For most people, July looks like ice cream, eaten on the edge of a lake somewhere in the blazing heat of the day, but for us, this year, it looked like twenty bowls filled to the brim. It looked like the bulk section of BJ’s, family packs at Wegman’s, dinner reservations that took up half the restaurant. It looked like music, like car rides, sweaty limbs sticking to leather seats. It looked like the back of a debit card, sliding in to machine after machine at pump after pump. It looked like hotel patios and restaurant menus, late nights around the mesmerizing flame of the fire.
July was familiar voices and foreign accents, mingled together over coffee, tea, wine, beer, mixed drinks, interrupting each other, laughing with each other, building up in a slow crescendo until you could not longer distinguish which voice belonged to which person. It was late nights, early mornings, lulled to sleep by the hum of a fan, woken by a baby’s laughter. It was peanut butter pie, Christmas cake, burgers, ripe watermelon, bare feet on grass and no sweaters for days.
In the spanse of a few days together in the heat of the summer, we celebrated two weddings, two anniversaries, an eightieth birthday, two more birthdays, a family reunion. Twenty of us trekked from Philadelphia to Harrisburg to Rochester to Buffalo in one week, never short of a topic of conversation or person to talk with. My mom and her friends, amazingly, hosted and fed an army of people who were willing to travel across the ocean to celebrate the people they loved.
If there is one thing my family knows intrinsically how to do, it is celebrate. The week was filled with choreographed dances, bunting, pinatas, barbecues, bonfires, hiking, swimming, tears of the happiest kind as we rejoiced with Matt and Amy and as we missed, painfully, the ones who couldn’t be with us. We planned for these events for months—my mom and I calling each other daily by the end to make last minute schedule changes—and everyone I told about this family reunion book ended by the weddings of two siblings told me we were crazy. But my extended family has grown up with this kind of intensity—not seeing each other for a year at a time, then spending a week in constant togetherness, swallowing up and learning everything there was about each other to hold onto until our next visit.
The week was not perfect. I pulled a muscle on the dance floor at my brother’s wedding and spent a few days in recovery so I could hit it again at my sister’s. We tried to do outdoor activities in near 100 degree heat, and spent most of the week walking around with a trail of sweat behind us. The coffee maker broke and we were always short on cups. But sitting outside on my parents’ patio in between weddings, my cousin to my left and my husband to my right, both grandmothers across the table and my dad and uncle laughing at a joke they just made, all of us full on lasagna and counting fireflies, I realized, for the thousandth time, what a tremendous gift my family is. Here is a group of people, I realized as we sat around, stretching out on outdoor furniture, who would do anything for each other, who say nice things about each other, who know how to laugh and joke with each other—whose relationship is marked, before whatever else, by love.