Muck, sun and cards make for a mellow afternoon with neighbors.
The boys were small, smaller and smallest, each with a name that started with the letter J, like their father, and each captivated by the endless wonders of a small yard that included a tree and a puddle and seven adults whiling away their Sunday afternoon.
The boys could not resist the tree, good for climbing, or the puddle, a 10-foot-long, 2-foot-wide remnant of recent rain storms in a depression at the edge of the yard.
"You stay out of there or I'll break your arms and legs," the mother shouted.
"Arms and legs?" our neighbor's brother inquired. "Don't you think the arms are enough?"
"You want kids?" the father asked. "You can have them." He waved toward his own, scrambling up the tree again.
Jenny and I had shared a number of Sunday afternoons with our neighbor and his brother and sister-in-law, always accompanied by easy talk of new restaurants in town, or new bulldozers in town, or old crooks running our towns -- the kind of talk you're likely to hear all over Lawrence on a Sunday afternoon when talk is the most important business of the day.
So it was this past Sunday, joined by two unfamiliar faces and their three boys, when we once again joined our neighbor, a master of the casual get-together. As usual, he had started his barbecue in the morning, in an electric smoker set up in his garage with the door open.
For some, it was graduation day. For most of us, it was just another day.
Jenny and I arrived midafternoon, long after the unhurried festivities began. We sat around a card table set up outdoors and played cards and drank beer and ate barbecued chicken, potato salad and string beans.
Jenny joined the card game first while I chatted with our neighbor. Then I joined the game, called Uno.
The boys wanted to eat barbecue in the tree -- "Get down here!" -- then tossed a tennis ball though the puddle. Then they tossed a small football back and forth over the puddle. And while one boy ate an apple, another kicked the football into the air.
When the tennis ball rolled across the street into a bush, the eldest boy crossed to retrieve it. The middle boy crossed, with less certainty.
The youngest boy stood at the edge of the street, leaning toward his brothers.
"You stay right there," the mother said. "No. N-O."
"I told you to play in busy streets, not quiet streets," the father said.
The sun arced across the clear sky, and as it made its gradual descent we shifted and adjusted the card table to keep up. We moved the table a few feet at a time, finally off our neighbor's lawn and into the driveway, so that we stayed in the warm light and not the cool shade.
I won my first card game and nearly won the second, which stretched on and on with no winner until early evening when, finally, our neighbor's brother won by throwing down a yellow card.
In a final frenzy of activity, the boys soaked themselves in the nasty puddle that had stood for days in our neighbor's yard. Then they took off their shirts and dried in the sun, like tired, sloppy dogs. Soon after they waved from inside their parents' van as it pulled away.