In the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day, stopping to look around is rarely a priority. The problem is no different on the 4th of July when the fast-growing Abel family is ducking in and out of the old farmhouse on Rawlins Road. Babies and toddlers are passed between aunties. Great Grandma Rosemary sneaks cookies from the dinner table for the little ones that “need a snack.” The tire swing earns its keep while parents hover over the new generation of arsonists in the driveway.
What, I can only imagine, began with my grandparents, their families and close friends and neighbors has grown to include so much of our community. And community is the wrong word for it — but tons, seriously tons, of people that have shared so much of each others lives in this tiny town. You say “hi” and pick up a conversation like it hasn’t been a year since we talked last. You play “guess whose baby” like it’s not odd that kids are roaming everywhere alone. You listen to the story grandma tells of our epic road trip just weeks before.
As you look around at all the creative places we’ve learned to tuck chairs, you can easily see how much magic that old farmhouse holds. Decades-old folding lawn chairs sit side-by-side with new fangled aluminum upgrades. Picnic tables and benches litter the back patio and even dip into the gravel driveway and shaded side yard as everyone chats, eats and chair hops to avoid the sun.
The basketball game of years past has long gone — making way, instead, for more chairs and baby carriers. The strict “take them out to the road” rule for fireworks has been made more lax for the youngsters today. Apparently, playing in the sleepy street was only a good idea in the ’90s. The front yard football game has been replaced with picnic blankets and a cool breeze. Even my cousin Kristin noted how the landscape had changed with the chopping of “our favorite tree to blow up.”
Then, there’s the food. Consistently unbelievable and in notably high demand as we count down the minutes until the foils and wraps are removed.
The ping-pong table buffet has been upgraded to a sleek set of slim folding tables tarped with red, white and blue plastic. The growing crowd even required a second section of tables for the first time ever — just for the crock pots. Convinced that my grandma, her sisters and friends spend the remaining 364 days of the year perfecting their dishes, salads and casseroles — this midsummer July 4th potluck has remained my favorite part of this day year after year.
Fried chicken for days. Ancient family recipes recreated before your eyes. The ladies of the family proudly unwrapping their hard work for display — shuffling it into the puzzle of dishes and platters that flood the garage. Each plate emerges from the line piled higher than the last. From a quiet corner of the patio, grandma greets everyone as the line parades by. Finally, as the last few trickle into the garage, she and grandpa happily take the place they’ve claimed at the end.
Somewhere in my late 20s, I found a new appreciation for catching my grandparents in those moments of humbled joy. Standing at the end of the line with one another. Sitting silently in a chair and watching the crowd. Knowing the names, family and full medical history of each and every person that joins. Each 4th of July, those moments are in plenty and we embrace them in a way that only the two of them could have taught us. This day. This family. This community. Everything, right in front of us, is our fortune in abundance. Our lives, full. No amount of gratefulness can seem to do it justice.
Grandpa Bob certainly said it best as the last of our friends and family gathered their chairs in the dark: we can throw the party, but it’s not much of anything unless you all come. And, you know he means it by the sound of genuine thanks in his voice. As we packed up the last few chairs of our own and gave our hugs goodbye, they soaked up the beautiful summer on the empty patio together. Fireworks began their blaze in the distance signaling the close of the 50th 4th. All under the watchful gaze of the old farmhouse.
While I soothed a terrified Ogermonster, my mom Jeanne snapped these photos of you all. Pretty solid work for a first-time photog! Thanks, mom!