My Happy Place

It’s the 4th of July and I am in my happy place. I’m at my sister’s in Indiana and she’s having a pool party with 30 guests, including another sister who lives in town. My sister and her husband throw a party every year. Her kitchen is bursting with enough food for 300 football players. My sisters cooked and chopped all the basics: fruits, vegetables, baked beans, sloppy joes, pasta salad, three bean salad. The works. The garage refrigerator is stocked with drinks. Every guest brought a dish. Crock pots fill the counters. The smells of indulgence fill the room. We eat in shifts because it’s midday. Most eat poolside in the shade. I eat inside next to the food. It’s easier to overeat when you are in close proximity to seconds . . . and thirds. I eat too much.

I find myself playing volleyball in the pool with the eight-year-old grandson of a family friend. I haven’t seen him since he was four. He’s competitive and so am I. We count our volleys. When we pass his record of seven with his grandma, he gets excited. Not overly so, I just see a big smile. Eleven is our score to beat for a long time. We tie our record three times, but can’t get 12. Then we do. When we get 13, we match “momma’s lucky number” he says. We start again. One, two, three. Then, one, two. Grandma asks if he wants to play ping-pong. He does, but he doesn’t want to end our game on a bad round. I remember not being able to stop shooting baskets on a missed shot since I was his age. It’s a sports thing. Athletes never want to end a practice or a game on a low note. We keep going. Grandma is patient. She waits. When we hit 19, there is no celebration. He tells his grandma he is ready to play ping-pong. Our game is over. He climbs out of the pool. Maybe we will beat our score next year.

I join the adults. Many of these people I see once every 3-4 years. Some I have not met. Most have been friends of my sister and brother-in-law for over 30 years. All good people. We talk about motor homes. Books. Traveling. Travel books made into movies. We laugh when someone tells a story from Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. Someone mentions Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. One couple needs to let their dog out. They are staying at a campground nearby. We vow to keep in touch, and the group breaks up.

I move on to a talk with my nieces and nephews. Two of them came late to the party because they were skydiving—their way of celebrating my nephew’s 50th birthday. This was their first time jumping, and it was a dream come true. The rest of us are impressed, amazed, but not jealous. My nephew shows us a video of himself jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. He’s loving it! I mean like really loving it! They both say they want to do it again. And I thought golf was an expensive sport! They tell us one instructor has jumped 10,000 times, or some crazy number like that. My mind fills with questions of cost and the wear and tear on one’s body, but they must leave. It’s back to work tomorrow for the young bloods.  

My niece and I pick up ping-pong paddles. We talk as we play. All of us in the family can play. We mention one in the family who plays above the rest of us. He’s not here, so we believe we will have an equal shot at winning today. After a 30-minute warmup, we start a game. The game is close. She gets a point. I get two. She gets one. We rally until she forgets she’s supposed to let me get a point every other play. Somehow, she pulls away and scores 15 unanswered points. Game over. I hate to lose. Maybe this isn’t my happy place anymore.

Where is your happy place? How did you spend our nation’s Independence Day? Please comment below.