As soon as the present year’s celebration drew to a close, they would rush to the stores to buy discounted decorations, already gleefully anticipating the following year’s festivities.
Five months until the party even approached, mother and daughter would carefully construct the 100 or so invitations. One year, they designed them like puzzle pieces, so only together could the guests discover what they said. Nobody actually needed an invitation to be welcomed to the party, but the two treasured their creative ritual.
School hadn’t even ended, yet they would already spend days tying the ends of over 500 water balloons. Each balloon prepared to meet its fate at the chubby hands of a child who would soon launch the bloated rocket, giggling frivolously at its jubilant splash.
Three weeks before, they would load their open arms with beverages — enough to sustain a year’s worth of excitement over the life of the actual party.
One week before, they would unleash the summery contents of their shed, allowing a colony of shiny plastic lawn chairs to monopolize their yard.
7 a.m. the day of, the house was awake.
One would sprinkle decorations here and there, bringing red, white and blue to every corner, while the other set up the food. By noon, a volleyball net laced its way across the lawn, Bocce balls clustered in the grass and a pile of games encouraged the first few guests to commence the notorious party.
It would start at noon on the Fourth of July, and sometimes it didn’t end until July 6. Cars lined the streets, and friends camped out in tents in their backyard.
“It became this thing where people we didn’t even know were at our party,” Dereka Lint, ’17, said. “Imagine people everywhere for six acres! It was a very happy environment.”
Sly smiles were exchanged over poker games, cheerful winners claimed their bingo prizes and the magic of fireworks blazing through the sky all entranced her mom.
“The Fourth of July was like her big thing,” Dereka says. “She was really into Christmas, but not like the Fourth of July. That was her holiday.
“We had a small get-together this July that just passed. It was different — you do something for 18 years and then it just stops, it’s kind of weird.”
Now, the celebration has shifted away from the Fourth of July itself and toward the celebration of the life of her mom.
After being diagnosed with lung cancer and given two years to live, Carla Mae Lint died only four months later on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2013.
Her only child, Dereka Lint, was 18. During a time when most students are basking in the glory of their senior year of high school, she was quietly thinking of ways to remember her mom.
“She had this wholehearted laugh that was just something I’ll never forget,” Dereka says. “It was one of those laughs that’s not like a giggle — it’s a full-out laugh. She put all of her force into laughing.” She said that while hearing her mother’s laugh, it was impossible not to join in.
She describes how caring her mom was, saying, “she’d be the one person you could go to no matter what, with anything.”
Dereka says that whenever her friends had issues at home, they always had a second home available to them at her house.
“She was always taking people in, if their family life was rough, so they always had a space at our house,” she said. “We always had a spare bedroom.”
After her mom’s death, Dereka moved in with her grandmother, bringing with her the funeral flowers and one of her mom’s pots to plant them in when spring came.
“Before I got a chance to put anything in, I came out one day, and there had been probably nine tiger lilies that had just bloomed out of this pot overnight,” Dereka says. Since tiger lilies are Dereka’s favorite flower, she realized that her mom must have planted them for her. “They waited until after she had died to sprout.”
That spring, she also noticed the continual presence of a dragonfly, her mom’s favorite animal.
“After she died, everywhere I’d walk around, there’d be this one little dragonfly that’d just flutter around,” she says. “I was like, ‘That’s my mom.’”
Combining these two meaningful images, she told her mom’s best friend, Bryan Care, that she wanted a tattoo.
“My mom used to always call him her second husband, so he’s like my second dad,” she says. As an artist and close friend, she trusted him to render her ideas into an eternal memorial.
He drew it and sent her a picture, asking whether she liked it.
“I felt like I fell in love with it,” she says. “It’s a bunch of tiger lilies all intertwined together, and then there are dragonflies laying on top of them. It says, ‘Mommy,’ and the day she was born and the day she died.”
At the time, she couldn’t afford the detailed tattoo, but Bryan and her aunt surprised her this Christmas and offered to pay for it themselves.
Two years after her mom died, she connects with her in a new way.
“When you look down at it, it just fills you with warmth,” she says. “It’s having a piece of her that will always be there. It’s never going to go away.”