Every Fourth of July used to be spent at the lake where my mother-in-law, Verona, and her husband, Red, live. Both of them, previously married, had four children each, when I entered the picture all of his kids were married and had children of their own. When we got together each Fourth it was one big blended shindig that sometimes lasted for three days! There was the annual parade, boat rides, swimming, paddle boating, tubing, jet skiing, lounge chairs tied together in the water. We also had endless food, overflowing coolers, bonfires at night, portable cribs, baby swings hanging in doorways and towels stretched out on the dock for sunbathing. It was magical.
Babies kept coming, his grandkids began having children, schedules started to get crowded and it seemed we just couldn’t all get there each year. If you could make it, you went — whoever showed up had a blast.
Eventually the boat was replaced with a pontoon, the jet skis were sold but the magic continued — just in a different way. Picnic baskets were loaded and eaten on slow rides around the lake, we still went to the parade, washed our hair in the lake, walked in the woods, still had more than enough food and a sense of community that was fulfilling and calming.
Over the last 25 years it’s gotten harder for our family to get there each and every year, and this summer our vacation time is just so squeezed. There are summer jobs, practice schedules, and with Kevin and I still living in two cities, our calendar has been full to the very brim. It was tempting to cancel our plans this year — but alas we did make the l o n g 13 hour trek to northern Minnesota a few weeks ago.
The last two times we’ve gone, it’s just been our family and Kevin’s brother’s family who’ve gathered with Verona and Red at the lake — smaller and different, but wonderful weekends ensued, especially this year. There was no boat, even the paddle boat was gone, but we managed to still have a lot fun down at the lake. We went to the parade, made our annual walk to the ice-cream store, stayed up late playing games, laughed ‘til we cried, counsins connected, we spent hours in the screen porch and ate too much awesome food.
I knew I would write about how valuable it is to make time to come together. That value seems to be ever increasing because the supply of time seems to be so low. Because this wonderful place I love had recently been put up for sale, we knew this was likely our last Fourth of July at grandma’s house — so we made the most of it. We came home saying it was one of our best times at the lake.
What I loved was that the feeling was the same, even though the experience was so different from all those years ago. There used to be almost 40 of us there for the Fourth, this year there were 12. It was different, and yet it met the desire to connect with our bigger family in ways that just slow our souls down. As we drove home I felt beyond grateful we had protected the vacation plan to go to my mother-in-law’s. I was thankful our kids had taken days off of those summer jobs, and that Kevin took time away from his job at a time when he likely wasn’t sure he had that time to give due to mounting projects and deadlines. July 3rd – 6th, 2014 was priceless.
July 17th Kevin’s step-father passed away very suddenly.
And so very quickly the end of an era is upon us, one that spanned over 30 years. I will be ever grateful for the memories that fill my soul; time at the lake with grandma and grandpa, the big blended family that just kept growing, a place that represented peace, love, calm, joy, fun, happiness and so much laughter. I don’t know what the future looks like now, but then I didn’t know how our time at the lake would evolve either. What stayed consistent through all the change was that we came together. Now it will look different yet again, but as long as family is at the center, I’m confident it will remain magical.