Family outing

Crisp fall weather is here, and Birmingham has a beautiful new park, and my sister’s birthday was Friday. So I accepted an invitation to meet the extended family at Railroad Park on Saturday to celebrate all of the above.

I charged my camera battery in anticipation and headed for the park at the appointed time.*

As I walked up the steps into the park near the new permanent sign, which proclaims Railroad Park on one side and has a pictorial timeline of the city’s history as a rail-crossed mining town on the other, I realized I’d left my phone in the car. The park offers sweeping vistas from several overlook areas, but at 13 acres, it’s big enough to lose a family in, so I figured I’d exit at the main plaza, go back to the car, and retrieve it.

Before I reached the next park exit, I spotted my sister and her friend on a park bench. Actually, I spotted her papillon, who is more distinctive at a distance than most folks in hats and sunglasses.

They had already discovered that Railroad Park has a wine and beer concession.

They had no idea where the rest of the party might be.

My sister’s friend offered his phone, but my nephew’s numbers are stored in my phone’s memory, not my head. We chatted for a moment, and just as I was about to head out to get my phone, I saw the younger of my two nephews approaching.

The word? The two younger children had fallen into the stream and were soaking wet. The two dads had loaded all three–3, 5, and 7–into the car and were headed home to watch football.

Streetside, at the window of the SUV, we lamented our communication snafus. My sister didn’t have her phone. I left my phone in my car. My older nephew sent me a text I didn’t get. My younger nephew’s phone was–didn’t catch that one.

A hundred years ago, with a single hard-wired phone in the house, we might have gathered on the patriarch’s front porch after church every Sunday by custom.

Thirty years ago, after families spread out, but still kept in touch with phone calls and letters, we would have piled the whole family into one car and joined the extended family at the old homestead for a long-anticipated annual reunion.

In modern times, we rely on the instant communication of cell phones. And sometimes our lack of advance planning and firm commitment causes us to miss out.

For once, I had my camera. As usual, the young cousins had fun. And maybe next time, I’ll capture digital proof.

* Not ten minutes before their estimated arrival time, but at exactly time, as a pizza parlor lunch preceded the park outing. I expected the entire group to be late.

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