This is the first July in many years that has truly felt like summer to me. Perhaps it’s because I’m now almost working and getting a break from my job makes me appreciate down time more than in years past. Or perhaps it’s because our kids are getting old enough that we can go out and do lots of things we couldn’t before when we had to worry about naps, diapers, tantrums, etc. Or perhaps it’s because for the first time since the birth of my children we are living in the state I grew up in and that means I now get to force them to relive the summers of my past.
It started in full force on the Fourth of July when I dragged us 90 minutes south to celebrate with the extended family I broke away from a decade or so ago. The detailed reasons for the break don’t need to be divulged in such a public forum, but let’s just say that I developed certain cultural and political sensibilities that weren’t shared by the group. Without so much as a word, I was gone. It was such a quiet exit from such a quiet and behind the scenes sort of person they may not have even noticed.
The day started off with a mid-morning parade. 90+ degree heat, full sun, and with the humidity of a rain forest while we sat on a curb watching a dozen or more fire trucks slowly drive past with sirens and horns blaring. Nobody seemed to notice the children spanning the length of the street with their hands pressed to their ears, mouths open in silent screams, and hot sweaty tears running down their faces. They just kept smiling, waving flags, and blowing the horns, throwing candy with such force it ricocheted off the pavement.
And then there was the first of many gaps. Perhaps 10 or so minutes went by before a smattering of antique cars made their way around the corner. Another gap and the bikers arrive with their patriotic leather wear and giant American flags lashed to their motorcycles. Another gap, this time a full 20+ minutes before we decided to pack it in and retreat to a semi-air conditioned house. Almost an hour later we could hear the parade in full swing so a few of us wandered back to watch some floats, collect sweaty and broken candy from the road, and collectively mutter about how mismanaged the parade was that it should take over two hours to finish and cause a prolonged ringing sensation in our ears.
A 30 minute car drive later and we ended up back at my aunt’s house a few towns away. Certainly I had spent some time here as an adult at various family gatherings, but being there with my two kids made all kinds of distant memories return: the path where I fell on a wasp nest and received my one and only sting (on my orange bikini-covered bottom); the space where they used to keep the chickens and rabbits that I loved and was (jokingly) told I was eating at various holiday meals resulting in much crying; the moment I realized I was an Atheist and threatened to expose it to the whole family if my mother didn’t stop trying to make me say grace; the treehouse I was never allowed in because I was a girl; the kitchen table where my uncle told me my first racist joke, carefully chosen for its age-appropriateness (and then thoughtfully explained when I didn’t laugh); and the setting for my one very long and very enjoyable LSD Thanksgiving with the Biggest. Turkey. Ever.
The cast of characters was much smaller this time around, with the greatest offenders either dead or vacationing somewhere near the North Sea. I found myself torn, remembering good experiences, but still acutely aware of the unpleasant ones. I was truly happy to see those in attendance and was reminded of how comfortable it was to be around family. I even found myself fondly reminiscing about my uncle. I hadn’t spoken to him in a very long time before he died because I couldn’t tolerate his intolerance, but when he wasn’t offending more than half of the population he was an interesting character and surprisingly sentimental.
I started to think about what had made him the way he was and wondered what our relationship could have been like if his hate hadn’t overshadowed everything else, ultimately forcing my brother and I away from him and, indirectly, other members of his family we liked and enjoyed. My lingering affection didn’t drift to his son however, and I was reminded of my good fortune for not sharing any genetic material. My husband, aware of everything, politely smiled and chatted. The kids were of course oblivious to it all. They ate as much sugar as they could get in their hands, blew bubbles, ran through sprinklers, and shyly talked to the relatives they had never met or, in most cases, had never even heard of.
Bug spray, glow sticks, fireworks, and clam strips cleared the heavy air that night while we sat on our blanket in front of the harbor watching the sky erupt in color and listening to the “Wow’s, Oh Yeah’s, and Ooo’s,” all uttered with heavy Massachusetts accents. We were quiet and happy. That is, until someone decided to start shooting off the nearby cannons randomly, but steadily throughout the show with my five-year-old crying and shouting, “Why are they doing this?!” The clear look in her eyes, at the conclusion of the show, that the experience had been ruined by thoughtlessness.
I’ve decided that while exposing my kids to some of the experiences of my childhood is not a bad thing, we’re also going to aim for lots of new things and new family memories this summer, hopefully with far less drama and emotional scarring.