Over the weekend, my wife and I visited with her only niece and her husband, and their two children, who live in a suburb of Charlotte. The occasion was a special one: my wife was to be the surprise “gift” for her only nephew at his 38th birthday party. As often happens when families scatter across the country, we hadn’t seen our nephew since his wedding day nearly fifteen years ago, after which he and his bride settled in southern Georgia to begin their life together and to raise a family. Through no one’s particular fault, the stars had not aligned since to permit a visit by either side. But, thanks to the annual Christmas letters sent each year, we had been kept abreast of the arrival of each new offspring (there are four now) and learned their names and a bit about each as the years progressed. But we had never met them in person.
Now, all that would change. At long last we were finally going to actually “meet the family,” and we could hardly wait. But there was another surprise in store. My youngest son had gotten wind of our nephew’s visit and had come, along with his new bride of less than a year, to see his step-cousin and his family. After the formal introductions were made to the couple’s four children, ages three through eleven, we quickly got down to the business of getting to truly know everyone. But there was a hint of reservation in the air. After all, they probably thought, who were these old people called Auntie Becky and Uncle Joe? So, we nervously exchanged pleasantries and kept a comfortable distance. That is until our niece suggested we play kickball. Yes, you heard me right, I said kickball.
So, fueled by the energy provided by a lunch of pizza, salad, and soft drinks, followed by a slab of sugary birthday cake, we set off for the field, ready to do battle. First, we had to choose sides. Simple. Old folks against young, right? Nah, that wouldn’t work. Boys against girls. Nay, nay. Not enough girls, too many boys. Eventually we settled on teams composed of the youngest kids and the oldest adults (yes, I was one of the latter) versus the middle-aged children and adults. Then, we had to lay out the bases: a ball of twine for one, an old shirt, a plastic garbage can cover, and a beach hat for the other three, and we were all set to play.
For two hours, we pitched, kicked, ran, stumbled, slid, stretched, threw, caught, huffed, and puffed with no effort spared on the part of anyone. Final score: 19-17, in favor of us. But no one really lost; we all were winners. With aching muscles and scuffed shoes, we collectively limped our way back to the house to recover. Ice packs and ibuprofen were handed out to those in need (I gladly accepted both), and pictures were taken. Detailed stories of each one’s heroics―some accurate and some confabulations―were related to those who would listen.
Later in the afternoon, all except my son and his wife (they had previous plans) traveled a short distance to my sister-in-law and her husband’s home for dinner―kids served first, followed by the adults ―and after we had eaten, there was dancing. Armenian music filled the air, and bodies flew around the room―some gracefully, some not so―with everyone having a high old time. Eventually, it was time for our niece and nephew’s families to depart. Hugs and kisses were exchanged, and at last, we four remaining adults settled in the living room, alone with the silence that only absent children can create. We spent the next two hours watching old family movies, alternately laughing and crying at the memories the films evoked.
The next morning, we left and met both my sons and their wives for breakfast in Charlotte, and then headed home. We had lots to talk about during the two and a half hour journey. There was the look of genuine surprise on our nephew’s face when he first saw us, the glee with which each of the kids accepted the little presents we had brought them, and the various antics that occurred during the birthday celebration. As we drove, we laughed at the memories of the old movies and how all the children had struggled mightily to keep up with the grownups during the dance. We would never forget those images; they were indelible. But the fondest memory of all was that of the kickball game. By playing a simple children’s game for two hours, we had not only been able to become one family, connected forever, but we had transcended time as well. All hail kickball, the great equalizer!
NOTE: Joe Perrone Jr is the author of the highly-successful Matt Davis Mystery Series: As the Twig is Bent, Opening Day (a 2012 Indie B.R.A.G. medallion winner), Twice Bitten, and Broken Promises. All four are available in paperback and E-book. As the Twig is Bent and Opening Day are also in audiobook, with Twice Bitten and Broken Promises soon to follow.
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