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For the long weekend of the fourth of July, we made plans to visit Bryan’s Aunt Julie and her family, on their farm in Oklahoma.

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It’s a pretty place, about fifty acres, of pasture and woods. There’s a pond with a little boat and a rumor about some kind of wild cat. There’s an orchard and, just next to their property, some farmland planted in corn, and then a wildlife preserve, and then the Arkansas River. Lee and Claire, Bryan’s cousins, showed Mandy around and helped her ride one of the horses.

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The girls would be great friends, I think, if they lived closer together. Claire’s only a year or two older than Mandy, and they both get along better with books and animals than with most other girls their age. Seeing this in each other, I think, gives them a kind of comfortable, uncomplicated friendship that I hope continues as they get older.

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Because of an awful accident several years ago, Aunt Julie doesn’t get around too well. In the house she does fine with a cane, but when she works out on her property she drives a ‘Scout’, a sort of giant complicated four-wheeler with a bench seat and a bed to haul stuff around in. She took us down to the river in the Scout, Bryan and I in front with her, and the girls perched in the back, yelling over the wind. We talked as we watched the sun set over the river, and then it was back to Aunt Julie’s for the night.

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We slept late on Sunday, and I enjoyed the warm, quiet afternoon in the orchard. Bryan helped me hang the hammock, and I spent hours out there with a book.

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We think the most interesting animal at Aunt Julie’s place is Strawberry the Cat. Strawberry is a conversational cat. She has long discussions with people, and when you pet her or rub her back or ears, she has a continuous stream of comment about it. And she really means what she says – she’s not just meowing, there’s inflection in those words of hers. During a quiet afternoon, sitting on the porch, you may hear yowly noises coming toward you: it’s Strawberry, and she sees you there, and she has something to say. She’s coming. Hang on, don’t go inside yet: you need to know all about this.

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Aunt Julie’s neighbor-lady had grandkids in town for the holiday, so she’d rented the pool at the nearby state park for the evening on Sunday. We were invited, too, and though we didn’t know the other family very well, Bryan and Claire and Mandy had a good time horsing around.

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And then, it was time for fireworks. We’d stopped at the Walmart in Sallisaw to pick out some fireworks, and Bryan and Mandy had gone a little overboard. But we enjoyed all of them, the sparklers and the Roman candles and the little fizzy colorful smoke things.

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We enjoyed the neighbor-lady’s fireworks, too, a little farther away and a little easier to photograph.

Bryan spent some time on photographing the night sky without fireworks, too. It was so dark at Aunt Julie’s farm, away from the lights of town.

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We drove home Monday. I wish Mandy had a place like that, acres of woods and fields to just wander and climb around in. But I think we’ll just have to content ourselves with hikes in the woods, and bike rides in the country, and occasional trips to places like Colorado and Aunt Julie’s.