Thanks, Mack.

Rows of lawn chairs held back the traffic and any thoughts of work or routine. Children waved glow sticks in fingers sticky with s’mores goo. The merits of homemade brats versus store bought were discussed and politics was not.

As the sun hid and the twilight dawned, a hush came over the crowd. It was go time. Time for the neighborhood fireworks display. Firecracker Ron and his partner in all things gunpowder related, Mortar Joe, lit the night sky.

“Born in the USA” flowed over the neighborhood tribe. Dad loved “Born in the USA”, almost as much as loved this country. We once spent a summer traveling from Pennsylvania, to Florida to Texas and back, carried by a maroon Dodge Dart filled with Bruce’s raspy poetry.

Mack’s neighborhood, and for the night, mine too.

Tears came to my eyes, as Dad would have loved this scene. The Pappy in him would have ensured every child had a sweet treat, every adult had a beverage and that everyone had a good time. There would be family by blood and family by choice, neither more loved than the other by Pappy.

I almost went inside, the grief pressing on my chest. Then I heard him. “Can I sit wif you?” Mack said, crawling into my lap as soon as my arms opened. The beautiful, blonde haired five year old said he wanted the fireworks to go on ‘for-evuh’ and his ‘faborite’ were the ‘wed’ ones, but the green ones were good too.

Mack had lots to say, in his gentle, little boy voice, and I didn’t quite get it all. What I did get was connection and a smile as I listened to him tell me how much he liked to get to a…something…in a game and become Darth ‘Bader’. He melted into my shoulder, still chatting about glow sticks and how much he liked my house and inquiring if I would be at the pool tomorrow.

Too often I measure good times, like the wonder of fireworks with little boys, by the what is missing. In that calculation, I miss what is present. The joy of people singing the National Anthem. The sweet warmth of a little guy trusting me, as an auntie and not a stranger, to rock him back and forth in a lawn chair. The smell of burnt marshmallows and sweet wine. If Dad read this he would tell me to quit hiding in the office writing and crying and get outside. There are leftover s’mores to roast and more fireworks.

Thanks, Mack, for being my angel and hugging me when my Dad couldn’t. And thanks Dad, for the gift to love community, hospitality and connection.

Dad’s Last Family Picnic

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