Since joining the military, I’ve spent 4th of July’s in the U.S. and overseas, in austere conditions and in places of abundance, but one common thread has run through them all; I have spent them with people who were serving in the military, are veterans, or have a loved one in one if those categories. I’m happy to report that this trend has continued into 2022!
I served with Mike and worked on a huge project with him several years ago at Fort Bragg. Later, he retired from the position and the military, and I moved on to another unit on post. I knew he had taken a civilian job in the area after retirement, so not long after I hung up my own uniform for the last time, I contacted him to see if he wanted to meet up for coffee. Too late, he and his family had moved to Illinois! He said I should come out to visit some time though. So I contacted him a couple weeks ago from the road and asked him if we might be able to meet for that coffee now since I’m coming through Illinois. He did one better and invited me to stay with him and his family over the 4th of July weekend!
The place Mike and his wife Deana now call home, Albion, is a small farming town where her family is from. My GPS took me on a scenic tour of half paved-half gravel roads through corn fields to get to their house – that’s what I get for opting out of highways in route options A rough ride, but so much beautiful, open farmland! Once I got my rig safely stashed at their house and got settled into the guest room, I piled into the van with the whole family and we took a field trip to Chilly Willy’s Ice Creams and Grill in Olney, IL. I got the s’mores williwaw (frozen custard, mini marshmallows and cream, hot fudge, and graham cracker crunch blended together). Delicious! I have an app on my phone called Atlas Obscura that finds “curious and wondrous travel destinations.” Interestingly, Chilly Willy’s williwaws didn’t show up for this area, but Olney’s mysterious white squirrels did! And no, I didn’t see any of the ivory rodents, but I was assured that they are actually still around 🙂
The next day, I enjoyed getting to know the family better as we did last minute party preparations before the guests arrived. It got a little warm as the day unfolded, but nothing that lawn chairs under the shade of trees couldn’t handle! Clear skies against a calm lake made the perfect backdrop for fireworks that evening.
Although it was hard to not be back in NC hosting my annual 4th of July shindig, I felt right at home with Mike and Deana’s family and friends and was grateful to get to spend the holiday with them. Their celebration was much like my family’s: way too much great food and drinks, kids playing outside, water activities for everyone, lots of sitting around and visiting, and of course, fireworks to top off the evening.
Military friends always know how to make you feel right at home, even when you’re far away from home 🙂