It’s been forty years since my parents got married in my grandmother’s backyard, and as cliche as it sounds, it’s pretty much wedded bliss. Of course there is discord. With three kids and forty years, my folks have seen a good deal of everything that life can throw your way. But relationships are work, and to appreciate the good times you have to work through the hard ones. They are an example to me, as a single man in my mid-30s, of what is possible when two people dedicate their lives to each other.
Our summer ritual is to get away and spend a week in Michigan. My parents rent a house, and we make the half-day trek from St. Louis to Saugatuck. Our family vacations will always be a bright spot in my life. The trips usually coincide with my dad’s birthday, on August 2, and their anniversary on August 7. My niece Lou was born on their anniversary date 3 years age. As has always been true of my parents, the kids take precendence. As a proud uncle, I am happy to oblige.
Two years ago, we celebrated Lou’s first birthday here. We stayed in the house next door where we spent many happy summers. Lou slept in a stroller in the front yard after a walk. We left her in the shade where we could see her from the front porch. A meek “hi” came from the stroller when she woke up, and she hasn’t stopped talking since.
So we have Lou’s birthday on my parents 40th anniversary. There are princess dresses and sparkling plastic jewelry, and bows and presents. We sit outside to let Lou open her packages and I introduce her to her first can of silly string. I have to help her press the button. She squeals with delight and her dad gets covered in streams of the neon colored foam.
When my dad turned 60, Mom took us to Italy. When she reached the same, Dad took us to Mexico. They could go anywhere they want by themselves, travel the world, but they would rather have us with them. Whenever they do go abroad without us, Mom is always wishing that we were there to see and taste and experience everything with them.
We’re having cocktails and cheese and crackers on the front porch. It’s an idyllic summer evening, when the sunsets after 9 and it gets cool enough for a sweatshirt after dark. Mom passes out wrapped boxes for each of us, and I know that she’s got something special in store.
Inside the boxes are a hint, albeit a pretty easy one. Flowered leis can only mean one thing: HAWAII. Neatly packed with the leis are cards. On red construction paper a green Christmas tree is pasted and the dates December 29 – January 12.