After stealing a vacation, COVID-19 better not destroy my 4th of July


The coronavirus stole my Thanksgiving. When my son tested positive, my extended family members canceled their trips. He stole my Christmas. My husband’s parents did not plan to set foot on an airplane.

Even Easter, which held so much hope with increased vaccinations, ended in failure, with my nephew stranded overseas in mandatory quarantine and me stuck with an overflowing basket of chocolate eggs from See, not hidden.

Let me just say this soul crushing pandemic better not destroy my 4th of July.

I know I’m tempting fate here. But is it too much to ask, after so much collective loss, so much sacrifice, so much isolation, that we can finally celebrate a party together?

I pin all my desires, my pleas, my suppressed hopes on it.

I planned everything.

My brother, Geordie, and his family are coming from Colorado. My sister Suzanne and hers are coming from Southern California. My brother Peter and his family live nearby. We’ll load up the station wagon and, with my 90-year-old mother in the back seat, we’ll head into Monterey County, on a winding road in the Santa Lucia Mountains, through the light and shadows of a strewn canyon. of redwoods and, with provisions for a week, navigate a rickety walkway to the family cabin.

The family pet, Buddy, crosses the walkway to the cabin in the Santa Lucia Mountains. (Courtesy of the Sulek family)

It’s barely 650 square feet, perched on the edge of a stream that flows into a small lake full of fish, canoes and a swimming platform. My parents bought this place 20 years ago when my two brothers and my sister and I were just starting our families. It’s part of a 100-cabin community called San Clemente Rancho owned by the Dormody family, which clears roads, maintains hiking trails, and keeps a lakeside supply of life jackets.

My mom likes to describe it here as “a step above camping”. My father wanted this to be our place together.

Julia Sulek’s two children, Daniel on the left and Claire on the right, jump into Trout Lake with friends circa 2006. (Courtesy of the Sulek family)

He and my older brother, Peter, rebuilt and shingled the 1960s cabin, expanding the attic to accommodate an extra bed and pushing back a wall to make more room for the dining table. There is still only one bedroom and a bathroom with an old sheet metal shower. When the eight cousins ​​were small, we managed to sleep all 18 here, wall to wall. Sleeping bags rolled out on the living room floor. Two of the cousins ​​slept end to end on the window seat; another claimed the place under the dining room table; at least a pair of adults hunkered down in the screened-in gazebo, where the sounds of wildlife slithering, crawling, and digging kept you awake at night.

My dad was always the first up, making coffee and his special creamy scrambled eggs. Standing in the kitchen, spatula in hand, he waited for everyone to get up.

Three of the cousins, including Daniel Sulek in the foreground, sleep on the living room floor of the family cabin circa 2016. (Courtesy of the Sulek family)

How we managed to get everyone in became a point of pride, a rite of bragging, and in many ways a testament to our closeness.

All of this is impossible six feet away.

With Memorial Day upon us and the lifting of pandemic restrictions, many are eager to return to their summer traditions. Family gatherings on the beach. Garden barbecues. Neighborhood parties. Maybe even a parade.

The Tavrow family at a 2014 bocce ball competition in Pacific Grove, Calif., for a family reunion. “We’re big bocce players and at night it’s bridge or some other card game,” Joyce Tavrow said of the 15 family members who get together every year. “These are simple things that we all appreciate.” (Courtesy of the Tavrow family)

In Palo Alto, Joyce and Hillard Tavrow, both in their early 90s and living in a retirement community, haven’t seen some of their children and grandchildren since the pandemic began “except on Zoom,” said said Joyce.

They had to cancel last year’s family reunion – which would have been their 25th – and reschedule it until this July.

“We’re big bocce players and at night it’s bridge or some other card game,” she said of the 15 family members who get together every year. “These are simple things that we all appreciate. None of the grandchildren said they didn’t want to go.

Sunnyvale’s Cheryllyn Romero missed the birth of her first two grandchildren due to the pandemic, but ‘escaped from California’ last summer to travel to Oregon a few months later to see her granddaughter in young age. Waiting that long “almost killed me,” she said. “COVID makes you lonely in ways you don’t really know.”

The Romeros plan to return for July 4 and again in November, when their third grandchild is due.

“We’re all going to be together,” she said, “no matter what.”

The large Reyes family gathered for a day of prayer in memory of Rod Reyes’ mother. (Courtesy of the Reyes family)

Rod Reyes is looking forward to his extended family meeting his new girlfriend this summer – a delay that worries him, especially as his grandmother is in her late 90s.

“At every celebration, whether it’s a graduation, a job promotion or a vacation, we usually have barbecues and big family gatherings that involve food,” said Reyes, 37. , chef and owner of Barya Kitchen in San Jose, which is often on the tap to come up with Filipino staples like adobo or lumpia that feed 50 or more people. “We didn’t have that. I want her to meet everyone.

Not everyone is eager to get back to their pre-pandemic parties.

Miguel Enriquez and his wife, Anita Enriquez Rexinger, have pledged to downsize. They’ve been known for years for their huge themed parties that attract up to 60 people each: the ‘turkey and scotch’ party at Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day in March, and a Labor Day party where Miguel releases its 20 – gallon sous vide water cooker for tri tip and brisket. In the future, they plan to invite no more than six or eight people.

After the death of a close friend last year, Miguel said: “I had to assess what is important and who is important and who I want to spend more time with.

“We are looking for deeper connections.”

It’s a feeling that can get lost in the pell-mell rush waiting to come together.

High expectations can also be dangerous. Maybe this year of isolation has warped our memories, built up our fantasies about how things used to be, helped us forget about those steamy “family dynamics” that can knock you out of a room or burst into tears. . Perhaps this is the kind of desire that is destined for disappointment.

I’m moving forward anyway.

Like most families, mine has had to adapt to heartbreaking changes. Our extended family of 18 who somehow fit into the cabin fell to 17 when my dad died of cancer early on Memorial Day weekend three years ago . His footprint is everywhere – every shingle he hung, every martini glass he swirled. Her list of closing instructions is still taped inside the wardrobe door (“Leave her better than you found her!”), and her voice still echoes on the answering machine.

A sense of melancholy and loss still reigns here, but memories of the eight cousins ​​- now all in their early twenties – embarking on river walks and waterfall hikes, star gazing and crafting S’Mores keeps me going. It also brings them all back for the 4th of July.

“I’m in!” my nephew, Anthony responded to a text confirming the plans.

Six of the eight cousins ​​participated in the dinner table at the family cabin circa 2019. (Courtesy of the Sulek family)

A year after my dad died, Anthony stood at the head of the cabin dining table and gave my mom a gift, a folk art poster of a large family gathered for a picnic. fuck in a forest. It reminded him, he says, of the “blissful nostalgia” of our family summers here. We hung it right there.

If all goes according to plan on July 4, the cabin families will gather at the top of the road like every year and decorate the bikes, wagons and pets in red, white and blue. Next, Bruce Dormody — who, along with his brothers Hank and Erik, dug firelines around the rancho during the 2016 wildfires and saved the cabins and summertime friendships that come with them — will ignite one of the bulldozers. Her 87-year-old mother, Donna, will ride in the front bucket and lead the homemade parade.

We’ll wave American flags and sing “Three Cheers for Red, White, and Blue” as we go. Then we will gather here in this forest – all 17 of us – for a picnic.

After everything we’ve been through, that shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Max Prodis and Daniel Sulek catch bullfrogs at Trout Lake near the family cabin circa 2004. (Courtesy of the Sulek family)

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