family |ˈfam(ə)lē |noun ( pl. -lies)
1 [treated as sing. or pl.] a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household.
• a group of people related to one another by blood or marriage : friends and family can provide support.
Memory, like family, is a strange thing. Each has the same capacity for both good and bad. You can cherish and/or dread what comes out of the pair. The Memorial Day holiday and my relatives formed a particularly special engram.
Let’s set the table, as it were, first.
Through no fault of my own, my mother’s herd raised me — who are as a lot just this side of sane. Although, they have been known to stray into the land of crazy from time to time. Yet let’s get back to the core of the tale.
I still consider myself lucky I became stuck via blood and marriage with these people. My father’s clan, as fate would have it, reminded me of a smaller, local version of those that brought the bounty upon Alfredo Garcia’s head.
But, that’s another tale…
This particular memory centers upon this weekend’s holiday. Let’s sidebar for a moment. For decades, until recently, my mother’s family always celebrated the Fourth of July with a picnic. Besides Christmas Eve, it was the other traditional family event.
My aunts would gather the immediate broods together — did I mention most of this crowd consisted of women? – and rendezvous the collection at some city park.
All sort of food fare was there. The perfect excuse for one of my uncles to haul his ageless old hibachi out of his garage. Ice chests and coolers (of varying colors and age), various picnic wares and plastic utensils, and sports equipment met up at this affair.
This also included among this competitive lot the boy- or girl-friends (current or the soon to be ex- variety) my faction of cousins invited to the gathering.
Got all of that?
Generally, it was all pretty fun. Except for the pulled muscles, sunburns, and the after-effects of overeating. Not to mention the incidents when so-in-so did whatchamacallit to you-know-who that caused one of my aunts to deploy ‘the mommy voice’ to subdue it all.
Believe me, the mommy voice will bring anyone into line — think the Jedi Mind Trick. But one that works in the real world.
On occasion (if the Fourth didn’t produce any lasting scars), we’d do this all over again come Labor Day. In all my recollection, we never, ever, tried this kind of familial rally on Memorial Day…except once.
Sometime in the 80’s, I, being the brilliant imagineer I thought I was, noted the anomaly and brought it up with my mother’s sisters. The ruling matriarchal council.
Two weeks before that holiday, I suggested we do a family picnic on that date. Almost in unison, each of them said, “But, we’ve never done that before.” I challenged that idea by saying it was, “…exactly why we should do it.”
I’ve since envisioned Custer must have used that same tactic prior to the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Being that I found it hard to take ‘no‘ for an answer, my children now exhibit that same karmic trait, I eventually wore my relatives down. They agreed to this.
Thus, sealing my fate.
Most of us, the ones that felt obligated to follow through with this, gathered at Furman Park in Downey, California on the appointed day and hour. It was a beautifully clear day, too. The strong gusts assured that. I’ve since estimated that we actually had a wind chill that Memorial Day Monday.
I had unwittingly selected one of the coldest, most blustery May days in recorded L.A. history.
At least, the group that journeyed to that fabled picnic came layered. Those that stayed home have since labeled themselves “the smart ones” in family lore. They missed the two places at the cookout where the hardy ones gathered.
Those being the park’s ye ol’ picnic table, holding down the what-not in the gale, or the area immediately around my uncle’s hibachi. The latter the only warm place in the entire park.
If I had a dollar that day for every time I heard, “What are we doing out here?“, I could have bought stock in North Face® clothing. After about two hours of eating some of the food we brought, shivering…no one touched any of the cold drinks, everyone had enough of mid-winter Memorial Day cheer.
All packed up and left.
Now, here is where memory comes in. Everyone on my mother’s side of the family remembers this…and whose idea this was. No one — ever — forgets it.
Of those left, many of the older generation have since joined my mother at that great picnic in the sky, it’s become an annual duty to remind moi of that incident every last Monday in May.
This is that good and bad thing I spoke of earlier.
Please remember Memorial Day commemorates the U.S. men and women who have died in military service on behalf of this country.
For better or for worst, I’ve had to grow a thicker hide from the repeated chiding the event spawned. Another thing families are known for. Still, I’ve grown to enjoy and laugh at the ridiculousness of that day, and its remembrance.
Needless to say, we’ve not had another family picnic on that holiday since. Though I’ve sometimes called one or two of them a week before to suggest it…and then hang-up. At least, it’s nice to be known for something.
I hope you all have a safe holiday.
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