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Julia Peck
Vintage cars during the Independence Day parade in Lewiston, Cache County. Twila Van Leer says they were the only thing in the parade older than she is.

You haven't really lived until you've gone to the Fourth of July celebration in Lewiston (or insert the name of any small town you choose. I've found that's where big city glitz is passed up for real heart-felt gratitude for being an American).

But for members of the Peck clan, it's Lewiston, Cache County. Members of the family have been gathering in this little northern Utah community for years to get our annual July Fourth fix because we know they know how to do it up right. And because my nephew Jeff Chesley has a backyard big enough for all of us.

We can't rightfully label it a reunion because it isn't that well-organized and we don't do anything constructive except sit around under Jeff's apple trees and fill in the gaps for the 364 days between July Fourths. Oh, but I love it.

The most warmly received bit of information gleaned this year concerned my nephew-by-marriage Jack Mason, who is married to my niece Shamayne Peck. For more than a year, we have followed Jack's frightful odyssey with cancer. To learn that a life-threatening tumor has shrunk by about a third through chemotherapy and radiation therapy brought tears to my eyes. Jack and Shamayne are the parents of nine children, two of whom just returned from missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with another in the field. To see Jack participate in the Lewiston 5K run and later entertain us with his guitar was sheer joy.

Bushels of Pecks watch the July Fourth parade in Lewiston, Cache County. From left, Julia Peck, David Peck, Calene Peck and Twila Van Leer. | Jack Mason

The celebration gets going early in Lewiston. While the intrepid 5K-ers are trotting away, the locals start gathering along the "downtown" streets to claim prime seating for the parade. None of this five-layers deep stuff that happens in the city that keeps you wondering what the parade is about. Here, folding chairs blossom like petunias along the route and, if you're lucky, you get a spot where the trees will still be spreading their shade when the morning heats up. We did.

The enthusiastic clapping began as the local highway patrol and law enforcement motorcycles rounded the corner. The crowd left their folding chairs and stood, hands on hearts, as the national anthem played to note the passing of the flag.

I have to confess to a weakness where patriotic music is concerned. Let me find myself within earshot of a marching band or even a recording of some sort and a spot somewhere in the back of my nose swells up to dam the tears that want to flow. And can I help it if one or two escapes? Been that way as long as I can remember.

Every Cache County community (and a fair number from Franklin County, Idaho, to the north) had a float featuring its queen and her court, each lovely young lady carefully versed in the art of the royal wave and each queen convinced she was the real thing and all the others mere pretenders to the throne. If some of the waves went a bit limp and a curl or two unwound at the end of the line, remember that these same floats would show up at one or more additional parades that day as Cache County celebrated.

My heroes: The eager-beaver crew of Cub Scouts wielding shovels who followed after the horse contingents and did their civic duty while their well-padded leader directed operations from the back of a truck.

This is farm country and the vintage farm equipment, some items more than a century old, came in for their share of the non-stop clapping that echoed down the parade line right to the end. These people know how to express appreciation for an old manure spreader.

The tail end of the parade was just disappearing down the final stretch when the Pecks began to gather in Jeff's backyard, jockeying for the best spots under the apple trees. Catching up on the activities of sundry nieces and nephews and a generation above and a generation beyond is serious business.

I purposely picked a spot next to David Chesley, one of these great great-nephews, who always brings his guitar and sings the above-mentioned patriotic songs. I sang along when I knew the words and whistled when I didn't. And I duly congratulated him on upcoming nuptials (September, he said) and admired the photo of his fiancée, who couldn't be at the gathering because she was working. How does it happen that these little greats who were running around just a few years ago are now getting married and adding to the clan numbers? (For instance, Shilo's year-old blonde cutie asleep in a car seat under the tree?)

And of course, the resurrection of "I remembers" that such a meeting always spawns. My favorite "I remember" this year was someone's recollection of a family gathering years ago in Lewiston when my father was still living. We gathered in a local theater for a family meeting. My dad was a stickler for honesty and he waxed eloquent on the need to be perfectly honest. Don't even pick up a pin that doesn't belong to you, he admonished. That evening a half dozen or more of his progeny, a couple of them my own boys, stole a stop sign from one of the downtown corners of Lewiston.

I think it was my nephew Sheldon Peck who brought to my attention something that I hadn't thought of: As the oldest female member of the group, I am now the matriarch of this great family! (My older brother, Don, of course, is the patriarch. But he didn't happen to be there.) Wow! I should have made a speech, but fortunately for those present, I didn't. We were all too busy stuffing our faces with hamburgers, watermelon, etc., etc., etc. It's all those et ceteras that put on the pounds.

Had I done so, what would I have told all these wonderful people who are tied together by chance genetics and carefully nurtured love? I'd have said, "Keep loving one another. Don't demand that we all think alike. That would be unnatural. Be honest. Leave the stop signs alone. And value each other as individual sons and daughters of deity."

It's a heavy responsibility I bear. Sheldon should have kept it to himself.