It's a fecund group. I'm not the only pregnant woman in an ugly salmon pink maternity T-shirt. Two babies, three toddlers, two preschoolers, several others under 10. The older kids run for the backyard swing set. Later, they're the first to colonize the hot tub (yes! of course there's a hot tub!), and are only coaxed out by the cutting of the birthday cake.
The old, old frat boys (some back to the class of '79) collect in the kitchen; the women, in the living room with the babies. Everyone talks about local real estate, all the time. Everyone comments on Beaker's apparent health, too: there are several people present who haven't seen him in a decade or so, and yes, it's very good that he's still alive, but he and I know what it's taking him on a daily basis now. One commenter has an obvious hand tremor, but volunteers no information, and we don't ask.
One sweet woman with a sharp sense of humor, whose children are the oldest present, offers sage advice to the tense mothers and mothers-to-be. We last saw her and her husband back in January, when they were overjoyed that, despite several early losses, her pregnancy seemed to be sticking; she was about three weeks ahead of me. She is very thin now, and her husband confides that they terminated at 19 weeks: Down syndrome. The other kids don't know there was a decision to be made. She's only 3 years older than I am.
One of the oldest and shaggiest of the frat boys has finally married; he and his wife have two children, both adopted from South America. ("You know, once you've got the family, it's just harder to find time to work on the motorcycles.") They are the ringleaders in the back yard, but the adults whisper along rumors that they've been difficult to raise.
The grill is shut down. The meat runs out, although there are still plenty of veggie dogs. The frat boys settle down to bridge. (Bridge!) The babies are carried out, howling, by their parents. The remaining women settle in for the Desperate Housewives finale. None of us has seen more than 3 or 4 episodes, but together we've seen enough to be able to piece most of it together. After that bit of spotting, I'm keeping my feet up and mainlining club soda.
It's the last time we'll see most of these folks for a while. California doesn't feel like home, at all, and it never will, but we have so many friends here—and so many more old and good friends than back in Ohindinois— that there's real sadness in leaving.