It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon in Mansfield, MA. A morning of church & visiting with friends. A stop at the farmer’s market on the way home yielded a new pot of green basil (my purple basil died in a spring basil blight) as well as some lovely purple peppers, yellow and zucchini squash and a half dozen ears of sweet corn, grown right behind the barn, to add to our dinner plans. The weather is hot, and sunny, an improvement over last weekend, and we’ve almost recovered from Ezra’s pirate party.
In case you hadn’t noticed, Ezra is the baby of the family (but don’t tell him that!) He turned eight last weekend, in the company of fifty of his closest friends. In general, birthdays are quiet affairs in our family. I bake a cake, we blow up a few balloons, we sing, that’s it. But once in every childhood each kid gets a huge party, whatever his little heart desires, and we make a VERY big deal of it. This was Ezra’s year.
We’ve been planning for weeks, creating little invitations of clear bottles filled with sand and a rolled up invitation “message in a bottle” style, cutting too many pirate eye patches out of black fun foam and stringing them on elastic cord, assembling gift bags, spray painting treasure boxes gold and affixing plastic gems to them, and planning enough games to keep even the most mutinous pirates happy for an hour or two.
The party started with the arrival of one big, white Mama bus as seven excited children piled out and four more excited children attacked them. From there it was a downhill slide of joyous arrivals and the decibel level just kept rising. By the time we donned our pirate bandanas and the party started in earnest we numbered 60, at least two thirds of whom were under 14. Tents were scattered far and wide and children of various families were shuffled between them, with the prize sleeping spots for the big boys being the Hennessy hammocks (five of them, one stuffed with TWO boys) strung between the trees. It was a three day extravaganza of food, home made wines, late night laughter, fiddle and guitar music around fires overflowing with sizzling marshmallows and sticky kids, and mud between far too many toes to count… it rained.
Not during the party proper, thankfully, but later that afternoon found all of the adults huddled into our screen tent to the sound of cards slapping the picnic table, old stories being told with gusto to new audiences, and wet children laughing and playing enthusiastically in the mud. Judah got the award for dirtiest kid though; at 15 months old he’s just walking and he’s sneaky. We misplaced him for a minute, only to find him, plastic spoon in hand, sitting in a mud puddle, covered from head to toe, loving every minute. His wise Mama just laughed and left him there, happy as a lark to splash and eat his quota of dirt for the day.
The nights were, mercifully, dry. Long after children were tucked into tents and sleeping off their sugar highs the adults sipped the home made wine (the persimmon was my favorite) and chatted until the stars peeked through the canopy of pine and oak, sparkling more beautifully than any store bought party lights could dream of. It occurred to me, as I listened to my Dad tell stories and my friends share life that these really are the best and most perfect days of life and I was overwhelmed by how much these people must love us to leave air conditioned homes, soft beds and showers that don’t require a quarter to join us on our turf for the goat rodeo that is our life. We don’t deserve their friendship, but we are so very thankful to have it as our dear friends are the very thing that makes our life rich. Whether you were here pirating or not, you know who you are, and we love you.
The distance award went to Grammy and Gramps. Fresh off of a cross continental drive to Vancouver, BC, Canada and back for the birth of my little nephew, Kai, they turned up in grand form to surprise the birthday boy. There was rejoicing in the land. I don’t know if there is anything more precious in life than grandparents and having them arrive, unannounced for the biggest party of your life is almost enough to kill an eight year old boy. Of course, Gramps produced a knife, hand carved and inlaid with turquoise and mother of pearl, for the birthday boy. Grammy brought the bandaids. Perhaps the thing I love best about my parents as grandparents is their unwillingness to let miles interfere with their single minded pursuit of the hearts of their grandchildren. We’ve never lived even remotely close to them, and yet, they always seem to turn up, even if that means camping on the sand in the Sahara so as not to miss the kids’ first camel rides. Three days off of the biggest hospital marathon in our family’s history, helping Kai from his precarious beginnings to a joyous trip home, they arrived with smiles and hugs all around and instantly became “Grammy and Gramps” to the entire forty or so kids who arrived.
A close second goes to the Allison family, who drove two LONG days from the mid-west to surprise the birthday boy. Ezra has been praying diligently, three times a day, since April, “Please God, let Mimi and Poppy come to my birthday party.” And come they did, completely decked out in pirate attire, having practiced their most piratish “ARRRRRs” for at least the last 400 miles of the trip. It was a bit of a shock to the campground staff, but I think they’ve recovered. Poppy played a central role in the party as “The Dread Pirate Poppy” and gifted Ezra with his, rather fabulous, gold and velour hat at the end of the weekend. They stayed all week and we followed the party with a trip to Six Flags, a day on Narragansett Beach, and the usual joyful circus that characterizes our time together. They left Friday morning, a week after they arrived, and it wasn’t long enough.
It’s been 48 hours of eerie quiet since the last of the pirates walked the plank. The decks have been thoroughly swabbed. The mateys whipped back into shape. The late nights and grog slept off. We’re almost back to “normal” around here, whatever that is. My toothless pirate captain is still suffering from a mild case of birthday-itis, nothing a little “whole wheat and water” diet and a few more nights of early bed won’t fix. It’s a bittersweet thing to have celebrated the last of the big birthday extravaganzas for our family. Of course there will be other big parties with bigger kids one day, celebrating milestones yet to come, but none that will involve twenty kids belting out pirate songs of their own making, or bubble gum coins, or such enthusiastic sword fighting on a balance beam as we saw last weekend. I am reminded, once again of the fleetingness of life, the flash in the pan that is childhood and the general evaporation of sixty years in less time than it seems to take to toast a marshmallow. There are a lot of things I could be doing with this time, these two and a half decades or so that find me with kids under foot, but I can’t imagine doing anything better than laying awake in my new tent listening to too many kids giggle in the darkness, the drumbeat of my husband’s heartbeat and the cadence of my Dad’s snore.
p.s. All the great photos (except Ezra’s and Poppy’s) were taken by our wonderful friend Bryan Powers of Hindsight Video.