“Sometimes things become possible if we want them bad enough.” – T.S. Eliot
For me, July 4th has always been a hot and soggy memory of camping, fishing, and most of all family.
On one side of our family we had an annual camp out on the river every year. It lasted a week and culminated with a fish fry on the 4th of July. We gathered by family groups and pitched our tents, wigwams, cots, pick up trucks, sleeping bags, etc. all up and down the Llano river. During the early morning hours we would fish and check our lines. All day long in the hot sun the distant cousins would play and swim in the river filled with cold green water and memories.
Once a year during my growing up years I got to be around my distant family. Great aunts and uncles, great-great grandparents and second, third, fourth and faraway cousins. Our family was flung all over the state of Texas. Some remained in small towns living a rural life. Others had moved into the city and took up white collar occupations. But come July 4th, we all put on our hillbilly costumes and camped out together.
As we grew up we wanted to share this experience with our own children. People didn’t really talk about it but it was somehow important to pass on to the next generation. We all have photographs of ourselves as children up at the river that we can lay next to photos of our own children at the same place, having the same fun, all surrounded by family (everyone is still holding a beer can??).
I look at those photos now and I remember all of those people in my life, all of those people who somehow contributed to shaping me into who I am becoming.
“People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were traveling abroad. “ – Marcel Proust
Over the many generations that we held our reunion at the river there would sometimes be dramatic changes to the landscape. Sometimes there would be a flood and the river would have washed away some of the trees and reshaped the banks. Other years dry seasons would mean that the river was shallow in places and meandered through its course like a thin serpent.
As I look back on all those years our family was changing too. Divorce was fracturing relationships and scattering children. Busy careers left the younger generation with less time for family reunions. As the older generation began to pass away they took with them many of their values that seemed to hold family together, come famine or flood.
That river has come to mean many things to me over my life so far. As I was growing up it was an experience that filled my dreams with adventure as I anticipated the arrival of July. Typically the only time I saw most of my distant family was at this reunion. The first generation that started this custom have all passed away. Now when I think about those summers, it has become a long series of conversations flowing through my memory. As an adult I long for time to spend once again with these people from my past. I remember these characters and the collective treasure they brought each summer, up to the river, all bundled up in a sleeping bag.
“The past beats inside me like a second heart.” – John Banville