Dance under the stars and the moon. Dance because it is springtime. Dance because you can.
As a kid, I knew that other kids had lots more leisure time with their family, and many of them went on far-off vacations that sounded like foreign lands to me. A dairy farm family knew no such things as a family excursion to the Grand Canyon or a week at Disney Land.
But there were so many ways in which we made life fun. One of these annual celebrations was a great day of fun on Kentucky Derby day.
It didn’t matter that no one in my immediate family knew a whit about race horses. It didn’t matter that no money was being put on the table. All that mattered, according to Dad’s rules, was that only one person could pick a particular horse. Each of us had to select a different horse, you see, because the winner was blessed with the fun of choosing a favorite restaurant for a night out for the whole family.
And one more thing: the winner was expected to pick up the tab!
Dad somehow nearly always picked the winning horse. One year, when Cort was only about 6 years old, he chose a long-shot horse that was expected to place near the bottom of a very large field of Derby hopefuls. Wouldn’t you know, that gray horse came out the winner. Cort looked at his grandfather, both of them smiling with the joy and pride of winning. “I won! Now I get to take everybody out to eat!” It came as no surprise when the fine dining experience was to take place at the local McDonalds. The look of joy on that little boy’s face suddenly looked very worried when he remembered that whoever wins also gets to pay the tab.
“Are you sure you have enough money to buy happy meals and Big Macs for everybody?” Dad asked. “Because if you don’t, I have free service at the steak house for all of us, and you wouldn’t have to worry about paying.” Problem solved!
Years have changed the family dynamic, but my family continues to celebrate Derby Day. We start early, scanning reports leading up to the big day in May, hoping to pick the winning entry. A scratch for any reason means choosing another. The menu is planned, friends are invited, food is prepared, and our own version of mint juleps gets stirred up.
When the countdown to the Derby race is at hand, our home is filled with friends. The laughter and the party atmosphere carries over to the evening, as we gather around a bonfire under starry skies, sharing great stories and laughter. Hot dogs and s’mores are part of the evening, because even if the belly is full, you just can’t have a bonfire without adding this to the menu. Great music prompts dancing on newly-green grass as we celebrate the arrival of springtime.
Much of happiness in this life is a choice. I learned that long ago, along with so many simple lessons learned on any given day, some out in the fields, some inside the barns. My father chose to be a full-time farmer and a full-time father, and what a gift that was! We may not have traveled the world, but we spent time together, and we made our own memorable family entertainment as tiny seeds of traditions took root and thrived.
Find reasons to celebrate, establish silly traditions that last through the generations, and dance under the stars every chance you get. Over the course of the journey of a life well-lived, simple traditions prove to be much better than a trip to Disney. I am sure of it.