This is a day of mixed feelings for me.
First of all, it's my little sister's birthday. That fact, as far as I am concerned, trumps everything else and is cause to celebrate.
That being said, it's also a difficult day for two reasons.
This was my father-in-law's favorite holiday. Even more than Christmas, he loved the Fourth of July. Giant picnic. Tons of food. A fireworks show to rival those displayed by professionals. And now? It's different. Low key and subdued. We still get together and celebrate; he'd probably haunt us if we didn't! Still, it is a bittersweet celebration.
The other reason that it is difficult is that today is the day that my maternal grandmother passed away, and it is that particular day I'd like to remember. Sounds strange, doesn't it? Nonetheless, on that day and with that memory, I have proof that there is nothing bigger than the love of a family.
As I said, July 4th is my sister's birthday. Nothing terrible should ever happen on anyone's birthday, yet it did. It was such a difficult day, and as we neared the dinner hour, my Mom declared that we couldn't just let my sister's birthday go by uncelebrated. In the face of death, we celebrate life.
So that night, after we had completed our nightly farm chores, my family (my parents and siblings and I) returned to my grandparents’ home. Behind their house, about a quarter of a mile up an old farm road, is the family pond and pavilion. We celebrated my sister’s birthday up there, had a picnic and ate cake.
The sun was starting to go down, and we were just sitting, enjoying the serenity and lost in our thoughts. The sun was golden, reflecting and shimmering in the surface of the pond. Occasionally, that reflection would ripple, the water furrowed by a gentle summer breeze. From our hilltop perch, we could see the back of my grandparents’ home, see the lights of the house and the lights of cars as they came and went.
Just as we were thinking that it was time to head home, stopping at the house to see the family once more on the way out, we saw movement from the end of the road that leads to the pond. A head appeared, soon transforming into an entire body as someone walked in our direction. That body was joined by another and another; an entire group of people was moving toward us.
As they crested the hill on the near side of the pond, the breeze carried a sound to our ears. It was the voices of some of my grandmother's children and grandchildren singing "Happy Birthday" to my sister. Their voices grew louder as they reached the pavilion and finished their song. We clapped and laughed, even as our eyes filled with tears.
That memory? It defines today for me. And when those bittersweet feelings are overwhelming, I will remember the sound of wisps of a song caught on a summer sunset breeze...