Thursday, July 04, 2019

Oh How Things Have Changed

Growing up, we always went to Nana's on the 4th of July. Always. There was no option, no variance, it was always to Nan's for the noon meal. We took day-works - firecrackers, snakes, sparklers, poppits, jumping Jacks, and the like. Lunch was burgers and hot dogs. There was always watermelon and homemade ice cream. When my cousin Russ was alive and still mobile, we cousins would gather around him in the living room floor before and directly after lunch and play dominoes or Boggle. The women cleaned the kitchen and visited, the men dozed off in the post-meal tradition.  Then finally! We'd climb the chat pile out back (hello, lead poisoning!) and Dad and Uncle Mike would oversee the explosives. That was Dad's side of the family. Mom's side of the family was fairly fluid in their plans. Sometimes it was our house, sometimes it was Uncle Larry and Aunt Sue's, occasionally we gathered at Papa's farm, it depended on where he was with harvesting or mowing or how sick Memaw was at the time. They were the evening festivity people. More sparklers, plus fountains and all the other fun, booming, high-in-the-sky stuff. It was always a day of cousins and food and stickiness and dirt and fun.

Then we grew up and as soon as the meal was over, we left whatever house we were at with our respective boyfriends and girlfriends to go see a movie or go to their family's shindig. I dated a guy in high school and they had a lake house and a pontoon boat and a lot of money. I hated the whole scene (they were *gasp* Republicans) and I really just wanted to go back to my family where we had cheap hot dogs and not filet mignon for lunch.

When Sis and I started families of our own we were just excited to have reason to buy fireworks once again. Paul and I were so broke when the kids were little, but starting in June we would scrimp and save up $100 for fireworks. It seemed like a lot until we got to the tent, then it seemed paltry and like it never bought enough. Sam always picked out something that pooped, Abby like the screaming chicken laying a fiery egg, Kady usually cried and whined that one of her siblings picked out the firework she wanted and the world was surely coming to an end. Most of the time the gathering was at our house because Mom lived in town and Sis did until she briefly lived in the country for a few years. One year we caught the field on fire. That was scary and fun all at once.

When we moved to Wyandotte I forced Paul's family to get together for the holiday. They are definitely not like my Big Family™. They don't actually like getting together. Mine anticipates the next one before the current one is over. My family lingers in the kitchen, there is always noise and laughter and eleventy-seven conversations at once. His family gets a plate. Quietly. Then some sit in the living room, some go outside, some sit at the picnic tables, some sit on the porch. There is rarely conversation and if there is, it's quiet and short. Mostly one syllable replies. Some nodding. That's just how they are. 

But the ONE thing I always anticipated with Paul's family coming up on the 4th - blowing shit up. We would trek to Academy the week before to buy a stupid amount of Tannerite and unfortunately, it seems there is always an appliance to go out some time during the year to provide the explosive entertainment. We've blown up a washer, a dryer, a dishwasher, and I think a hot water tank. It was always a good time.

Last year I had surgery on the 3rd, so our 4th was quiet. I came home from the hospital that morning and just rested the rest of the day. Apparently it would usher in a series of quiet 4ths.

This year we are empty nesters. Kady has an apartment attached to our house now, but she's her own person. She cooks for herself, pretty well stays to herself these days. (Although she still relies on us some since she STILL doesn't have her driver's license.) I slept until 8 this morning and when I woke up Paul was gone. He had gone up to Abby and Dakota's on the tractor to fix their perpetually washed-out driveway. He wanted to get up there and back before the humidity got to swimmable. I made coffee, unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher, made some breakfast, checked Facebook, and just kind of marveled in the fact that we bought ZERO fireworks this year, no one is coming over, we aren't going anywhere (unless we decide to venture to Lowe's for some trim to finish the dining room later), and how different our life has become. The grandgirls are still too little for fireworks of their own, although Petal likes the noise where Wemberly HATES it. My Big Family™ will be over on Saturday, but even then we aren't doing any fireworks. We are volleyball obsessed, so there will be a pool and slip-n-slide, much food and MUCH volleyball. We don't play by many rules and there is a lot of smack talking and laughing and even more of Abby and me avoiding the ball at all costs. But we will be together and that will be the best part.

As we got onto the interstate last week headed for Branson for Big Family™ vacation, Paul kind of sighed and reached over to pat my leg. "It's pretty strange.....looking back and seeing your kids driving their own cars, following you to vacation, when just a few years ago they all three were right there behind us in the backseat, with us." He is far more sentimental than I these days, so I just squeezed his hand and said, "Yeah, but they're still with us, there are just more of them now. And besides, when they were in the car with us, it was much louder. And I was usually reaching back to smack someone at any given moment along the way. It's not bad, the way we are now. Just different. Enjoy, Mr. Hoover. We've earned this. This quietness, this calmness, this getting to watch them now instead of being immersed in it nonstop." He shrugged. He's seeing this part of life much differently than I am. I was in the trenches, doing most of the work when the kids were little. He worked, I stayed at home. I never got a day off. I was on the job 24/7. He had a 30 minute drive to and from work ALONE and if the house got loud, he just went out and mowed the yard or piddled in the barn. And now that my work is mostly done, I am enjoying the break, the quiet, the calm, the spectatorship of it all. Maybe he feels he missed out. I can't say for sure. I know I didn't miss anything. I was in the trenches, covered in blood, guts, gore, sweat, tears. It was exhausting. Rewarding as all get out, but also exhausting.

However, I do know this: I am enjoying the hell out of my empty nest right now. Maybe I'll get lonely? Maybe I'll get bored? I doubt it. For right now I'm still Kady's Uber driver, I find myself drowning in hours of homework every day, I am learning to cook for two rather than the NINE we had in the house just a few short years ago. I like my clean and tidy tiny little half-house. I like it when the kids come to visit and bring the noise and chaos and I like it when they go home again, back to their own homes where they now do their time being young adults, growing families, learning how to be adults, getting educations, becoming the amazing individuals we raised them to be.

And if they need us? They know where to find us.  ❤️

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We....the people

Originally published in The Miami News-Record, July 2020 Everything is different now. I’m not just talking about masks and social distancing...