I drive home from the church picnic at sunset, my arms slowly growing more strawberry-hued from my earlier game of croquet in the sun. The grass was far too long to play properly, but that didn’t stop us from having a jolly good game, filled with much good-natured ribbing. The burgers and meadow tea were sublime, and I found the potato salad filled with pickles that I like best on the potluck food line. After the meal, I watched the kiddies splash in the creek I also used to play in as a kid, and although they’re not swathed in the yards of cotton dresses we were, they’re having at least as much fun as I always did with my friends at our church picnics long ago. Francie runs up the shallow, sandy creek bed toward me, splashing wildly, her blueberry eyes glowing under her golden mop of curls, and her mouth matching her eyes, thanks to the lollipop in hand. Living her best life, that’s for sure.
And now I’m driving, windows open and the summer air whipping my hair, and the sun is sinking low, just atop the ridge of trees to my left. Its slanting evening rays bathe the gently rolling fields of tender green corn and ever-so-golden wheat, and I feel a catch at the sheer, transient beauty of it. It’ll only last a few minutes before the sun sinks and the earth slowly cools down for the night and the fireflies begin their dance. That’s ok, there’s hot chocolate coming up shortly with a few friends as we unwind from the long day and discuss books and awkward father-in-law interactions.
Every few nights the guys from church gather for their church softball league, and generally dominate the game. The wives and friends gather to cheer, along with plenty of small children who are only too happy to spend the evening making dirt castles with their friends under the flood lights. Sometimes there’s a huge bowl of popcorn my oldest niece made to share, and sometimes the tiniest niece is there, just a few weeks old, and very squishable. The competition is good natured, and sometimes after our game is done we stay to cheer on “Sarah’s Team”, nicknamed for the silver-haired lady we all root for on account of her general awesomeness. Eventually we all head home, thoroughly dusty and perhaps a little sweaty or rained upon, depending on the night.
This particular evening I don’t feel like bed just yet, so I pop in at Lyn’s house and ask her if she won’t please go for a walk with me. Being a very agreeable sort of person, she acquiesces. We tramp up the dark and quiet streets of Mocksville toward the town square, admiring the beautiful southern houses looming in the dark beside us as we have fifty times before, and solving the world’s problems. When we arrive in the square about a mile away, I get a text from Abby, wondering if we aren’t hungry perhaps, since she also forgot to eat dinner tonight. Obviously we are. We generally are. She asks the lady at the Arby’s drive-through for an extra roast beef sandwich and curly fries, and shortly comes to join us at the little fountain in the middle of downtown. For some reason, the lady didn’t want to charge her for our meal, so we eat our free food very cheerfully, as any good Mennonite does when he finds a stray discount. We convince Grace to join us too, prying her away from her book in her cozy house, and we sit there till far too late at night, planning our upcoming trip to California and discussing what vulnerability means. It’s delightful.
We try for a family cookout before I leave, and manage to gather most of us under the carport where delicious smells and a bucketload of smoke are seeping from the covered grill. The kids are busy around the ripening raspberry patch and adventuring in the kudzu, as they like to do, and meanwhile we arrange the table chock full of various salads and watermelon and burger toppings and fried rice and donuts. And of course, we can’t forget the obligatory five gallon cooler of barely-sweet meadow tea, which if you have never tasted, I’m not sure you’ve actually lived. Pretty soon the burgers are perfectly done, thick and pink inside and dripping with juice, and we settle in to our meal, ducking low to avoid the smoke which seems to all have collected inside the carport. The kids have trouble eating, as they’re far too anxious to go back to their play with cousins, but we adults sure enjoy the meal. Few people grill a burger like my dad. Before we’re done, the skies open and dump buckets of rain on us, and we scooch our chairs a little farther inside the carport to avoid damp elbows, except for the few little girlies who take the opportunity to run in the downpour. They’re the smart ones, I think.
The air is hot and humid, and we pass our days generally a little sweaty and sticky, but oh, the good food…! Strawberries and red raspberries and asparagus and new potatoes and raum salot and tender green beans, all out of my mom’s garden. And when we aren’t harvesting from the garden, there is ice cream to be eaten at Sonic with the kids as the sun turns their hair to blazing crowns, and watermelon to be dripped on the ground and always something grilling somewhere, as we chat with siblings and friends and soak up the brand new baby cuddles and wish they didn’t have to grow up so fast.
It’s been a good month, North Carolina.