Trey spent Tuesday helping Dad prepare the salads for the cookout we’d be having the following day. The reason it is taking place in the middle of the week is that the Fourth of July, or Independence Day, is one of the few national holidays that’s still celebrated on the actual date. Christmas and New Year’s Day are two more, while Thanksgiving is always held on the fourth Thursday in November, so the date changes every year. All of the other national holidays are celebrated on the Monday closest to the original date, as established by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act.
While Trey was busy helping Dad, Dion kept an eye on the younger boys and spent time with them. After they played with the puppies for a while, the boys decided they wanted to go skinny-dipping, seeing Holly was working at the Health Center. Dion made sure they got out of the pool and got dressed before we arrived home, and the boys were in the family room playing video games when we reached the house.
During dinner, I decided to ask Dad a question. “Do you need a hand with getting ready for tomorrow?”
“Actually, I’m in good shape for now, but I’ll need some assistance tomorrow with carrying everything outside and getting it set up.”
“Then you can count on us,” Brandon responded for both of us.
“I never doubted that.”
“What time are you expecting everyone to show up?”
“I told them we’d have lunch around noon and we’d eat again around 6:00, and they can come for either or both meals.”
“Why are we gonna have two cookouts?” Tristan asked.
“It’s so the others will be able to stay as long as they want and not have to leave to get something to eat.”
“And it’s probably because he has a special surprise for us after it gets dark,” Benny told him.
“What kind of surprise?”
“Now it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if we told you what it was, would it?” I responded.
“I guess not,” Tristan muttered.
I could almost see the wheels spinning in his head as he attempted to figure out what the surprise might be, but nothing more was said. He seemed to still be thinking about it after he finished eating, and this made me wonder if he might ask Benny in private what he meant. If that were to happen, I just hoped Benny took my hint that we wanted this to be a surprise for Tristan.
Later, after the boys had showered, we went up to read the next chapter of the story to them. When I finished, Tristan had something else he wanted to ask us before he went back to his bedroom.
“Are we gonna play games after dark tomorrow?”
“I’m sure you boys can do that if you want,” Brandon replied, “but if you’re asking about the surprise again, I think you should just wait and see what happens. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, whatever Grandpa Josh and Grandpa Jake are planning.”
Reluctantly, Tristan let the subject drop and headed over to his room to get into bed. While he was doing that, Brandon and I went through our nightly ritual with the other boys. When we went over to Tristan’s room, he was lying in bed seemingly lost in thought, but he noticed us as we entered the room.
“Are we gonna watch the fireworks on TV then?”
“That’s definitely a possibility, because everyone enjoys seeing the fireworks exploding in the air,” I answered.
“But it’s more fun to see it happen for real, not just watching it on TV,” he offered innocently.
“I won’t ague with you about that,” I told him tongue-in-cheek, and then we tucked him in, kissed him on the forehead, and wished him pleasant dreams.
We then went to say goodnight to the rest of our brood, and after completing our rounds, we went downstairs to chat with the others. “How do you plan on working everything tomorrow?” I asked as soon as we were all together.
“We’ll have the cookout where we normally do,” Dad began, “and during the day Jake will sneak over to the other side of the house so he can set up the fireworks for later.”
“Are you going to do that in the yard or will you use the vacant lot between us and the neighbor?” Brandon followed.
“I thought I’d set it up just inside the vacant lot,” Pop answered. “The last couple of times I mowed I went over part of the lot too, since the weeds, twigs, and other debris had burned off in the fire last spring. Doing it there will leave plenty of open space between where we’re setting off the fireworks and any nearby buildings. There will also be less chance of anything catching fire there, than if we did it on the other side of the road, because that area is completely overgrown. When we used that area on New Year’s Eve the ground was covered with snow, so we didn’t have to worry about fires.”
“And the younger boys will be less likely to spot you if you set up in the vacant lot, rather than across the street,” Trey observed.
“Yes, there’s that too, and we’ll just have everyone move there when we’re ready to set it off,” Dad added.
“Although nearly everyone else is expecting you to do this,” Dion stated, “I think Tristan, the twins, and Holly should be surprised.”
“That’s what we’re hoping for,” Dad confirmed.
“I think Tristan suspects the surprise might be something like that,” Brandon replied, “because he asked if we’d be watching the fireworks on TV.”
“Yes, I think Benny might have given it away,” I added.
“Just make sure the puppies are inside before I start setting off the fireworks to protect their ears from the loud noises,” Pop suggested.
“Yes, I’ll take care of that,” I confirmed.
After we finished discussing this, we all agreed to turn in. There would be a lot going on the next day and we wanted to be well rested for it. Before I went upstairs, I decided to take the puppies outside one final time hoping they might be able to make it through the night without having an accident in the carrier. Once they had both done their business, I put them back in the carrier and shut the door to the family room before I headed up to bed.
I think we were all a little surprised when we discovered that Dad and Pop had fixed a rather large breakfast the next morning. “It’s just to make sure you won’t have to scrounge around for a snack before we have the cookout,” he told us when he noticed our questioning looks.
Once we finished eating, we helped to rinse off the dirty dishes and placed them in the dishwasher, and then we helped to clean up the kitchen too. This left us a couple of hours before the others would start showing up, and during that time Elliot told us he was going to go pick up Ian.
“Aren’t his parents coming?” Brandon asked.
“They’ll be here later, but they were invited to attend a gathering at the Country Club first, with some of their other friends.”
“Ok, as long as they’re coming,” I stated.
After he left, I went to help the boys work on their project for Dad’s birthday. They had received a few more emails with the information they’d requested, so I sat down with them to help sort it out. We continued doing that until the first group pulled into the driveway, and then I went out to greet them before we started carrying the other things outside.
Pop had set up both grills for today, since we’d be feeding a lot more people. He was planning to cook the hamburgers, hot dogs, and sausages on one grill, and he’d cook the barbeque chicken on the other one, as well as heating a big pot of water for the corn.
Dion and Trey carried out the banquet table and set it up, while Noah, Ryan, Brandon, and I carried out the coolers filled with drinks. As soon as the banquet table was in place, the younger boys helped to carry out the condiments, rolls, and other items, while Brandon and I followed behind with the bowls of salad. While we were doing that, Dion, Trey, and the other boys were retrieving the lawn chairs and camping chairs from the shed for everyone to sit on.
When Aunt Mary and Uncle Steve showed up, Aunt Mary added a couple of apple pies to the banquet table, and Uncle Steve started dropping the ears of corn into the boiling water. When Aunt Sally arrived, she added her cake to the table with the other items, and then Becky and Revin showed up next. After greeting everyone, Becky placed a large bowl of three bean salad on the table, while Revin added the large watermelon she’d purchased for the occasion. There was definitely a lot to choose from.
As the rest of family began to arrive, Dad and Pop were busy grilling the various items for them to eat, but they took a few moments to say hello to everyone in between. Before long, we were busy devouring the plateful of food that we’d prepared for ourselves, and then we chatted while we were enjoying the delicious meal.
When the boys finished eating, they went inside to get the puppies, since most of the others hadn’t seen them yet. They then made their rounds showing the puppies off and listening to the comments about how adorable the puppies were. As soon as everyone had a chance to see and pet the puppies, the boys set them down and then raced off so the puppies would chase after them. I heard a great deal of laughter and numerous comments about how cute it was as the puppies chased the boys around the yard.
The volleyball net and horseshoe pits were still set up in the yard from Noah’s graduation party, so one group began playing volleyball while some of the others started tossing the horseshoes back and forth. After working up a sweat playing and running around, the boys asked if they could use the pool, so we sent them inside to put on their swimsuits.
The rest of us chatted with Kevin and Vinnie, Cole and Beth, Dustin and Katie, Richard, and Jessie when they weren’t playing horseshoes or engaged in another volleyball match with Elliot, Ian, Holly, Noah, Ryan, Benny, and Joshie. Ian’s parents, Cameron and Erin, showed up around 4:00, so Brandon and I took the opportunity to welcome them to our gathering.
“Thank you for joining us,” I began. “I can fix you something to eat if you’re hungry, and then we’ll be eating again around 6:00.”
“No, we’re fine for now, and it was very nice of you to invite us,” Erin replied.
“Of course we invited you. You’re part of the family now, seeing Ian and Elliot are committed to one another.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” Cameron responded, “but it was still nice of you to invite us.”
We chatted with them for a while and then we introduced them to anyone they didn’t already know. When they began to chat with some of the others, Brandon and I continued to make our rounds.
“I’m glad you invited me and Revin today, because the food was wonderful and we’re having a blast,” Becky stated first.
“And there’s even more food for later,” Pop responded as he and Dad came over to join us.
“And you might as well leave Revin here tonight so you won’t have to drop him off in the morning,” Dad suggested.
“But I didn’t bring any of his things,” she objected.
“It’s up to you, but I’m sure we can find something that will fit him,” I offered.
“Yes, I’m sure you can, seeing you have so much to choose from,” she quipped.
While Becky continued her conversation with Dad and Pop, I was busy listening in on what some of the others were saying.
“Aunt Mary, your apple pie was delicious,” Dion said next. “And Uncle Steve, I loved the corn on the cob too.”
“Aunt Mary makes the best apple pies, and all I did was buy the corn at the farmers market and dropped it into the boiling water,” Uncle Steve replied.
“Then you made some good choices and prepared it splendidly,” Dion replied.
“I’m just glad you liked the pie,” Aunt Mary added, “because I had to go to several different places before I found the apples I wanted.”
“Then you made good choices as well, and I loved the touch of cinnamon,” Dion told her.
“And even though the boys devoured most of Aunt Sally’s cake, I got to take a bite of Wyatt’s piece,” Trey followed. “It was really good too.”
“Thank you and I’ve got another one in the car for later,” Aunt Sally announced.
“And I have two more pies in the car too,” Aunt Mary added. “Sally and I talked about it and we had a feeling there would be a lot of people here and the pies and cake would go quickly, so we brought back-ups.”
“Don’t worry, they won’t go to waste,” Trey told them. “You can bring them out when Dad and Pop fire up the grills again, which they’ll probably do in another hour or so.”
When it got closer to 6:00, Dad fired up the grills, but this time Uncle Steve was the one giving him a hand, because Pop had something else to take care of. After Brandon went to tell the boys it was time to get out of the pool and dry off so they could feed the puppies and eat again, Pop began carrying the various aerial rockets to the vacant lot so he could fire them off later. As soon as he finished doing this, he rejoined us and we all enjoyed another wonderful meal. Since there was so much to choose from, everyone was able to select something different this time, if they wanted.
Shortly after we finished eating again, we had a lot of help cleaning up and taking things into the house, and while we were doing that, Becky pulled me aside. “I just want to thank you again for inviting us today, because I had a truly enjoyable time.”
“It’s not over yet, because Dad and Pop have a special surprise for everyone after it gets dark.”
“Really? The day has been incredible already, so I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do to top it off, although I have my suspicions.”
“I’m sure you do and you’re probably correct.”
“I can’t wait then.”
Just before it started getting dark, I took the puppies inside and put them in their carrier to help protect them from the loud noises. I also turned on the TV for some background noise, and I shut the door to the family room on the way out. I then went to Dad’s bedroom to grab the boxes of Sparklers Pop had purchased for today, and after getting everyone together, I gave the boys a warning before I handed them out.
“Once we light the end, the Sparklers will begin emitting colorful sparks. These sparks are hot and can be dangerous, so you should hold the Sparklers away from your bodies so they don’t burn your skin, ignite your clothing, or damage your eyes. You can walk around and wave them about, just make sure you’re not close to anyone else while you’re doing it, because you might injure them. The most important thing is that you don’t run, because we don’t want you to trip, fall, and get burned or impaled on the metal stem.”
Once we lit the Sparklers for them, they lasted for several minutes and produced some interesting visual effects as the kids moved about and waved them in the air. By the time the Sparklers burned completely out, it was time to get everyone moving to the yard on the other side of the house. Dad, Brandon, Trey, and Dion led them there using their flashlights, and I followed behind. As soon as we were all together again, Pop ignited the first rocket.
There was a whistling sound as it shot into the air, and then there was a fairly loud boom as a plume of colorful streamers burst forth in all directions and began falling toward the earth. The next rocket emitted a series of crackling sounds as several smaller plumes of colorful streamers started to fall from the sky.
After momentarily moving my attention away from the scene taking place overhead, I glanced around to see how Tristan, Holly, Hayden, and Hunter were reacting to it. They all seemed enthralled by what was happening in the air above them, and then I noticed that some of our neighbors had stepped outside to enjoy the aerial explosions as well.
Over the next twenty minutes we were entertained and fascinated by the different types of rockets bursting in the nighttime sky and lighting the area around us. There was a wide assortment of sounds as the rockets burst above us, and they ranged from whistles, to crackling noises, popping sounds, and loud booms. Each one resulted in a variety of colorful images that included twinkling lights, streaks of lightning shooting into the darkness, and dots of light skittering back and forth across the sky. Others resulted in the colorful streamers descending toward the earth, and still others burst into balls of light resembling a chrysanthemum or the white head of a dandelion before it blows into the wind.
When the last of the rockets had exploded, it was followed by a few cheers and an appreciative round of applause, not only from those at our house, but from our neighbors as well. Now that the activity had concluded, our guests began to thank us as they said goodbye and headed to their cars to go home.
“An explosive finish to a wonderful day,” Uncle Steve said as he prepared to leave.
“Yes, these occasions always seem to end with a bang,” Aunt Mary added.
“And it’s always nice to spend the day with family and friends,” Aunt Sally chimed in.
“And I’m glad you invited us,” Cameron followed. “I not only enjoyed the meal, but that was an impressive show for this gathering.”
“I always enjoy a good fireworks finale,” Erin added.
“And we’re glad you joined us,” I replied before they headed to their car.
“Are you sure you want me to leave Revin here tonight?” Becky asked before leaving.
“Of course,” Brandon replied. “He’ll be fine and he can return the clothes he borrows the next time he’s here.”
“I really appreciate you doing this for us, and it was a marvelous day,” Becky continued. “Thank you so much for inviting us.”
“You’re part of the family too, so you’re always invited,” Dad told her.
We also said goodbye to our brothers who had joined us for the day, along with their wives. “This was much better than anything we could have planned for the day,” Beth, Cole’s wife, told us.
“And Dustin was right, you guys certainly go big when you celebrate,” Katie offered.
“Especially when we’re saying Happy Birthday to the U.S.A. or ringing in the New Year,” Dad replied.
“You also do a great job at Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas too,” she followed.
“It’s just our way of showing the family how much we appreciate each of them,” Dad replied.
“And we all appreciate you too,” Beth followed.
“And we’re glad that we’re part of this family now,” Katie concurred.
Once everyone had taken off, the rest of us went inside and we told the boys to take care of the puppies first, and then they should get ready for bed. When we went upstairs to tuck them in later, Tristan and Revin were in the twins’ bedroom with Wyatt waiting for us.
“That was really fun,” Tristan said before we started reading the next chapter to them. “I didn’t know people could do fireworks at home.”
“It only became legal for us to do it last year, but we still have to be careful, because fireworks can be very dangerous,” I answered.
“I can’t wait to tell my mom about this,” Hayden followed. “She’ll be surprised that you did it.”
“Yeah, I just wish you’d taken a video of this too, so we could show it to her,” Hunter added.
“Who says we didn’t?” Brandon teased.
“I didn’t see either of you filming it with your phones,” Hunter stated.
“We didn’t, but I gave Dion my phone so he could do it for me.”
“You did? Can we show it to our mom the next time we go to see her?” Hayden asked.
“Of course, that’s why I had Dion do that for us.”
As I was opening the book to read the next chapter, something dawned on me. “I feel badly that you’ve missed so much of this story when you’re not here, Revin.”
“But I haven’t missed anything,” he replied, surprising me. “I had my mom buy the same book and she reads the chapters to me when I’m not here so I don’t miss out.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that. Your mom never said anything about doing it, so I didn’t realize she was reading it to you as well.”
“Yeah, cuz I liked it so much when I was here, I asked my mom if she would buy it for me. She did, and then she started reading it to me, and she likes the story too.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
After I read the next chapter to them, Brandon and I kissed each one on the forehead, tucked them in, and said goodnight. We then made our rounds to say goodnight to the others, and when we got to Holly’s room, she was all aglow.
"The whole day was incredible and I really enjoyed it.”
“We’re glad you did.”
“My brothers did too, and I loved seeing them have so much fun.”
“We enjoyed seeing all of you having fun as well, and you play a pretty mean game of volleyball.”
“Thanks, I played on the school team.”
“Oh, we weren’t aware of that, but it should have been obvious watching the way you played today.”
We then bid her goodnight before going out to chat with Dad, Pop, Dion, and Trey. “I think today went very well,” I said as Brandon and I were sitting down at the table with them.
“Yes, everyone appeared to have a good time,” Dad agreed.
“And you did a great job with the fireworks,” Dion told Pop.
“Thank you. I’m just glad it went off as well as it did,”
“Your little show impressed a lot of people,” Trey added, “including a bunch of our neighbors.”
“Yes, I saw some of them outside watching the fireworks too,” he concurred.
Shortly after we finished our discussion, we all headed to our rooms to get a good night’s sleep. It was only the middle of the week, and Brandon and I had to return to work the next day.