While the Fourth of July is a day for all Americans to celebrate the founding of our country it has always held a special significance for me. Every year, rain or shine, my mother, stepfather and I travel to Sherburne to spend some quality time with our extended family at my uncle Steve’s house, a chance to catch up with loved ones we haven’t seen since the previous year, devour some tasty barbecue, maybe play some poker and in general just enjoy the national holiday with our relatives.
The last few years, however, have been even more special, if somewhat surreal to me, as all of us “kids” have now grown up and many of my cousins have started families of their own. I say surreal because it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was one of the youngest of the group being herded down to the Sherburne pool for a refreshing swim in the blessed (yet sometimes brutal) Independence Day heat.
You see, being an only child, my cousins were, to me, kind of like the brothers and sisters I never had growing up. I’ve always reveled in our Fourth of July family gathering for just that reason. Now that I’ve grown older I look back and reflect on all the fun we had, whether swimming, throwing Frisbee or playing ball (more on that later). I guess I’m simply overwhelmed these days by the fact that there are now three generations of the Ashton family present at our yearly gathering, and I’ll admit this makes me feel a bit sentimental.
My mother grew up here in Chenango County with seven brothers and two sisters, Mark (her twin), Penny, Steve, Bruce, Greg, Rick, Brenda, David and Boyd, who combined, produced fifteen children, my cousins Eric, Jessica, Shane, Erin, Colin, Matthew, Amy, Jared, Michael, Megan, Jeff, Melissa, Heather, Shawn and Piper. In my mind, the sixteen of us formed our own peculiar family unit, and I have specific memories which I associate with each and every one of them.
One Fourth of July memory that sticks out in particular would have to be the annual baseball game we used to hold, which pitted the “over-30” members of the family versus the “under-30 crew.” We haven’t held a game in years (I hope this changes as my cousins’ children “come of age”), yet I’ll never forget the enthusiasm with which it was always approached. What can I say, we were, and still are, an extremely competitive bunch (beware if a deck of cards come out for a game of Hearts).
All in all I’d say we’re a classic example of the extended American Family and yet (I’m sure this is the case with all families) we’re unique in both our abilities and our achievements. We are teachers and moms, mechanics, dads, businessmen, brothers and sisters, laborers, future directors, cousins, athletes, aunts and uncles and yes, even newspaper reporters. We are supportive of each other in the tough times, we laugh together, play together and congratulate each other for our successes. I’m not sure that I ever truly appreciated just how important we are to each other.
We are family, and that’s something worth celebrating.