The Fourth of July has always been a big deal in my family. My mother's side of the family, the side I affectionately call "the Irish side", has always held its annual family reunion on the Fourth. It's a tradition dating back to at least the l950s, as my mom and her cousins can attest. The picnic is held in the same park and at the same place in that park every year. It has always been an event full of an enormous amount of cousins once removed and great aunts and uncles, as such an event should be in any good Irish family.
When I was younger, we lived on a farm a little over an hour away from where the reunion is held. Excitement usually began the day before with the cleaning of the cooler, the money precious long distance phone call to confirm a meetup time with my grandparents, the washing and gassing up of the car, and the preparation of the food.
The reunions were usually hot and humid, as is fitting early July in St. Louis. There was always plenty to see, though. My uncle from Houston usually made the trip north for a visit, cousins from Kansas City were often in attendance, and sometimes the kindly Father Pat visited from California.
There was a couple with several children my age who routinely organized games for the kids. Sack and spoon races, scavenger hunts, and sometimes small crafts. As the kids of my generation have gotten older this particular couple has taken an interest in the genealogy of our clan and has done extensive work on a family tree.
Fourth of July wasn't just about the reunion.The farm I grew up on, my front yard was a 26 acre field and we were on a small hill on the edge of the Ozarks. We had a six mile view, and fireworks were legal in the county where I grew up. We always spent evenings around the Fourth sitting on the porch gazing at the horizon hoping to see fireworks. We were almost never disappointed. The small town I lived in also had its own celebration: fireworks at the high school football stadium. The stadium was built in a valley behind the high school, and we laid on blankets to watch the fireworks rise above us in the sky. Usually my dad's side of the family had a celebration, too. My dad and uncles set off fireworks in my grandparents' yard while we feasted on watermelon and ice cream.
Today I saw a cousins' five month old baby and my godson. I heard stories told in very typical Irish fashion.Tonight, there is a waxing crescent moon low in the western sky. The smell of late afternoon grilling still lingers around the air of the apartment complex. There are illegal fireworks being set off in suburbia to the delight of the children screeching on the sidewalks outside and I am happy it is the Fourth of July.