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Reunion on the 4th

My dad's birthday is on the 4th of July. He's quiet and unassuming, so he never makes a big deal out of the event, but I definitely grew up thinking that his birthday was a big deal. I mean, all the people, all the celebration, all the fireworks! Who else gets fireworks for their birthday? The illusion was perpetuated, at least in part, by the wild shindigs my grandparents threw every year, first in their stately old home with the suburban backyard and friendly neighbors, and later in their newly built larger home deep in the woods. In my memory these gatherings were always part birthday party and part 4th of July celebration, but the largest portion was a reunion of sorts, a meeting of long-time friends and family with catching up to do.

I don't actually remember how often they threw these parties. In my memory they were an annual thing until they sort of petered out, probably as kids (my generation) got older and other activities got in the way. When I was younger, there were great big tubs of beer and pop, high chairs littered the back patio, and we spent the evening lighting black carbon snakes in the driveway. I remember the smell vividly. The last party I really remember I was in middle school, or maybe high school. My dad was wearing a weird short-sleeved plaid shirt and a mustache, and his cake, made by a talented family friend, was shaped like a computer—the old desktop kind with a big monitor and clunky keyboard (only at the time it wasn't old).

So partying on the fourth has a long tradition in our family, just one that hasn't been exercised in an number of decades larger than one. As all extended families do, ours scattered to the call of school, work, and the next generation. Some of those revelers I haven't seen in nigh on twenty years. In that time the kids of my generation have gotten married and had children of their own. Others, like my grandparents, have passed away. In all those years, a lot has changed. If you go too long between reunions, you don't always recognize the people you are there to see.

So my dad's cousins held the reunion this year, down in Indiana farm country where my grandfather's baby sister is still living with many of her children, and their children, surrounding her. She is the last of her generation, her three brothers gone before her, but she is sharp and young at heart, and it was her birthday, actually later in the month, that brought us all together this year. We spent three days playing with cousins we see more regularly, and getting to know those we haven't seen in many years, in some cases ever. There was a big hill good for all kinds of play, trees for climbing, and a field that proved perfect for kickball. And while the kids roamed far and wide, the adults huddled together, sharing memories of the past and details of the present, our tight groups a stark contrast to the great openness of the heartland around us. Because that's  what a family reunion is about.

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