The 24th of July is a state holiday in Utah, commemorating the 1847 arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake valley. Our pre-COVID family tradition, along with thousands of other families, was to attend the annual parade.
My parents lived a couple of miles from the spot we staked out every year along the parade route. In 1985, my son Paul, then 15, and his cousin Greg, 14, rode their bikes to the parade. Afterwards, while riding back to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s, Paul got distracted by a couple of cute girls. He was so captivated by them that he turned his head to look at them rather than watch where he was going. His tire got caught in a gutter grate, and he slammed to an instant stop. He was thrown over the handlebars and got a good scrape on his knee and a view of the girls as they walked by laughing at him.
Fortunately, Paul was wearing a helmet, so, more embarrassed than hurt, he quietly picked up his bike, gathered up his ego, and rode off into the figurative sunset. When Greg saw that his cousin was okay, he chuckled, just grateful the girls weren’t laughing at him.
Later that day we were sitting around visiting and enjoying being together as a family when my sister Syd threw the first glass of water and started our annual water fight. The year before, like every year, we had agreed that would be the year that the water fights would end, but, like every other year, the tradition held strong, and the cold splashes on the hot day began.
Paul and Greg decided they were too old to get involved with this silly tradition and made a pact to stay dry. Oh, but first they threw some water, then ran into the house and locked themselves in the bathroom.
The problem was that once Grandma and Grandpa, all the aunts and uncles and cousins from teenagers down to toddlers were soaked, what do you think was the prevailing conversation? Well, if you guessed getting Paul and Greg wet, then you were right.
A bucket brigade made up of Grandpa and the uncles was selected to get into the bathroom and drag the two cousins out, or if necessary, drench them while they were in the bathroom and then make them clean up the mess. We knocked on the door and politely invited them to come out. We had their mothers (whom they loved and respected talk to them nicely). Their fathers were a little more forceful as they encouraged them to come out, but still, they refused to come.
It was an old house, so dad went and retrieved an old skeleton key and unlocked the door. To our surprise, no one was in there. The two boys had quietly crawled out the small bathroom window and were long gone. We had a good laugh, but our resolve had not changed that when they came back, we were still going to get them wet.
Our patience was rewarded when eventually they came back. They assumed that we would be all dry and would have forgotten the incident, but they were sadly mistaken. We grabbed them and they pled for mercy, invoking the pain of Paul’s scrape from his earlier crash and another scrape Greg got on his elbow while climbing out the window.
Grandpa stepped up and offered a solution for their pain. He told the boys to follow him. My sisters and I, knowing what was about to happen, went with them to provide assistance, should Grandpa need it.
We gathered around, silently laughing, as Grandpa came out of the bathroom carrying a bottle of Merthiolate. He tenderly applied it to Paul’s scrape, eliciting a loud, painful scream that scared the heebee jeebees out of Greg.
Greg thought quickly and turned to run, but the wise parents, anticipating his movement, stopped him so grandpa could work his magic. Greg yelled as loud or louder than Paul and all the other kids came running to see what was going on. As the laughter and pain settled down, there was just one more thing that needed to be done. Yes, Paul and Greg got drenched by the rest of the family.
Memories of these escapades went down in the family lore and are still told today.
Family stories, fun and serious, help us remember the ties that bind us and give our children a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves. This becomes a source of strength, helping all of us come through the good times and the hard times with greater resiliency.
Happy Failing Forward,
Calvert and Anne
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