Every year of my childhood (then troubling tweens, and finally bad-haired-angst-filled teens) up till the year my Aunt became to sick too host large parties, too sick live alone, my entire wonderfully massive extended family spent a weekend in July at my Aunt Dale's home in Star Valley, Wyoming. Cousins, second cousins, third-forth-fifth cousins, aunts, uncles, boyfriends, neighbors, pets, hot dogs... EVERYONE pulled into dodge and set up camp. Star Valley is a small town in what always felt to be the middle of nowhere. Far away from friends, TV, the computer (remember when the internet came to town and enraptured everyone into staying at home), this small town often made us sigh from ennui... until we'd snap out of it and find cousins to play tag with, ancient comic books to peruse, and fireworks to set off in the road with the "older" cousins. We loved Aunt Dale's. Loved and love. Each memory is precious to me, to us.
One of my earliest memories is of my sisters and I collecting change in old baby food and mason jars in order to buy candy at Aunt Dale's post office, a bewitching side room, which later became a bright pink room, home to dolls with curly hair and big eyes, and stuffed animals of every genus and species. Porcelain figurines? Probably.
At night we'd sleep outside in tents. Gold stars to those old enough to remember the Native American-esq tepee, and a quidditch world cup to those who actually slept in it.
I remember swiftly paddling a canoe down a skinny canal that bordered the back field of my Aunt Dale's yard. We'd fly with grace through the water, and would reach out to get our hands wet, count water skeeters, and to pull up the long weeds on the bank. This all, of course fed into my wildest dreams of being Sacajawea or other Indian Princess. By the time I would finish coming up with an appropriate Indian Princess name, always always always, we'd run head long into the point where the canal slipped through a gate/fence, which was, at the time, the scariest non-threatening barricade in the entire world, and have to precariously turn 180 degrees in our seats, to make the trip back upstream. This usually came with no little amount of panic, and bizarre feats of balance, until who ever claimed leadership of the voyage turned on the bossy mouth and sorted us out right. Then we make the slow, sometimes whining, trudge back up that canal, because we would forget what a current does.
I remember the hay rides, where we'd laugh while aiming stones at streams and ponds shrieking when we'd hit our mark, booing when we'd just kick up foliage and dust. The older we grew the larger and larger the stones, an impressive display of strength, indeed. This was our coming of age.
I remember my Aunt welcoming the entire lot of us, with open arms, giving a reason to have a tradition to look forward to every year. This woman brought my family together, and I wish with all my heart we still carried these traditions on. Summer rolls around, and it's just not the same without a weekend running like crazies into the sun.
(picture by William Edmonds)