it’s a global pandemic or the growing pains of our republic. At the end of the day, we light up our skies to show we’re still here, and we’re still strong.