As you know, MusicMan and I celebrated our anniversary last week. We had originally planned to celebrate the weekend before our Monday anniversary date, but ended up spending time with family instead. Every year we go back to my hometown, where my mom and stepdad still live (but not together; they divorced years ago), to enjoy the town’s Heritage Days festivities with the rest of my family. I should clarify that when I say I’m going back to my hometown, I don’t mean that we’re travelling extensively in any way; it’s about a twenty minute drive from our house to my mom’s place.
It’s become a tradition for our family to gather together to enjoy the town’s annual celebration, which usually falls the week before our anniversary but was pushed up a week this year for some reason. I used to march in the parade each year as part of the high school marching band. Even today, hearing and seeing the marching band in the parade envelops me in a nostalgia that gives me goose bumps and stirs my emotions. It’s overwhelming to think of how far we’ve come, were we’ve been, and what’s happened along the way, isn't it?
My youngest sister used to looooooove Heritage Days. I’ll never forget the phone call I received a couple of months before she died:
Her: Sheeellll? (She was the only one, besides nephews and niece, who could get away with calling me "Shell" or "Shelly.") *said in her mischievous “I’ve got something up my sleeve.” tone of voice*
Me: Hey, kiddo! What’s up?
Her: You know what you need to do this summer?
Me: Ummmm...tons of things?! We are planning a wedding after all! *laughing*
Her: *laughing* Well, yeah, but… You need to play mud volleyball on my team this year.
Me: *Thinking my sister must not know me at all, or at the very least, has temporarily forgotten that I do not play anywhere in, near, or around mud. I’m the one who hates getting dirty; the one who wouldn’t even play in the sandbox as a kid, because the sand was dirty and made my skin crawl.* Are you INSANE?! Not only do I have absolutely NO interest in playing mud volleyball, but that’s a week before the wedding!!
Her: Oh come on! I need people to play on my team!
Me: No way! I don’t need to end up hobbling down the aisle on a twisted or broken ankle and/or having photos taken with a huge black eye on my wedding day! And, if you hurt yourself playing, you just remember that I will force you to crawl down the aisle if you have to, and you will be in pictures regardless of whether or not you have a black eye! *said in a totally playful way...I was absolutely not a bridezilla--people will vouch for that!* MusicMan and I will come and watch from the sidelines if we have time that weekend. If you can’t get enough people to form a team, join Cheryl’s (sister’s dad/my stepdad’s girlfriend) team!
Her: Oooookaaayyyyyy. *using her saddest, most depressed “you’ve ruined my life” voice in one last attempt to get me to acquiesce.*
A couple months later, she was gone forever, and I found myself willing to do anything in the world—even play mud volleyball every single day for the rest of eternity—to get her back. Unfortunately, as we all know, that’s not the way things work. We cannot bargain for the dead; there is no way to extend their time here on this Earth. Not even for a day. Not even for an hour, just to have a few moments to tell them all the things we need them to know about how much we loved them, how much we’ll miss them, or how much we wish they weren’t leaving us. As it stands, I hope that someday I can muster up the courage to join Cheryl’s team to play in honor of my youngest sister.
Mud volleyball is one of the highlights of the Heritage Days festivities. You might be wondering what mud volleyball is. Well, lovely reader, it’s exactly what it sounds like: playing volleyball in pits of mud. There are train tracks that run through the town, and along those tracks are three pits, about a foot and a half to two feet deep, that get filled with water to make the mud pits.
Citizens of the town form teams of however many players it takes to play volleyball (you can see how much I know about the sport) and signup to play for the fun of it. There might be prizes too, but I'm not really sure; clearly I have never played. Some teams are quite competitive, returning every year in attempts to either hold on to, or win, the coveted title of mud volleyball champions. You can tell who the “pros” are, because they’ve learned things from their years of playing. Things that new teams haven’t quite seemed to pick up on, like: one must duct tape his shoes and socks to his legs in order to not lose them to the mud pits, and falling in the mud or getting one’s hands muddy can make the game much harder to play, because hitting a ball with very slippery arms and hands doesn’t send the ball in the direction you hope it will.
After enjoying the parade, my mom, Li’l D, MusicMan, me, my middle sister, her kids’ dad (and whatever the hell else he is to her), and her kids, Princess and Soccer Boy, headed over to the carnival. The kids enjoyed riding the rides and playing carnival games, and then we all enjoyed carnival food such as hot dogs, deep fried cheese curds, mini donuts, caramel apples, roasted corn on the cob, and beef brisket sandwiches. After that, we headed over to the mud volleyball pits to watch Cheryl’s team play.
This year, MusicMan brought his camera along to capture the festivities, and I’m sharing some of my favorite photos with you, lovely reader.
This is one of my favorites of Li'l D riding the swing ride.
Princess on the Merry-Go-Round.
Li'l D wearing a frisbee he'd gotten at the parade. (My mom insists that, despite the impression given, that is not in fact a halo, because Li'l D is most definitely not a little angel. What four-year-old boy really is?)
Soccer Boy at the parade.
Princess on the swing ride.
Soccer Boy walking in one of the mud pits between games.
Cheryl waiting for the game to start; she was surprisingly clean after having plaid a few games already that day.
My stepdad's girlfriend, Cheryl, serving the ball.
This guy, from the opposing team, really got into it...rolling in the mud right away to get it over with. Some teams celebrate victories by diving into the mud and rolling around in it too. Good thing there are fire hose "showers" rigged up for players to rinse off.
This guy fell going for a ball.
I was shocked that my sister actually let Soccer Boy play the roll of "ball boy," which is the very important job of keeping the volleyball clean if only so that it can be seen by the players.
What do you think, lovely reader? Have you ever heard of mud volleyball? Would you play?