Another blast from the past. A Fourth of July Picnic in the Park – reconstructed from rabid e-mails discussions with friends as i processed the days events.
DQ, my niece, lives next to Mom. She divorced her first husband after he was sentenced to 4 years in prison. At the age of 33, she had become engaged to a hardworking 19 year old man, BJ.
BJ is a member of a wealthy construction family. This is, of course, the sole reason my niece wriggled her way into his family – entrapping him and convincing him that she was the love of his life.* He is a hardworking man, and has done wonders with their house. He has also been a very good father for DQ’s 13 year old daughter, DQ, Jr.
DQ and BJ hosted their first 4th of July barbeque, bringing both families together in preparation for their September nuptials.** They worked hard to be good hosts. BJ fussed over Mom, and kept her in Budweiser, bratwurst and clean ashtrays. There were probably 30-40 people milling around. I went to be polite and supportive, but given the choice, i’d have rather been handing out K-Y Jelly in a maximum security prison shower room….
Without a doubt, the event set the world record for the amount of bad ink per square inch of available skin for a single family gathering. I caught myself checking the roving packs of small children for classic barbed-wire “arm bands” (worn by all fashionable redneck gents) or faded, slightly distorted ankle butterflies (a standard design favored by trailer park ladies).
The festivities were well underway when i arrived. BJ had assembled his entourage to one side of the yard. He proudly removed a tarp from a mysterious, large object – revealing a gutted Geo Metro. He was preparing the car for the County Fair Demolition Derby. He’d worked feverishly to remove all glass and deadly objects, hoping to meet entry requirements for the event in two weeks. His only goal was to survive the initial round, and make it back for the second night.***
One of BJ’s friends, the aptly named “Sparky”, had a cigarette permanently attached to his lips. Stepping right out of a bad tv show, he was clad in the ubiquitous “wife beater” t-shirt, and wore a Marlboro baseball hat. Every time i caught sight of him, he had a cigarette dangling from his face – ashes defying gravity. Naturally, Sparky was in charge of lighting the charcoal grill. I was in close proximity – wiping the sludge from some random child who had fallen into a mudpit – when Sparky began to unload what seemed like two gallons of lighter fluid onto a pile of coals. With a lit cigarette in his mouth.
BJ asked for a camera – to capture “before” and “after” pictures of Sparky (with and without eyebrows). It was an inferno, but remarkably, no one was hurt. As i watched the fire and wondered if it would be visible on infrared satellite images, several young men felt compelled to walk by and randomly unload more lighter fluid onto the hot coals, muttering “…won’t be ready for another hour…”, or “i’m thinkin’ they starved the fire down when they put the lid on the grill”…
Another special moment: One of DQ’s cousins from her fathers side of the family – a rare voice of reason in The Park – came outside with an incredulous look on her face, asking DQ “where did that awful book in the living room come from?”. DQ replied “You mean the ‘Faces of Death’ book? i got that for BJ for his birthday! Isn’t it cool?”.
Did i mention that there were many young children at this picnic? These kids were running amok – mostly unsupervised, except for me, BJ and his brother-in-law keeping them out of the mud, fire and beer…
I’d be remiss to overlook the tale of the baby kittens. DQs cat had somehow gotten knocked up**** and had delivered a litter of 6 kittens a week before the picnic. The 11-year old’s birthday party was held three days later, so naturally the kittens were the primary party favor. Yep. These boneheads didn’t have the brains to keep the kids from playing with 3 day old kittens!
When i arrived, DQ informed me that the mother cat had become a basket case – carrying the kittens around the house and hiding them under beds, in closets and even in shoes! For the picnic, they sequestered the mother and her kittens in one of the bedrooms, providing temporary safe haven.
They couldn’t figure out why i didn’t stay for the fireworks…
I’m sure it was a display worthy of a WWII dogfight re-enactment. They spent $1,000 on at the local Fireworks and Militia Supply Emporium to assure pyrotechnic nirvana. That’s right – one thousand dollars. BJ works construction. My niece? A job? Hello? She’s claimed “post traumatic stress disorder” due to the events that sent her ex-husband to prison. She refuses to can’t work. They are in debt up to their eyeballs. $1,000 would have paid the mortgage and many bills for a month… Poof. Literally up in smoke.
One small pixel of the United States of America. But it’s real. And it’s not all that uncommon. This, to me, explains why George W. Bush was re-elected – after invading a country he couldn’t locate on a map using both hands, GPS and a Japanese tour guide.
This also explains why the United States is no longer a “leader of the free world”. We just don’t get it anymore. Basically good people – big hearted, kind, loving folks. But not a clue about good decisions versus bad decisions. No interest in saving for the things you want versus reckless self indulgence. No interest in being a humble citizen of the world versus brandishing a sense of righteous entitlement.
And no clue as to why it is generally a bad idea to leave books featuring grotesque photographs of police crime scenes on the coffee table during a family picnic.
When i told this tale to my son after returning home, he said “Mom, I’m proud of you and Aunt T. You got out. You didn’t let it hold you back.”
Well. That’s something, anyway
*”BJ” – his actual initials, but i also chose this call sign because the poor guy apparently married his first one…
** The wedding was “the mother of all redneck weddings”. i went to Vietnam to avoid it, or at least that’s what my sister, T, accused me of doing… It might be fun to use the e-mails she sent during the event to put up a post. Shame i can’t use the photos. Who knew you can rent camouflage tuxedo vests?
*** He did! Survived round 1 of the demolition derby and made it back for round 2. It was quite exciting. i’m genuinely sorry i missed this one. if you’ve never seen a derby, here’s a typical pic.
**** Not the first time, nor was it the last time the cat has shelled out unwanted kitties. They always seem surprised by this – and i’ve offered the $25 to have the cat neutered. Declined. The cat will get outside when she’s looking for love, and they can’t figure out how she keeps coming home preggers…. and i guess it’s not limited to the cat.