A perfect Saturday.
Beautiful weather with sky so blue it made your eyes hurt.
Family together just because we wanted to be.
Food fit for a king, and a ton of it, too.
We'd combed Applegate Farm when we arrived like we always do, taking stock and checking all the nooks and crannies as though we owned the place. But we don't. In a lot of ways, Applegate Farm owns us. It's been where our family goes to hang out, get back in touch, regroup and kick back ever since Aunt Lois and Uncle Ken moved there in 1992.
We checked out the pawpaw tree. I taught the girls how to squeeze sun-warmed concord grapes into your mouth and pitch the skins. We found apples left on the trees that the deer had sampled. And Aunt Lois dug carrots and we picked vegetables to take home.
Later, we womenfolk were sitting in the kitchen, pretending not to eat too many of Bridgett's chocolate covered strawberries and raspberries when dad came in the house to get me. "Come on, Suse," he called me by the nickname I've had forever. "Let's go see if there's frogs in the pond."
I snagged one last raspberry and headed after him, trying to figure out why in the heck he gave me two red paper napkins to hold onto. I followed him out of the house, past the big pole barn and around to the half acre pond Uncle Ken keeps stocked with fish, frogs and (theoretically) one big snake. I was suddenly seven year-old Suse peppering him with questions. Why were we going to the pond to look for frogs? Why was I supposed to bring red paper napkins? Why wasn't he target shooting out in the woods with the rest of the guys? The guys hadn't suddenly decided to forego paper targets and shoot amphibians, did they? Dad did what he's done my whole life - patiently ignored my questions with a sly smile and led me to answers.
He snapped off one of the cattail reeds as we tiptoed around the duck poop and out onto the dock. He produced a roll of scotch tape he'd pilfered from the house and taped a piece of the red napkin onto the end of the reed. Linda joined us to see what was up. No sooner had dad dangled the bait out over the pond than the lily pads shook and frogs of all sizes hopped up around us, vying for the red napkin.
As a boy, dad learned to catch frogs this way using a piece of red oilcloth, altho none of Uncle Ken's fat and sassy frogs were hungry enough to be pulled out of their pond by a reed and a piece of red napkin. And one particularly large frog just stared at us as if to say "That all you got, city boy?"
After awhile we wondered over to watch Annie have a go at Matt's latest toy: an AK47. We typically shoot targets with pistols and maybe the occasional rifle, but I don't much understand why non-terrorist type folk like us need an AK47 exactly. Mattie, however, has always been fascinated by three things: cars, fire and guns. Considering the consquences, I guess I'm glad he's satisfied with cars and guns.
Annie took her stance and squeezed off a 20-round clip. 14 of the 20 hit the paper target and five were in the kill zone.
Yessir, my sweet Baby Girl who used to love My Pretty Pony and wear pink lacy socks can drop you at forty paces with an AK47. That's the magic that is my Annie.
After awhile, we all gathered for some of Aunt Lois' yummy flag cake and coffee, and what is always my favorite part of any visit.
Dad and Uncle Ken are the best storytellers I know. Uncle Ken told stories about his days with Aunt Lois at the lab that kept us in stitches. My Ken chimed in with a few of his own. Then Matt and Annie reminisced about childhood adventures involving chicken nuggets launched into the dining room and Annie trying to balance a salad bowl on her head. We relived the stories of Matt's high school adventures, many of which involved policemen who somehow always ended liking him instead of calling his parents. We laughed until it was time finally to head out to our cars and say a reluctant goodbye.
To outsiders, these gatherings probably look like a family just getting together for an afternoon. But it's these times that feed my soul. These occasions speak to the character and strength that make our family so very special. My family is not made up of movie stars or corporate bigwigs or paparazzi fodder. We're not famous, not millionaires, not royalty.
We're a family of humans with flaws and faults and weaknesses. We're a family that gathers in and bolsters up and forges on. We're a family that's sacrificed and celebrated and cried and laughed. What we stand for is as old as the stars and as strong as time. Whenever I think I can't accomplish something difficult, I'm humbled into hunkering down and trying anew because of the all the things my graceful predecessors have quietly mastered in the face of diversity. We notice the underdog and believe in prayer and understand service. We have the strength of our convictions but don't need an audience. We believe in giving and in giving back. We know how to be careful and fearless at the same time. Most of all, we're a family that loves each other.
I listen to the stories and the laughter and collect it all to take back home with me. My day to day world is vastly different than the one we create when we're all together at Applegate Farm. But these hours around the table remind me of who I am, what I'm made of and where I've come from.
I cannot wait until we all get together again at Applegate Farm.
Oh - and if anyone needs fresh produce, just let me know. I've got more than enough to share!