written by J.A. Heitmueller
Frail, stooped and clutching the precious offering to his chest, liken to one of the three kings, he precariously stumbled across the newly mown lawn toward us. Lagging far behind, walking cane grasped securely, she faithfully and methodically staggered in his footsteps; just as she had done through the potato patch, corn row, garden path and chicken house during the past 65 years of their marriage.
The offering, presented with gnarled, blotched, weathered hands was bestowed with the same sacredness as was the gold, frankincense and myrrh. A plastic bag of snapped green beans from their garden. Another year, another harvest-meager though it may be.
Hidden by the visor of his well-worn cap the mournful, tear brimmed eyes slowly emerged. Through quivering tones he spoke. "It's the Fourth of July and I've never missed one in my life," he stammered. "We just had to come home today. It might be our last one." He was 87. She was 85.
What had originated as Great Grossmama's birthday celebration in 1874 had evolved into an annual, jubilant, festive family and community gathering and had continued through five generations of family participants. And so they gathered---the remnants of the family, just as they had done for the past 127 years.
Elder brother, Herbert, had been gone three years now. Sister Margaret was submerged in her own mentally tangled world, probably never realizing the significance of the date. Only Edward, bride Arnice and Herbert's wife Radah, age 89 remained. Each one immersed in his own subdued physical and mental state, dealt to all through the natural digression of age. Satisfied to rock placidly on this steamy southern summer afternoon, sheltered securely by the overhanging limbs of the massive Mulberry trees for which the home place had by so aptly named---Mulberry Farm. Flashes of "The Good Old Days" were recalled and relived as they rocked and reminisced.
Today was the Fourth of July and they had come home ---one more time!