"It was a Saturday, and it was one of those days in Harwich Massachusetts when the air is washed and polished like a lens,” to steal from the immortal lines of John Steinbeck. The younger people exhausted themselves by throwing each other into the pool and the rest of us had stopped laughing. We older folks had been making that uncomfortable kind of laugh, the one that you use when someone tells a joke that you don’t get, but you feel that you need to smile a little harder to show your appreciation. Partly, we laughed that way since we were no longer in the surprise-throw-in-the-pool age group.
Soaked bodies headed for the sanctuary of a cold beer, or a shot of liquor from the bar. The scene was displayed in several layers: the sullen mixed with the happy, the young with the old, and the fat with the thinner. The heavy sunshine cast shadows on the faces and bellies of the masses.
One person told me of their year past; the death of an ex-spouse after a botched medical procedure, of their grief and anger, the reconciliation. Another spoke of someone whose toes were amputated for diabetes. Still a third was waiting for a hip replacement.
I wandered away from this organ recital and went inside where the food table loomed. Passing by, I headed to the television room, looking in awe at the 60 inch flat screen and the surround sound. I nodded in appreciation as the host told me how much each piece of gear cost, offering to give me a demonstration but soon called away, he forgot.
I looked through the glass of the French doors at the scene practicing an eidetic1 game that I had learned long ago. A second wave of pool dunking had begun, and the laughter too. Lots of conversation, a few people staring straight ahead, their mind who knows where. Glad that I was inside and old—safe on two counts. I admired the photos of the toddler in the family, even watched him on the baby monitor as he tried unsuccessfully to take a nap.
Wet bodies gathered at the bar, waiting for the arrival of the steamers. I could see them, they couldn’t see me. It was like a police lineup, the kind where the witness has to identify the bad guy from among a group of similar-looking individuals. Faces seemed contorted or maybe I was imagining it. There were smiles as they turned to speak to others, no smiles when they faced my way.
Burgers came off the grill and were passed around. We all ate too much, loving that summer grilled taste, the one smothered in ketchup and mustard. The laughter started again. I could sense that another dunking round would soon start.
One guy moved to the bar and took a small shot glass from underneath. With deliberate speed he poured himself a snifter of Schnapps and then waited.
“Excuse me,” he said quietly, letting his call for quiet sink in. “I have something I’d like to do, but first can you all get a drink?”
More laughter, since the outer ring had not heard him. Elbows poked stomachs and finally people stopped talking and found a glass, a bottle or a can to hold. All eyes were on the man who spoke.
“I want to propose a toast,” he said quietly, “to out host and hostess for the wonderful party they’ve thrown for us today.”
Glasses touched and shots were downed around the pool. There still was silence as he continued. “You know there are two people not with us today. They were here last year and the year before, but now they’ve overseas, serving in Iraq.”
He paused and there was a cold wind that seemed to blow through the place, or maybe I imagined it.
“I’d like to propose a toast to them, to Jeff and to Michael, as they serve their country in a faraway place. Let’s wish them Godspeed and a safe journey home, as quick as they can.”
The crowd, which not more than five minutes before was filled with people dunking people now was more sober, definitely quieter. It was a long time before anyone spoke, and only then to say goodbye and wish each other a happy Independence Day, and to thank those making it that way.