With Memorial Day upon us I find myself reflecting upon a Memorial Day the Decker/Olsen family had a few years ago. It was a fairly laid back day. There were some friends over, the family was together and we enjoyed the relaxed time we spent. It was the type of day I’m learning to love more than I ever had.
I had often been told that grandchildren were special. They represented the culmination of one’s life. The pinnacle. They defined fulfillment. Grandchildren, I was told, gave you a special sense of love. Love both received and given. I didn’t hear that from my side of the family, of course. It was my father-in-law, Paul, who gushed about how much he loved his grandchildren. He had four grandchildren and three great grandchildren when he passed. He has five great grandchildren now. Grandchildren were the greatest, he said. And he was right.
The Kennedy family came to mind that Memorial Day. I grew up in the sixties to pictures of that clan playing touch football on their vast expanse of lawn at the Hyannis Port compound on holidays. For my generation, they were the picture of family. Cousins, sisters, brothers all come together to relate to one another in love. And, to fulfill the American Dream, they were phenomenally rich.
On this particular Memorial day we gathered at the Decker compound. It’s a somewhat smaller version of the Kennedy property. There would be no football on the front lawn for us. Most obviously because we have no front lawn. Try as we might, the giant tree in front of our house casts so much shade that, for a long time, we couldn’t get a blade of anything other than weeds to grow. But, lately we’ve had some good success with a spreading ivy groundcover.
We do have a backyard deck that my son built. The deck perimeter is lined with plantings. Tomato plants and fresh herbs cast their scent into the air and when the foul NYC air isn’t crushing my sinuses, the fragrance around the deck is delightful. That Memorial Day my daughter’s children were playing so sweetly on that deck. One year old Ryan was splashing at a water play table and Lily slid down a small slide. Bethany and Kat Kat, my son’s delightful child bride, sat on the covered swing watching the two cherubs.
We are not the Kennedys, for sure. But we are working on our compound. We’ve been adding pieces every summer. Ross Jr. and I live in a two family house. He’s upstairs, I’m down. When Paul was alive, we built him a basement apartment. The staircase in the back of the house goes from the basement apartment to the attic. So, my son’s children used to go up and down that staircase at will, visiting their grandparents and their great grandfather. When we couldn’t find Eric it was always because he was on Gramps’ couch, snuggling and sharing Oreos.
The apartment next door became available and my daughter moved in with her family. Now there are ten of us living in two adjacent houses. The closeness is delightful. The two houses were built in the 1950’s by the same contractor and used the same blueprints. So now, on warm spring and summer evenings my two granddaughters speak to each other from their front rooms, just about ten feet apart.
Two summers ago we extended our patio. We bought a large table which is happily getting too small. Summer days see the table crowded with food. Most of that food, thanks to my Kat Kat, is actually healthy to eat. All of it is delicious. The chairs around it and throughout the yard are filled with family and friends. This Memorial Day I sat at that table and watched my grandson splash around in our pool. From the time the water warms up until he goes back to school, the place you will likely find him is in that pool. Now, it isn’t an Olympic sized pool. It doesn’t have varying depths. At four foot deep, it’s a round, above ground pool that you can pretty much just dunk yourself as you hop up and down. It isn’t Kennedy-like by any standards. But it makes us happy. Especially Eric.
Eric is at home in the water. Once in, he doesn’t come out. He’s a sweet guy, love just emanates from him. He’s witty and funny, does great at school. But his territory is the pool. That’s where he lives all the summer.
Later in the day I went into our backyard hot tub. It’s a small one, of course.. We bought it used and found several spots where it leaked. It had to be drained, set on end, and patched several times before it was finally nearly leak free. I’m pretty sure there aren’t a bunch of patches on the Kennedy hot tub. Neither, I think, do they purchase them used off of Craigslist. But, we do. And the leaks were actually a benefit. We needed help in turning it on end, And, help means friends in the yard. And, while we grow tomatoes in our backyard our most precious crop, our money crop, is friends. We learned that from my father-in-law Paul. His home always echoed with the laughter of good friends. Everyone was welcome in his house.
Because it was recently drained and refilled, the water temperature of the hot tub was in the low eighties. This made it possible for my granddaughter Lily to come in with me. We had a great time. She chatted away as I smiled and pretended to hear her over the bubbles. At one point she asked me about my Crucifix. Why did I wear it? I told her that I wore it because it made me think of Jesus. She reached over and moved the chain so that the crucifix hung down my back. She told me, “Don’t think about Jesus. Think about Lily”
I know that Charles Spurgeon once said that he could smoke a cigar to the glory of God. I’d known people who posted memes with that quote. It apparently meant something to them. But that never really resonated with me. I didn’t ever really understand it. What did mean something to me on this Memorial Day were the words attributed to Saint Irenaus. “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
The Decker family doesn’t have the money or the compound the Kennedy family has. Heck, we don’t have a backyard as large as most of our neighbors. But we are a family. And there’s a great deal of love in that family. And acceptance. We like to be together. That is what makes this old man feel fully alive.
We are a family to the glory of God.