The smell coming from the barbecue was heavenly as we set out bags of chips, and dips, and bottles of soda next to stacks of plastic cups. My mom had been cooking all morning, boiling eggs, and potatoes for one salad, and pasta noodles for another. The fridge was full of gelatin, jiggling and wiggling playfully as I opened the fridge to retrieve condiments for the table. Outside my dad was flipping burgers and turning hotdogs on the grill. On the ground next to where he stood there were Dutch ovens sitting in a line containing cobblers and other delicious smelling foods.
My cousins were here running around the yard with my siblings squirting each other with water guns, and lobbing water balloon grenades that would sometimes leave their target dripping, while other times exploded in their hands before they had a chance to throw them. My mom, being the clever house keeper that she was, had laid out a path of towels leading from the back door to the bathroom so that the messy children wouldn’t track mud on her carpet, and there were already footprints on it headed in both directions.
The grown ups had split into two groups, male and female, and the women were standing around in the kitchen gossiping while their men folk gathered around my dad and the grill, periodically coming in to get an empty plate for the meat that was done cooking, or to bring it back stacked high with steaming deliciousness. As the last plate came in my mom asked me to tell everyone it was time to eat, so, dodging streams of cold water and an entire bucket of the stuff that was pitched at me, I called a cease fire, and rallied the troops for some hard earned grub.
The table was laden with every season appropriate food you could imagine, and it was tempting to dive right in and eat, but we had to wait until my dad called on someone to pray over it first. We all stood around the table, heads bowed, arms folded, with mouths watering impatiently as we stole glances at the food and each other. When it was finally time to dig in we formed a line and traveled around the table, filling our plates past capacity with glorious food, and then headed out back to sit on blankets and soak up the sunshine while we ate.
I hadn’t escaped the battle entirely unscathed, but the summer’s hot sun made quick work of the dampness, and my clothes were soon as warm and dry as if they had just come out of the dryer. Despite the delicious food, we were all anxious to get on with the night’s activities, and it seemed to take forever for the sun to finally drop out of sight beyond the mountains to the west. We consumed our frustration, going back inside for seconds, or even thirds in some cases, and following them with plate after plate of dessert.
When it was finally dark enough my dad brought out the enormous box of fireworks, and all of us who were old enough got to take turns setting them off in the street in front of the house. My favorites were the screechers, screaming into the night as they erupted into a pillar of flame. We all sat on the lawn to enjoy the show, the littlest ones peeking out from behind their parents to see the pretty lights, and ducking back again when the sounds were too much for them.
Then when it was all over my dad would pass out sparklers and snaps, and we would run around the yard pretending to be wizards with our bright wands, or writing words and drawing shapes with the afterglow that the bright light left behind in the dark. We walked down the street using the sparklers as makeshift flashlights, exploring the unknown realm of darkness that the tiny, albeit bright, lights did nothing to illuminate, screaming and giggling as the last one burned out and we had to run home. We pelted the ground at each others feet with the snaps, or literally snapped them, placing them between two fingers and grinding the material inside of the tissue paper together to create the minute explosions.
When all was said and done, and the last of the sparklers and snaps had run out we waved goodbye as the cousins drove off in their cars and vans, secure in the knowledge that we would all be back here again next year.