My parents have been married almost 52 years. High school sweethearts, they married at 18 and never (or almost never) looked back. They say children never really grow up until their parents die. If that’s the case, there are 3 middle-aged kids in our family who haven’t totally grown up yet. My folks live about 20 miles away, in a 150 year old house that my dad bought 30 years ago without consulting my mom. When she saw the tiny, broken-down shell, she cried and said she’d never live there. Dad said he didn’t know where she was going live, but he planned to fix it up and spend the rest of his life there. Mom, being mom, sighed her woman’s sigh, rolled up her sleeves and began to work alongside dad fixing things up, knocking out walls, and rolling on buckets of paint. Then she started work on the yards and yards of gardens that one day would earn her a spot on the local garden tour. My mother’s gardens are a sight to behold, and the house that she and dad worked on is amazing inside and out, mostly due to her tasteful and artistic eye. She took the house my dad bought and, through her tears of frustration, made it a home.
It’s typical for us to gather at their house for a shared meal on holidays and birthdays and sometimes just because. Mother enjoys gathering her 3 chicks together and forcing food on us on a regular basis. We all have families of our own and normally all 13 of us are at their house together, crowded around the big dining room table. This familial scene is what I think of when I hear the word “safe.” So, yesterday being a holiday and all, we gathered once again at my parent’s house. Ken, myself, my son and his girlfriend were the first to arrive, in the middle of a driving rainstorm, running into the house carrying our bags of pot luck food, mixed drinks, and fireworks, laughing and asking each other “What is it with this rain? It wasn’t even in the forecast!” After knoshing chips and hot sauce and fixing drinks, we all drifted out onto the front porch. The big front porch with the porch swing and the rocking chairs, with the view of the yard sloping down to the road and the 100 year old cedar trees standing sentinal along the drive. We settled on the front porch with the rain pelting down and the lightning flashing all around us, drinking our drinks and declaring the front porch to be a marvelous invention. Again, I felt safe.
Eventually, the others came and some of them also drifted out to the porch. Mother, as usual flitted in and out, setting out the food and chatting in the kitchen with whoever happened to be in there at the time, then coming back out to marvel that it was still raining! As soon as she would go back in the house, dad would hold out his hand for my cigarette, sneaking puffs behind her back. He’s been doing this for years. My grandneice Avery ran from one end of the porch to the other, also amazed at all the rain and feeling smug that she could stand so close to where it was coming down without getting wet. She felt safe too.
Our meal was the usual racuous event, with everyone talking and ribbing each other at once. My brother Paul recently had a rather embarrasing rectal surgery, and we razzed him mercilessly about it. He will most likely be known as The Ass Man for a long while. Nobody in my family gets upset about being teased because we know no one takes it seriously. We also know no one’s spared from it. We’re all fair game. There is safety in that knowledge. Eventually, the subject of my brother Mark’s new gigantic TV set came up and we all decided to invite ourselves over to their house on Saturday night to watch the NASCAR race (yes, it’s a NASCAR family – no redneck jokes please. We can’t help it). Never mind that we hadn’t bothered to ask if it was OK. The first thing my sister-in-law said was not “My best friend from Kentucky will be here this weekend, could we do it another time?” No, the first words out of my sister-in-law’s mouth were – “Great! We’ll make a big pan of enchiladas for everybody.”
It eventually stopped raining, and we spent some more quality family time watching my son and his cousin blow up fireworks. Around 8 o’clock, we all drifted to our cars – some of us headed home, others headed to town to see the big display – all of us loaded down with take-home plates of chicken and potato salad and chocolate chip cookies. My parents are both 70 now and who knows how long they’ll be around. I just want to hold on to this safe feeling, and keep that little part of me from completely growing up just a little bit longer.