SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - Several parks and splash pads were packed on Friday as families gathered for their Fourth of July festivities. Many people staked out their spots early in the morning for their cookouts and fireworks. They celebrated America's birthday with food, friends and giving thanks for our freedoms.
A shot of cool water can really hit the spot on a hot Fourth of July. Frolicking in the splash pad at West Side Park became a new Fourth of July tradition for Neko Yotov. The 3-year-old girl is already learning the meaning behind Independence Day.
"We talk about America, and red, white and blue, and the flag and things. My daughter wanted a cake to celebrate Independence Day, so we bought a red, white and blue cake," said Neko's mom, Tamarah Murley.
"Happy birthday America," Neko said.
At a nearby pavilion, the annual Oatis Gathering drew as many as 100family members.
"When they're golden brown on both sides, we sauce them up, and watch your fingers," said Marcus Oatis, as he showed off racks of ribs grilling over hickory and apple wood.
Oatis started preparing the feast last Tuesday.
"We're going to have enough food to feed half of the park when we're done," Oatis said.
By sharing the huge meal, they can build a stronger family bond.
"Expressing our freedoms together as a family, it's just unspeakable. It just brings us all joy. God is with us every step of the way, just to get us all together and have a good time," said Oatis. "We're not together all the time. We're all across the globe, so to have everybody back together is just like old times, good times, smiles, laughs and memories to be made."
Over at Jones Park, the theme was the same: Fun in the water, family and lots of food. James Anderson was cooking for family members who came in from five states, and he was savoring every moment of it.
"It's called a junk pot. You put everything in it," said Anderson, as he explained his popular dish. "It's a Fourth of July tradition, and they're waiting on it. Look at them sitting there waiting on it."
"Happy Fourth of July!" the group shouted.
Many families stayed late to catch the fireworks display.