Yankee Doodle NanaWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
This summer marks the 70th birthday of my mother-in-law Kay, our family’s Nana. Her only request was that we gather as much of the family together as we could for a July 4 celebration. That entailed planning for nearly 40 people, ranging in age from a few months to 72 years.
My wife and I volunteered to set up a special day, which was to include a family photo and activities leading up to fireworks. I take pride in showing off Northwest Ohio, so I set out to assemble a busy and fun day.
Most of the family lives three hours north in Michigan, and few of them have ever spent time in Toledo, so I was hoping to arrange a day to showcase our region.
Three-dozen Scotts, Millers, Hanigans, Spiteris, Pfannes, Miners, Heasleys, Morses and several boyfriends and girlfriends met at 1 p.m. July 4 at Side Cut Metropark in Maumee for the largest group photo since the Buckongahelas’ family reunion in 1995.
We gathered on the Riverview side, which I knew offered, you know, a river view, plus a meadow and majestic trees. As we set everyone in place for the photo, Side Cut offered its most idyllic tableaux. Deer jumped in the meadow, swans drifted down the river and geese deposited enough droppings to evoke the floor of Willy Wonka’s pudding factory. What do geese eat that gives them such prodigious amounts of poop? How do they know how to scheme to deposit it across such a wide area where people are walking? It was impossible to tiptoe through the field of goose poop. The whole family was weaving and dodging around the waves of waste, goose-stepping all over the park.
There’s probably a better way to phrase that.
The 7,540 combinations of families were photographed in slightly less time than it took for Mad Anthony Wayne to defeat Lincoln’s Union forces in the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
After the photo, the family threw its collective goose poop-encrusted shoes into the river and headed for lunch. Some of the family went to nearby P.F. Chang’s, but wanting to confirm the rest of the afternoon’s festivities, several of us drove Downtown to check in to our rooms at the Park Inn on North Summit Street. For the past few years, a small group of us has booked a room near the top of the hotel, facing the river, to watch the city’s fireworks. With our young children, it is easier to watch the displays from nearly eye level and then tuck them in, thus avoiding crowds, heat, bugs and the other joys of standing shoulder to shoulder with 10,000 people.
We checked in to our rooms, greeted by a hotel full of Jehovah’s Witnesses conventioneers. The Witnesses were very friendly in the elevators and corridors and not a single one was pushy or working to convert anyone, but I still noticed that other hotel guests tended to step around them and avoid them, with the same deliberate choreography we employed to step around goose poop at Side Cut Metropark.
After settling in, nearly a dozen of us walked the few blocks to The Blarney Irish Pub for lunch. My Hanigan in-laws are hardcore Irish, so it was the perfect choice for them to tip back a Guinness. The Blarney was not serving drisheen, barmbrack or crubeens, but its salads, sandwiches and fish and chips were stellar.
The centerpiece of the afternoon was a visit to Fifth Third Field to watch the Mud Hens battle the Columbus Clippers. We bought 30 seats, two rows of 15, right along the first base line, for the more than reasonable price of $9 per ticket. None of our guests had been to Fifth Third Field, and I took pride in their impressed reactions to the fine ballpark. The kids got to share cotton candy, many adult beverages were consumed and the Mud Hens whipped the Clippers 7-0. Kay’s 70th birthday was duly noted on the video scoreboard and as a bonus, one of our party who was arriving late grabbed a home run ball as it sailed onto Monroe Street.
It may be a cliché to mention Fifth Third Field as one of Toledo’s uncontested jewels, but our afternoon reinforced that reputation and left a great impression with our family guests.
We thought we would zip back to The Blarney to grab some food to set out at the hotel, so we ordered a dozen different appetizers and enjoyed another round of beer while we waited. By this time, the fireworks and ballgame crowd had The Blarney packed to capacity, so we knew it would be a longer wait than usual. Inside, Arctic Clam was cranking out one singalong song after another, with lead singer Nicole Khoury at her most ardent.
Just as the food was delivered in a small mountain of Styrofoam containers, the fireworks began blasting above Fifth Third Field. We needed to rush the food to the hotel before the city’s fireworks started, but with Monroe Street closed to foot traffic, we had to hustle down Jefferson Avenue and cut through the Seagate Convention Centre to get back to the hotel. Rushing through the crowd with fireworks blasting directly above us made me feel like I was a background player in a World War II movie. “Saving Private Ryan’s Nachos,” maybe.
Safely ensconced in the room, with the kids’ “Happy Birthday Nana” banner framing the glass wall, we oohed and aahed as the fireworks blasted over the Maumee River.
As I watched the reflection of the red and blue explosions in the water, my mind kept dwelling on the fate of little Elaina Steinfurth; Was the missing toddler under those waves, her lifeless little body illuminated in the muddy depths as the celebration flared above? The thought derailed my mood and made my heart incredibly heavy.
So I was already emotional when my brother-in-law Brian began singing “God Bless America.” Within a few lines, nearly all of us joined in: “From the mountains, to the prairies/To the oceans, white with foam/God bless America/My home sweet home.”
The fireworks punctuated our song, and I turned away to hide the tears that flowed for Elaina, mixed with overwhelming gratitude for my country and my family.
After the fireworks, the kids were put to bed and, with many still-hungry adults on hand, we walked a few blocks to pick up pizzas from Home Slice on South St. Clair Street.
The streets were packed with pedestrians and crawling cars, with crowds standing outside the busy bars. As we walked with the pizza boxes, every intoxicated woman from every car and in every alcove and on every corner called out for a piece, making various offers ranging from blowing a kiss to more Mardi Gras-oriented temptations. This knowledge does me absolutely no good, but single men, remember next July 4 to carry pizza down South St. Clair Street and you are almost guaranteed a piece.
That was just one of many lessons and reflections on a great day for the family. I was gratified to show Toledo at its best. God Bless America, indeed.
And happy birthday, Nana.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at email@example.com.