It was so beautiful and peaceful here at Heaven’s Valley and every evening we parked ourselves either on mama’s porch or mine to enjoy the setting sun and the sounds of wild life. The evergreens seemed to come in every color of green you could imagine. Occasionally you’d see a pop of color when a Texas Red Oak or the purple leaves of a Jacaranda shouted for attention. The air was so clean and pure and on the nights when sleep just wouldn't come I’d discovered that opening my windows so I could smell the trees and feel the breeze on my face would finally lull me to sleep.
Great-grandpa Antonio had bought 200 plus acres over a hundred years ago and had built his Simone a huge one-room shack right in the middle of it all. Over the year’s grandpa, mama and later papa had added rooms to it to accommodate our growing family and the original room had become the kitchen.
Grandpa always told the story of how mama, before marrying, had added room after room to make things easier for the family. She’d added a huge living room and a bathroom massive enough to fit the entire family. Four bedrooms and a laundry room later, she’d decided a basement was needed and with the help of her best friend Russ they’d started from the outside and dug down into the ground and under the house. It had taken them three months, but they’d done it. Touching the stonewalls and hand-hewn wood beams still brought tears to Grandpa's eyes at the thought of all the hard work and love they’d put into it. On occasion he’d start laughing until he cried when he remembered the loads of rock and dirt they’d brought out by the barrel load. He swore it took them another three months before you could see their skin through the caked on dirt.
All in all, two hundred and one, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren had been born to my great-grandpa and great-grandma on this land and I swear we added more little ones every year. I’d tease Mama and say, “When God said be fruitful and multiply I really don’t think He meant just our family Mama!” Her response was always the same, “Baby, there is so much love here, that we can’t help but share our love with others and so we grow.”
Of the eight children born to my parents I was the only one still left at home. My brothers and sisters were either married or in college, but we always got together for holidays or weddings. The valley was a perfect spot for weddings, since we had our own little chapel on the lake.
Mama’s hard work on the house had given grandpa the idea for sharing his love of our valley with others and so Heaven’s Valley had been born. Two years ago, Grandpa had retired and the land and family business had been turned over lock, stock and barrel to my parents. Loving the valley as I did, I’d decided to help my parents with the business.
There were four man-made ponds on our property with six cabins around each and a nice big area for a bonfire. Papa had added other conveniences to each site to make it easier for families to attend to their needs. It did my heart good to hear the laughter and see the joy in those faces as I did my rounds every morning.
Tonight you could hear and feel the excitement across the valley. It was July 4th and as usual papa was doing his best to outdo himself from the previous year. He wanted the guests to have something wonderful to remember until their next visit. We’d set up a bonfire and the biggest barbecue he could think of with a surprise fireworks display at the end.
The Fourth of July wasn't just important because it celebrated our Independence, but it also gave us a chance to celebrate family. Not only did Heaven’s Valley overflow with guests, but also every aunt, uncle, cousin and sibling showed up along with boyfriends, and girlfriends. Mama was always prepared and would split up the masses so that they either stayed at the main house or with Uncle Russ and Aunt Kat or with me in my house by the lake.
Pleasantly tired from all the day’s work I relaxed on mama’s back porch with Aunt Kat. The stars were so bright that you could actually see the clouds in the sky. I turned to her and exclaimed excitedly, “Look Kitty Kat!! That cloud there looks like Jesus is peeking out from behind a big puffy cloud to check on us!”
Chuckling she bent over the railing, but the cast on her right leg wouldn't let her bend over too far. “Darn it!! This dadgummed leg of mine won’t let me move comfortably girl. Ya got your picture taking thingy with ya? Snap a picture for me please, so I can show your Uncle Russ later.”
I’d never seen the sky so lit up and I felt like God was giving us a personal light show. The stars twinkled brightly and after taking the picture I closed my eyes and I swear I could hear the stars singing me a lullaby.
The main house sat up on a hill and we could see all the lit up cabins as our guests either drove or walked the paths leading down to Lake Whereyouat (don’t ask me where the name came from, I have no idea).
Mrs. Freeman, who worked one of the campsites, drove up into the driveway honking like a crazy person. Saray, my oldest sister and her three youngest daughters rushed out of the house chattering with excitement. They wanted to get there early to find a good spot. I guess they’d forgotten my house was right on the lake.
Janna, Saray's eldest, stuck her head out the door, “I’m not going anywhere Aunt Izzy. My feet are swollen and this baby is kicking the heck out of my insides. Judd and I are just gonna relax in front of the TV and watch the new Dallas reruns.” I grinned at her amazed that they’d had the nerve to bring another lord of destruction into the world.
“Oh darn it, I can’t read this print,” Kat growled. “Hey can I borrow your glasses a second, pleeease! I just wanna see how this book ends.”
“Ooh, don’t tell me about it Aunt Kit Kat!! I want to read the ending for myself,” I shrieked.
Yes, it’s true! To my shame I must admit to always reading the end of a book first. I’d been waiting to read Nora Roberts’ Witness for a while, but had made the mistake of lending it to Aunt Kat two months ago and she’d only started reading it tonight. Never again!!
The buzzing in my pants pocket startled me and reminded me it was time to make my way down to the lake. My bladder began complaining ferociously and I realized that I hadn't taken a potty break since lunchtime and took off at a fast run.
There were four bathrooms in the house and the first three were in use. I prayed Psalm 23 and ran as fast as my tired legs would let me (okay, my circumstances weren't actually that dire, but it sure felt like it at the time). The open door to the fourth bathroom beckoned me and with a deep sigh of relief I shut the door, pulled up the toilet seat and gasped; the toilet was full and no matter how hard I tried it wouldn't flush. Looking around frantically I located the plunger and started working it against that mess, but it wouldn't go down. I was so frustrated and everything looked kind of funny. Rubbing my eyes to clear them I realized I didn't have my glasses on and before I had the chance to open my mouth to shout Aunt Kat’s arm reached in and handed me my glasses.
Looking down at the toilet I realized why it wouldn't flush. Someone was gonna be in a heap of trouble. I pulled out the RCA remote control to the brand new television, the mini shiny ice bucket I’d bought mama four weeks ago, two butter knives, a plastic sausage and oh no…mama’s dentures.
All of a sudden I heard a shriek...and a giggle. The shriek was my mama. She’d realized that her dentures were missing and in their place was half of a chewed up apple. The giggle was my great-nephew Eli, Janna’s oldest, who at four years of age was an accident waiting to happen and if I missed my guess this year he wouldn't be making his fifth birthday.
I figured I could wait until I got home, but I was now on a mission to save a life. I scooped Eli up in my arms, shouted to Janna that I was borrowing him and took off.
Yep, Fourth of July was always a lot of fun here at Heaven’s Valley, but apparently the fireworks had started early this year. Flinging the lord of destruction over my shoulder I laughed as I heard mama roaring Eli’s name and ran for the safety of the lake.