My parents built my childhood home, the house my father still lives in today, in the early 1970's, for just over $30,000. My grandfather convinced my parents that a fourth bedroom wasn't worth the extra money, a decision that turned out to be ill-informed when I made my surprise appearance a few years after my two sisters. He redeemed himself when I was a toddler, by paying for the addition of an in-ground pool in the backyard. That pool came to define our summers. Days, weeks, and months were spent playing sharks and minnows and agonizing over the 15 minute wait to get back in the pool after each meal, swim lessons were held there for all the neighborhood kids, and countless bbqs were thrown together on a whim, with my mom firmly at the helm. For a city girl, she thrived in her yard and by the pool---both of which required a staggering amount of work, as my sisters and I are finding out years later. She weeded and edged, power-washed, and for her pièce de résistance, she mowed the lawn in her bathing suit and bare feet, as evidenced by the color of her feet all season long. She never had a good explanation for her mowing uniform, beyond It's hot out! What do you want from me?, but told us years later that it was the only time she had to herself when we were little. It wasn't all work and no play, though. As we swam away our days, my mom entertained neighbors and friends with gin wedges and an endless supply of potato salad, melon, and veggie platters, making it seem as though they just appeared out of the ether. Her open door policy was known throughout the neighborhood and beyond---what would start as a small gathering inevitably became, in her words, a cast of thousands.
My mom was famous for her bright red geraniums, transplanted from large hanging plants and placed in pots around the pool. The years she tried something different---begonias, dahlias, petunias even --- were busts, and she always went back to her beloved geraniums. She surveyed those flowers daily, methodically---and, if you knew my mom, without remorse---getting rid of dead blooms with a flick of her wrist. There is an area of the yard, behind one corner of the fence surrounding the pool, that courtesy of my cousin became known as the "Geranium Graveyard," where the dead blooms went to spend their final days. It is only fitting that we plan to place some of my mom's ashes there, forever memorializing the spot. In the first few days following my mom's death, those geraniums came up in conversation several times. Family and friends wanted to make sure that my sisters and I would still plant them; no one could imagine the backyard without those pops of red.
We all chipped in to open the pool this year---my sisters and I, along with our significant others and my dad, with the help of neighbors who have themselves swam in the pool since childhood. My sisters took charge of the geraniums, and the good news is that all but two of the plants are surviving their first summer without my mom's care. The unfortunate ones are victims of my dad's valiant effort to water them using chlorinated pool water.
There have been barbeques and gatherings already this summer, and the youngest generation now whiles away their endless summer days in the pool, just as we did a lifetime ago. To celebrate the 4th, we invited friends and family over for what felt like just another Brady barbeque, but with me in charge instead of my mom. I grocery shopped, I straightened the house, and I made burgers, salads and snacks, all the while cursing my father and husband, who were relaxing and playing golf, respectively. How did my mom do it all those years?---this was the question I asked repeatedly throughout the day. But deep down, I already knew the answer. She did it because it was more important to bring family and friends together than to lounge by the pool; she did it because it was always a few good laughs; she did it because she didn't know how not to do it. It's a burden and a blessing, this legacy of ours, but I don't have time to worry about that. I'm busy planning our next party.