Memorial Day Weekend has always been special to our family. Let me begin by saying that it is only special because of the freedoms we have due to the sacrifices of those who have served in our military, including my grandfather, James Edward Panther. He was from Iowa and played basketball for Marquette as a young man. He joined the Navy and eventually became Commander of the USS Taussig before retiring to teach science in the high school where I both attended and taught. Poppy passed away when I was in middle school, but Granny (Shirley Beals Panther), his wife and my grandmother, is still with us…kind of. She has a form of dementia called Sundowners, which is confusing and sad for her and for all of us. I’m telling you all of this because Granny and Poppy were the reason our family always had a “place” where we could get together as an extended family. They started what has become a wonderful tradition for us today.
When I was a child, Poppy bought a little piece of land in the middle of nowhere in West Virginia. It had a horrendous dirt road going back to it; the kind on which you could seriously bend a wheel if you were going to fast. The kind on which your teeth rattle. You better hope you didn’t have to go to the bathroom before you headed back that dirt road, because, well…I digress. Once you got back to the property, there was an outhouse, an old camper, and a flat, graveled picnic area with a porch swing. That outhouse was terrifying. Snakes, spiders, and all sorts of critters could be in there with you, but Dad and Poppy would always use it just to prove how great it was. We would go there to have picnics and evenings around a campfire. Granny was always the best hostess. You’ll hear a lot about her in this blog, because I learned a lot from her in terms of cooking and entertaining. There was a stream running just behind the camper, and we would wade in it, read next to it, and explore it. I even had a fallen-down tree over the stream on which to read and dream.
Eventually, after Poppy died and time marched on, the property laid dormant and empty. Granny sold it and bought a small cabin on the Potomac River. She quickly renovated it to be big enough for all of us to visit and stay; her vision was a place for all of us to get together to reconnect as a family. And that’s what we did for years. Currently, my parents own it and we use it frequently as a getaway. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s ours. This weekend, eleven of us stayed there: my parents, my family and a child’s friend, and my brother’s family. We had a great time, but more importantly, I felt it twice…that feeling that something significant was happening, and that for just a moment, all was right with the world.
Over the weekend, we celebrated my father and my uncle’s 60th birthdays. The river is my favorite place to entertain because everyone can just relax. There’s no clutter to hide, no laundry to wash, and no dishes to dry. I love it. So, we had my aunt, uncle, and my cousin and his family over for a surprise party.
It was during this that I had my first moment of pure joy. As I sat and watched the kids play badminton, volleyball, bocce ball, and squirt guns in the yard, I could smell dinner on the grill. We had steak, venison burgers, potatoes and ramps, spinach salad, and roasted asparagus. It smelled heavenly. But even more heavenly was the laughter I heard as the kids were just being kids. For just a couple of hours, no one was on their phones, kids were happy and dirty, and we all just connected. I felt it; that this was something sweet and special. That we would all remember this and look back fondly on this evening. It ended with a campfire, s’mores, and sparklers, just as all summer evenings should end. And my cousin’s wife Missy’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip. Oh my word.
The next day held the next truly beautiful moment. It was rainy, so our plans of floating down the river were dashed. It was too high and too dangerous for such green “river rats.” However, that didn’t stop my little guy from fishing. He looked forward to this for MONTHS.
After an unsuccessful fishing trip, we headed out for lunch and sightseeing at Seneca Rocks. If you’ve never seen this area, you really should make a trip. It’s breathtaking. But, of course, as we arrived in the small town, the skies opened again and our hike was over before it even started. We headed for lunch at the Front Porch Restaurant, a little restaurant with a covered porch that has a great view of the rocks. Great pizza, the sound of rain on the metal roof, and my entire family surrounding me nearly brought tears to my eyes. For a rare moment, none of my children were fighting or crying, everyone was happily chatting, all was well, and most importantly, we were ALL together. My mother leaned over and told my dad that it reminded her of the sign that says, “All because two people fell in love.” It was a perfect moment.
I can’t believe that I was blessed to have two such moments in one weekend. Typically, it can be months or even years between these times, especially during difficult seasons of life and motherhood. God is so good.