When my mother died, so did a big part of my Fourth of July.
I guess I never realized how much my Irish mother drove those family gatherings until after she was gone.
My recollection is that these family get-togethers started as small picnics designed to take advantage of the holiday for working men who didn’t get much paid time off. Initially, it was our family and my mother’s sister’s family.
We’d set up a croquet course, a volleyball net and cook hot dogs and hamburgers. Everyone who was invited would bring a salad.
The Yankee game would be playing on the radio.
Over the years, the picnic grew in size and other relatives joined in the fun.
There were also fireworks obtained from a neighboring state where they were legal, an intense family Wiffle Ball game that became legendary and my mother’s insistence there be a Fourth of July cake. I always thought the cake was taking it a bit too far, especially when there was so much beer flowing, but she insisted.
Our Wild Irish Rose usually got what she wanted.
Over the years, it became one of the rare times when I got to see my cousins. It became part family reunion for me, and I enjoyed seeing everyone.
During one picnic in the midst of our own fireworks display, two local policemen wandered into our backyard to tell us they had gotten a complaint there might be some illegal fireworks being set off.
With the smoke still wafting across the yard, my Irish uncle assured them they were mistaken, then asked in his thick Irish brogue, “Constable, can I get you a pint?”
The story has been repeated so many times at succeeding picnics, I’m not sure how much of it is true anymore.
But the fireworks display continued year after year. My mother insisted.
After my father died, it seemed more important than ever to her for the Fourth of July picnic to continue.
And while I’m sure many of my cousins had other places they could have gone closer to home, it was mandatory to visit my mother each Fourth of July.
My mother has been gone nearly six years now.
The Fourth of July is open on my calendar, and I don’t see my Connecticut cousins much anymore.
My mother was born in Northern Ireland, but later became a citizen. I remember her studying for the test when I was just a lad, but ultimately, she might have been more patriotic than anyone in the family.
I had the day off Thursday.
It was quiet at my house. My son is away at his summer job, and we had no plans beyond a few chores.
Later, we barbecued some ribs and I sat outside listening to the Yankees on the radio.
But sometime after dinner, I felt something was missing.
Where was the Fourth of July cake?