Today Nathan and I threw a mutual birthday party for each other, since his birthday was on the 8th and mine was yesterday. Both of our families came, and as they all get along well, it was a good thing. We did the usual: hamburgers and hot dogs and chips and potato salad and watermelon and lemonade and all. I love summer barbecues. Some day we'll live in a big craftsman house with a huge back lawn with lots of oak trees and jacarandas and some kind of a pond, and I'll throw parties where everyone will be required to wear white. Seriously. Anyway, today was fun. The little girls swam, and Steve ended up having to go in for a while too, to retrieve the diving rings that none of them could get from the deep end. Not that Zoe didn't try her best. Steve even picked her up and threw her in head first once, in hopes that she'd be able to get to the bottom. No use.
Today's party reminded me of the barbecues we had at my grandparents' house in the Heights when I was little. We'd get there some time in the afternoon, parking in the long driveway however the car would fit. The grown-ups would get everything set up out on the patio, making trip after trip from the kitchen. I can remember the exact sound of the back porch door opening and closing as people went in and out; the squeak of the spring and the rickety slam. My grandpa would do the grilling and then we'd all sit down at the long ancient picnic table to eat. If you sat on the north side of the table you could look out over the valley as you ate, and on clear days you could see the ocean and Catalina Island. The food was always good (my grandma was maybe the best cook ever), and we always drank out of short, fat green glasses. After dinner we'd sit around on the patio swings, listening to the crickets and enjoying the evening breeze through the pepper tree. At 9:30 Disneyland would set off their fireworks, and we would all watch the show, seeing the explosions and then hearing the boom several seconds later. We would drive home late, and sometimes I'd fall asleep in the back seat.
Of course, these dinners had elements of the ridiculous sometimes. At some point my grandma would always stand up and say, "Anyone want some more weiners?" And us kids would try not to laugh. The lights that were hooked to the swings had extension cords that ran into the house through a window and were probably the biggest fire hazard around. My grandpa had a habit of throwing things like rolls and slices of bread down the table to the person that asked for them, instead of just passing them like a normal person. He'd also tap your arm with the tines of his (already used) fork to get your attention. And then there were the rats that occasionally ran overhead on the branches of the pepper tree. Those nights are among my best childhood memories, all of the family together and all the time in the world. I loved sitting for hours and hearing the old family stories. And I loved the moment before we ate when we'd all bow our heads in unison, without anyone saying we were going to pray, and we'd all participate silently together in a Quaker prayer.
My grandparents have both been gone for years now, and the old house was torn down several summers ago. Before it was torn down, while it was vacant, my brothers and I took trips up the hill once in a while and wandered through it, taking out various things we'd left when my grandma moved out years before. We found a mailbox, old bottles, lightswitch plates, a reflector from the front gate. But I think I get the prize. Because I carted the patio out, piece by piece, in the trunk of my Mustang.