"Friends, Family, and Fireworks"
Chris invited everyone to
his birthday on July 4.
TeJay didn't realize this
until he showed up and saw
the mix of people.
He sidled over to Pat and asked,
"Are you sure this is a good idea?"
"Chris likes a lot of folks, and
the Tef's big enough for everyone,"
Pat assured him. "Look around,
see how the party's laid out."
TeJay looked around.
Sure enough, Chris' cousins
Bo and Luke had staked out
the space around the beer keg.
Kay had Lt. Maddox and other Army folks
engrossed in some kind of corntoss game
complicated by lights and bumpers
to account for the evening shadows.
Alex, Ash, and Bailey were assembling
what looked like an enormous wire sculpture
amidst a crowd of fascinated mechanics --
oh, it was a bug zapper, TeJay saw as it turned on.
Folks weren't exactly mixing it up,
but they weren't busting heads either.
TeJay allowed as how that was all right,
but he stuck to the edges of Pat's family
so he wouldn't look like a fly in buttermilk.
TeJay couldn't help watching to see
if Eric would show up, though,
and there he was, drifting around
from one group to another,
never quite settling anywhere.
It looked like Luke was trying
to wave Eric into his group,
but Eric just shook his head.
"You cold?" Pat asked.
"Nah, just ... that guy Luke
gives me the willies," TeJay said.
"He runs the Klan around here.
He's worse than the bullies at school."
"True, but Luke's a bit more ...
complicated than that," Pat said.
TeJay scoffed. "Can't imagine how.
A bigot's a bigot, ain't he?"
"Easy to think that, but Luke has
helped us save the world. Twice,"
Pat explained. "He may be a bigot,
but he got enough sense not to
saw off the branch he's standing on."
"Huh," TeJay said.
He hadn't seen that coming.
Chris ambled by, wearing
his new birthday t-shirt.
"It's a tradition," Chris said
when TeJay asked him about it,
pulling out the fabric to point
at the cartoon molecule on the front.
"See, these are ... wait, I forgot again."
"C is Carbon, H is Hydrogen,
O is Oxygen," Pat said.
"With beers," Chris said
with a jaunty wave of his cup.
TeJay glanced at the keg,
wondering if he could sneak a sip.
"Don't even think it," Chris said.
"You kids got your pick of
sweet tea, pop, or lemonade.
I catch you keggin' and I'll
put you on dishwashin'
instead of partyin' tonight."
Then Chris had to hustle off
because an arm-wrestling match
between his cousin Bo and
a big black soldier was
getting a bit aggravated.
"Chris is a good friend," Pat said.
"Sure he's got some relatives
who can be a pain in the tail,
but who doesn't?"
Eric came by with a plate full of
watermelon. "You guys want some?"
TeJay rolled his eyes.
"Next you gonna offer us
fried chicken?" he asked.
"Naw, I think Chris ate
the last of that," Eric said.
"We're down to pulled pork
and potato salad."
"I'll explain," Pat said,
pulling Eric aside to spell out
why he'd said something tasteless.
TeJay still didn't know what to make of Eric,
who itched at him like a tag in a new shirt.
But a minute later Eric came back
and said, "Sorry about that, TeJay.
Half what my family says is pure bull,
but it's hard for me to tell which half."
"Yeah, I get that," TeJay said.
Then he stole a piece of watermelon
off of Eric's plate, just to mess with him.
Eric stared at him.
"What did you do that for?"
"Never said I didn't like it,"
TeJay replied with a smirk.
"Behave, you two," Pat said.
Then Alex announced the fireworks
and the whole crowd cheered,
then fell quiet in anticipation.
TeJay could just hear Chris saying,
"Remember when we made a mortar
out of an old pipe to fire one-inch shells?"
"And lit your mama's roof on fire
and got our asses whupped," Luke said.
"Good times," Chris said, grinning at him.
"Don't worry, Alex and Bailey
are a lot more safety-conscious,"
Pat said to TeJay.
The fireworks were, in fact,
launched from a raft in a little pond,
everything handled electronically.
TeJay was impressed with the precision
as well as the colorful display of lights.
Chris had apparently chosen the theme
because in addition to the usual starbursts,
there was an American flag, a foaming beer mug,
several bullseyes, and a surprisingly crisp Chevy logo.
After the show concluded, the crowd
was mingling a little bit more.
Kay dropped by to say,
"Why don't you kids come over
and play a round of corntoss?
You and Eric are the same age,
so it'd be a fair match."
"Maybe," TeJay said.
"Hey y'all, watch this!" Bo hollered
from the top of Chris' truck.
Kay shook her head and walked away.
"Where are you going?" Pat asked.
"To get the first aid kit," Kay said.
Nobody was surprised when
Bo's attempted back flip ended
with blood and band-aids.
Eric slunk over to them and said,
"Would somebody play me on corntoss?
If I'm already busy, folks are less likely
to ask me to do something stupid."
TeJay thought about the party
with its hodgepodge of people
and how maybe everything wasn't quite
as cut-and-dried as he used to believe.
He looked at the corntoss boards,
some of them with bumpers,
others with holes of different sizes,
lights blinking an invitation.
"What the heck," TeJay said,
"let's give it a try."
* * *
Watch some firework mishaps (not for the faint of heart) and figure that Chris' family normally gets up to shit like this.
Corntoss is a simple target game. Beanbags may be stuffed with field corn, pebbles, or other material but should have some heft to them. The lighted corntoss board looks similar to this, and here's one with multiple holes.
See the Alcohol Party T-shirt that Chris got for his birthday.
Picnic foods commonly include fried chicken and watermelon, but it's tacky to combine those two if you're serving African-American guests, due to the stereotype. An easy dodge if you love watermelon is to make a melon salad.