(Alternate title: 1 Minivan, 500 Miles, and 2 Kids Under 2... What Could Go Wrong?)
Tomorrow we embark on our first family road trip in the new minivan. We are driving 500 miles (one way) to visit my family in Missouri. It normally takes 8 hours. With two kids? We'll be lucky to make it in 10 or 11. I'm already dreading/yearning for the journey.
For this is not just any road trip. This is the annual 4th of July family reunion and fireworks extravaganza! This seminal event is older than I am. And I desperately hope it outlives me too.
This is my pilgrimage, and Higginsville is my Mecca.
Numbers have ebbed and flowed over the years, but the tradition remains. Food, family, and fireworks. What could be better?
My boys are 7 months and 22 months old. C experienced it all for the first time last July, while little brother V will soon have his turn.
What am I most excited about? (Aside from the fact that this is the first summer since 2012 that I haven't been pregnant over 4th of July?)
There are fireworks, of course. The city ones and (arguably better) the ones we set off in my uncle's backyard. Don't worry; nobody's lost any fingers (yet). Prickly sparklers that you can use to write your name in the sultry summer air. Colorful smoke bombs that warm your heart (and burn your eyes). Black "snakes" that curl and hiss on the pavement. Parachutes that the kids chase and fight over. Towering fountains of color. Patriotic explosions of gunpowder and rainbow-colored streaks of sparkling light.
There's all manner of unhealthy and undeniably delicious food. Watermelon and chocolate pie. Fried chicken and corn/tomato/onion salad with vinegar so tart it makes your tongue tingle. Freshly grilled burgers and fat, sizzling brats. Coolers full of slick ice water, frosty cans of Pepsi, and glass bottles of cream soda.
There are cousins galore - first, second, third, twice removed... we got 'em all. People who share the same great-grandparents. And that's enough.
There are pallet nights. Bodies of uncles and cousins and brothers all stretched out on the floor side by side. A mound of blankets and pillows, popcorn and chocolate bars, ghost stories and family legends.
There are late-night walks around town, down side streets and through the city cemetery, or down to the local Sonic for curly fries and half-price milkshakes.
There are walks on the railroad tracks in the midday heat, the summer sunshine blanketing you in tangerine heat, the metal rails burning through your rubber shoe soles, the heat sapping your energy, making you dizzy and giddy and beautifully weak.
There are trips to the small blue house with the white porch on 23rd Street, where my great-grandparents and their nine kids lived the bulk of their lives. The house where eleven people once lived, sharing three bedrooms and one bathroom. The house, now in sad disrepair, where my grandmother was born, along with all but the youngest of her eight siblings. The house my mom would park her pickup truck in front of in the blackness of 2 a.m., after driving all night to get there, with my tiny girl self asleep in the back. The house that, despite the passage of time, still feels like "Grandma's house." Still feels like home.
There are drives out in the country, the gravel roads crunching and spitting and smoking with white dust, just as they did when my great-grandfather drove them and honked to the imaginary men out there picking corn (in the river), or fishing (in a cornfield), or to the cows who somehow "managed to get a square meal out of a round bale of hay."
What am I most excited about? The passing of the torch. The glory of tradition. The fable of the past. The whisper of the future. The names of my loved ones etched in cemetery stones. The laughter of my sons trickling over the green grass.
Happy 4th of July.