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As children we would often picnic with our family at Branford Point, in our back yard or occasionally at Aunt Catherine's home. For the last 20 years Billy and Eileen have graciously invited family members to summer picnics at their home. It is a time when we relax in their spacious back yard, share pleasant conversation, eat an excellent meal and continue long held family traditions.
The weather was bright, sunny and dry. A gentle breeze blew in from Canada keeping the summer heat and humidity well to our south. By the time Mother and I arrived, the men were gathered around the wooden picnic tables while the women sat in comfortable lawn chairs under the cool shade of the spreading maple trees.
TThree of Bill's remaining four brothers came to our summertime gathering. Terry, our youngest brother, had to work as an air traffic controller in Logan airport and could not join us. Neither could Larry, our third to the oldest, brother. He passed away last November from cancer, but he was here in spirit. Larry knew the pleasure of family picnics as a child. The last time he was in Branford, about 5 years ago, Billy and Eileen put together a picnic so we could all be together. Larry was not sick then but it was the last time many of us saw him. Larry's name came up in conversation more than a few times as the pleasant afternoon gently drifted along.
Billy is the oldest brother, followed by Tommy, Larry, Ronnie, Timmy and then Terry.
The afternoon started well when Eilleen brought out fresh baked clams in the shell. Soon after Michael came around, notepad in hand, and asked if we preferred hot dogs or hamburgs. Billy, with his usual flair grilled the dogs and burgers to perfection. Eileen brought out her famous baked beans with bacon. Mother provided her meticulously prepared deviled eggs. They took their place on the serving table along side a delicious macaroni salad, potato salad, fresh cole slaw, chips, sweet onions, tomatoes, lettuce and an array of condiments. Drawn by the savory selection and enticing aroma, we crowded around the table. As always, there was plenty of food so everyone walked away with a full plate.
Priscilla and Eileen toiled for hours over desserts. Priscilla gave us a chocolate layer cake with sweet vanilla frosting and tart, fresh raspberries. She also made a melt in your mouth, strawberry shortcake with fresh whipped cream. Mother especially liked that; it is her favorite dessert. Eileen created a colorful July 4th, red Jell-O cake with white Cool Whip frosting and fresh Maine blueberries on top. Their hard work was appreciated and almost everyone went back for seconds.
Back for seconds!
Our cook Bill, enjoys his meal
Don Ballou lead the after dinner discussion at the men's table. Ronnie, Tom and I were transfixed by Don's tales of military life in the 1950's. The conversation then shifted to Tom's experiences as an air traffic controller on an island off the coast of Vietnam during the war there. During the course of the afternoon our conversations flowed from night life in Las Vegas to the cost of building new schools, whether it is better from a tax standpoint to build parks or new homes and how to balance the two, Boy Scouts, local people of interest, the war in Iraq, Michael Moore's new movie, Fort Ashby, West Virginia soldiers in the news, an array of military aircraft, hometown parades and shared events when we were growing up in Branford. We were carrying on a tradition as old as civilization. In another time we would have retired to a heavy wood paneled library and smoked cigars. Or even earlier we might have pulled closer to an open hearth and traded tales of hunting mammoths and saber toothed tigers.
In the women's circle the conversation focused on family and friends. Kathy talked about her children, Maureen and Kevin, and how well they were doing in school and in life. Kevin just completed his first year of college and has moved into a double wide mobile home. Ronnie recently installed central air conditioning for him so he can study in comfort. Maureen is working 44 hours a week at a local pharmacy and hopes to buy her own car soon. She will graduate from high school next year and would like to study nursing. Carol talked about her battle with cancer and how she was faring after her operation last week. She lost half of her left lung and was visibly tired. Her voice was raspy but she was happy to spend a pleasant afternoon with her family. We were happy she was with us.
Deanna, Paul, Jeff, Michael, Sarah and her friend Erin decided to cool down in the pool as the afternoon wore on. Billy inflated an aqua, fish shaped raft that was at best a temporary platform for anyone who tried to get on it. As always the back yard pool attracted a boisterous crowd and the water was turbulent. Bill effectively quieted the waters with a stern, well heard warning. All continued to have fun but the water remained in the pool.
Sarah, Jeff and crew cool in the pool
Michael rides a John Deere
All too soon the afternoon sun drifted behind the western evergreen trees. The air started to cool and we realized that it was time to go. For a short while all of us enjoyed the pleasant company of our family, delicious food and thoughtful conversations. We wove together traditions, cooperation and sharing to add strength and longevity to the patchwork quilt that is our family. Confident, and feeling that our family was secure and strong, we bid each other adieu and headed our separate ways. Hopefully soon, we will gather again in the warm, sunny and peaceful expanse of Billy and Eileen's back yard and share another pleasant afternoon.
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