The knock of a young hand. As the front door opens, summer light and heat floods in. A large, rectangular platter of deviled eggs (sprinkled with paprika and covered in plastic wrap) appears to be free-floating in the bright sunlight. A child’s voice comes from nowhere, “Happy 4th of July!”
Under the platter, we discover our young neighbor, Max, the sole support of the platter and its eggs. “He announced he’s 5 years old now and can carry things for me,” his mother announces nervously, “and he wouldn’t let me help him.” My ever graceful wife, Brown Eyes, deftly takes custody of the egg platter while praising Max loudly for his manifold abilities. Max beams.
Joe Fingers is already on the patio fine tuning his enormous V16 4WD gas barbeque. It slices. It dices. It refrigerates. It cooks. It flames. It plays music and sways to the rhythm. It speaks several languages. It’s built with technologies learned in outer space and costs more than a small car.
He had regally dismissed my little barbecue and brought over his own. Max, of course, is immediately enchanted and makes a great audience for Joe’s proud tour of all the dials, drawers, knobs, jet flames and hidden compartments.
Four clusters of people form themselves around shared interests. One cluster (the one with no interest in cooking whatsoever and whose excellent contribution to the day was an assortment of beverages and ice cream with toppings) immediately falls into discussing politics in a circle of chairs on the patio.
The 2nd group—all self-admitted foodies—stands around the island in the kitchen’s center already piled high with nibbles, meats, breads, salads and all kinds of relishes. Each and every person is in the process of completing a contribution to the dinner buffet while exchanging insider food preparation and restaurant tips.
The 3rd cluster is focused on the sports event on the large screen TV in the family room, mesmerized, cheering and booing simultaneously.
The final group is focused on the safety of the wide variety of children – ages 2 to 16 – in the pool. Normally placid, the water is frothing with bodies and white-capped waves.
Neighbors and friends are still arriving. Some run home, returning quickly with crucial forgotten items. Time is passing quickly AND seems, simultaneously, to stand still for the afternoon. What were small groups of people are becoming a well behaved mob. What were multiple conversations are becoming colorful cacophony.
Suddenly Joe, wreathed in smoke and smiles, announces, “The meats are ready for eating.” Magically, the piles of groceries in the kitchen have transformed themselves into a sumptuous, elaborate buffet line. Varied crowd sounds become the uniform hum of food-driven lining up, complete with lots of “OOOOs and AAAAAhs.” Some mill around, holding their full plates in mid-air, eating deftly. Some find seats, alternately feeding themselves and their young children or grandchildren.
First the plates are full of dinner, then empty, then full of seconds, then empty, then full of dessert and finally empty for the last time.
I don’t know where the afternoon went, but dusk is approaching and suddenly it’s time for everyone to jump into their cars and drive to the beach for the fireworks high above the ocean.
Each and every child, sometimes parent-driven, comes forth to say “Thank You.” Good practice for the future. Suddenly the house is empty. Brown Eyes and I stand in the silent living room, deeply aware of the tight link between the importance of Community and the true meaning of the 4th of July in our lives. One Diverse Nation, Indivisible.
We certainly hope so.