The taxi dropped us off in front of a high, chain-link fence near a gate that was guarded by a soldier with an automatic rifle.

The ground was sand, the sky a bright, brittle blue and the air was hot and still.

Our plane had landed in Jordan and my parents, my brothers and I were on our way to visit our maternal grandparents in Tel Aviv.  There was a no fly zone over Israel and so we had to land in Jordan and walk/run, carrying our luggage, across a no man’s land bounded on both sides by this high fence.  We presented our papers and then almost sprinted across the 200 yards to the opposite fence as armed guards in towers watched.  It was a relief to see my grandparents smiling faces when we entered the land of Israel.

Those were the days leading up to the Six Day War that broke out in June of 1967. Fighting was already taking place as the Arab nations lobbed mortar shells into Israeli settlements, forcing children to sleep in bomb shelters at night.  The U.S. had a diplomatic presence in Israel and was attempting to negotiate a peaceful settlement as well as keep the shipping lanes open for the shipment of oil and other commodities.  My grandfather was a special assistant to the U.S. Ambassador in Tel Aviv, and he and my grandmother lived in a small, ranch-style bungalow a short distance outside the city.

As we sat out on their back patio after dinner, we could hear the thud of mortars and see flashes in the sky over the low hills. As always, my family talked politics. It was our life, with both my parents and my grandparents serving the U.S. overseas.

On the weekend in the middle of our week-long visit, Grandmother announced that there would be a picnic that night. She prepared food all afternoon and packed it up to stay warm, or cold as appropriate. We loaded the family in two vehicles and headed for a lovely, wooded park a few miles away.  It was cool and almost dark. My brothers and I ran, laughed and climbed while the adults were setting out the food. There was hot baked ham, cranberry sauce, baked potatoes, steaming hot garlic bread, various pickles and salads, and home-made brownies for dessert. Everything was perfect and we lingered long over coffee and stories, until it was late and we had to head back to grandma and grandpa’s house to sleep.

That picnic is such a vivid memory. It set a standard I was never able to meet with my own family, but it is also one of my fondest memories of my childhood and of my time with my grandparents.

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