Together is fun - but alone is fun, too

My childhood home is the perfect and preferred place for family reunions. The three upstairs bedrooms sleep six or seven comfortably, and two more can stretch out on downstairs couches. After that, there are carpeted floors and, for me, a hedged-in yard with a pine-scented back corner just begging for a tent.

My sister, brother, and I have watched our own children grow close on our old stomping grounds. For more than two decades we have had reunions that included all nine cousins. The backyard pool, dating from the early '70s, provided a marvelous catalyst for the new generation's play, quarrels, reconciliations, and gradually deepening interconnections. Today, our teens and young adults trust one another with the deepest intimacies of their lives, including, I suspect, things we parents aren't fully privy to. Yet they still are capable of leaping into the water for roiling rounds of "Marco Polo" and "Shark," games of their overlapping early childhoods.

Inside, things are just as lively. With a dozen or more mouths to feed, we put aside our mother's little two-pint saucepans and haul the big kettles up from the basement. The kitchen seems to go full time. As for the threshold to the patio and pool, its door might as well be revolving. Add four dogs ("We can't leave them behind, Mom"), and it can all get a little wild.

Which brings me to the tent in the back corner of the yard, where our swing sets used to stand. I could claim a room, or a part of one in the house, but come bedtime after a day of intense family togetherness I enjoy the darkness, solitude, and relative calm of my blue dome under the stars. No doors open and close, no lights click on and off. The teens may chatter and laugh into the night around the patio tables, and interrupt my dreams with a midnight swim, but eventually, as the household continues to jostle with their restless nocturnal energy, I sleep the good sleep. "Nice for you" as my mother says.

At this year's reunion, I staked out my traditional territory with a quiet sense of anticipatory pleasure. What better place to camp than the familiar green ground of childhood - in the bosom of my first and only complete universe, where some of my son's earliest and best memories took shape? Such were my appreciative thoughts one quiet night (the younger set had departed en masse for a movie, leaving a hush as big as all outdoors) when things became better still. From the upper story of the house behind ours floated ethereal live music. It is a place half hidden in foliage and somewhat aloof from us, having been vacant for many years, and then rented out to a succession of tenants. Tonight I could see two women behind a leafy screen, one a violinist, one a flutist. For almost an hour I lay there, restfully awake, relishing my private summer night's concert.

We aren't a particularly musical family, so I couldn't put my finger on most of the familiar strains - Beethoven's Chorale, a bit of Bach, and perhaps Brahms bathed me. I would like to attach names to the pieces, and when I hear them again, I'll make a point of it. But it might all have been composed on the spot to complement my mood that evening. I was home and yet - for a little while - delightfully, darkly alone. Nothing has ever felt safer. A little night music was icing on the cake.

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