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Jane Ahlin, Published July 13 2013

Ahlin: The Fourth at the lake: as ‘purrfect’ as it can get

Before our older daughter and her husband were married, he and a friend stayed with my parents while they played a golf tournament in a town near where my folks lived. My parents got a big kick out of their future grandson-in-law. Not only did he and his friend iron their golf shirts before they headed out each morning (my mother loved that), but his reply to their questions, such as how he slept or if breakfast was sufficient, was consistent: “Perfect” was his reply. “Perfect.”

What made my folks smile was the way the word came out when he said it: not perfect but purrfect.

Granted, back then he wasn’t alone in using “purrfect,” which had its own moment in American vernacular. Nevertheless, it’s the word that comes to mind – pronunciation and all – after this year’s Fourth of July holiday. Our three children with their spouses/significant other and our three grandchildren with us at the lake: good weather, good food, great fun.

As purrfect as life gets.

Well, skipping hordes of mosquitoes, swimmers’ itch, tent caterpillars and sunburn, of course. What began on the weekend before the Fourth when our grandchildren, ages 9, 6, and 3, joined us for quality time – call it grandpa-grandma camp – turned into a full-blown celebration by the Fourth of July.

No question, the grandkids were primed for the holiday. Between stints of swimming, we worked on the lyrics to “You’re A Grand Old Flag” (down cold) and “God Bless America” (revisit next year). Aided by the gift of a blank newsprint roll, the 9-year-old made enormous banners while her brothers marched around the cabin waving flags to the strains of John Phillips Sousa. It didn’t seem to matter that one of the four flags they carried was Norwegian. (Uffda?)

Everything corny was new again: bean-bag-toss-tournament, ditto for bocce ball and Kubb, (actually that was a new game), sparklers and snakes, Uncle Sam hats – a particular hit because the grandchildren have an uncle whose name really is Sam – and a red, white and blue trifle for dessert.

Fireworks were complemented by a big bonfire and s’mores, which, in case you’re interested, have been around since the Girl Scouts and their campfires in the 1920s. Marshmallows, one of the key ingredients, date back to ancient Egypt, albeit in a different form, but graham crackers didn’t make an appearance until 1829 when a Presbyterian minister named Sylvester Graham came up with the cracker as a health food intended to suppress “carnal urges.” It took Milton Hershey and his wonderful milk chocolate bar, first made in 1900, to give the Girl Scouts the final ingredient for the invention of that decadent outdoor treat still popular today. (Talk about satisfying carnal urges.)

On the subject of campfires and camping, it could be that this holiday will go down in family lore as our Fourth of July camping-sham. We set up a large tent that no one slept in and fried walleye on a campfire that was complemented with tartar sauce and lemons from our cabin refrigerator, not to mention the dirty dishes went into the dishwasher. My father would have called it heresy; however, separated from the great outdoors by lovely window screens and snuggled into a bed with smooth sheets after a midnight swim was close enough to nature for me. Besides, the call of the loons deep into the night was every bit as shrill and haunting as it is on any wilderness lake: Minnesota’s lullaby.

Perfect is one of those words, such as unique or round, that embodies an absolute concept. There are no degrees of being perfect or unique or round; the words can’t be qualified. It’s an English language no-no to say something is very round or more unique, and certainly I’d never say this year’s July Fourth celebration was greatly perfect.

Heavens, no. It was purrfect.


Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.