When I was a kid, I always wanted a July birthday. My brother had a July birthday, and he got pool parties, which is what I wanted.

I was not born in July though, I was born in the doldrums of winter, also known as prime hockey tournament season. Youth hockey became pretty popular after the debut of the Mighty Ducks, and like every American boy, upon seeing the Mighty Ducks, my brother also wanted to play hockey.

In my town, there was one ice rink, and getting onto the hockey team was virtually impossible. One day we were at the ice rink and there was a big plastic tub where every elementary school aged boy had entered his name for the chance to get the single remaining spot on the youth hockey team.

My brother saw this and asked my mom if he could enter the raffle. And my mom, an accountant by trade, did some very brief mental math and realized this was a huge parenting win. That raffle container was bursting with names. Under no circumstances would my brother's get drawn.

So, he entered his name, and we left, my mom and my brother both no doubt pleased at where they stood after the negotiation.

And then to my mom's dismay, my brother was picked as the winner. And guess what? Hockey comes with a lot of gear. She stood by her side of the deal though, and we were in for years of extremely smelly, bulky gear taking up most of our laundry room.

Why this is relevant to me wanting a pool party is because once my brother was ensconced in his real life Mighty Duck movie, his team decided to enter into the Laramie, Wyoming "Open Air Hockey Tournament" which for several years, occurred on my birthday. This was also a downside to him winning a spot on the team. I got dragged to a lot of hockey games on my weekend. (Although, if he were writing this, he would say the same thing about my soccer games. But he's not writing it, so forget I said that.)

Quick note about definitions here. In the 1990's, what Laramie defined as "Open Air" was just the outside and what Laramie defined as a "hockey rink" was a frozen over tennis court. So we packed ourselves into the mini van and drove to Laramie for my brother and his team to trip over the iced-over, cracked tennis courts, while the windchill brought the ambient temperature well below zero.

And this was my birthday.

At the time, there was one restaurant in Laramie which seemed to tolerate youth hockey teams. The Chuckwagon. Complete with a replica chuckwagon, we ate there almost every meal. My brother declared it his favorite restaurant of all time, and since I was already mad about being dragged to the wind-whipped Wyoming plains for my birthday, I declared it the worst restaurant in the world.

My stance was that because it was my birthday, I should get to go to my favorite restaurant. This is where I learned the valuable economic lesson that when there is only one restaurant in town, it doesn't matter if it's your birthday. You can eat chuckwagon eggs and bacon or nothing. I chose the eggs and bacon.

After my many years at the Laramie Open Air Tournament, I decided I hated Laramie. I did learn the phrase, Head up, Don't Duck which apparently was (maybe still is?) the spinal "safe" way to get checked into the boards. I learned this from sitting in the heatless-tennis pro shack and staring at the single hockey themed poster they'd taped up in anticipation of hockey season. I remember staring at that poster, the smiling male hockey player staring at me through the blistering cold, and hating him and my birthday, and wishing it was July.

Nearly twenty years later, I was driving West across the country, after spending four months at a particularly protracted, incredibly sexist, training located in the deep south. My route away from this training took me through Laramie. I didn't think much of it when I planned the route, it was just another town in a cross-country journey.

This particular road trip took place in July, and upon stopping to get gas in Laramie, I burst into tears. A man at the pump beside me watched me like I might explode, but I was so moved by Laramie's beauty, that I could not stop crying. Even the Chuckwagon, its replica covered wagon cracked and faded, seemed nothing but beautiful. I had made it back West. I had made it home. I was back where my roots were, even if, as I child, I hated this stupid town and their obfuscation of the English language. Never in my life since then has someone tried to describe outside to me as "open air".

After getting gas, I drove out of town, and still intoxicated with the allure of the West, I pulled over and took a photo of the plains. It didn't occur to me until later, that I found Laramie mind-meltingly dazzling in July.

Was it actually Laramie I found beautiful? Or was it July? Would I cry at the wonder of Laramie if I found myself back at those icy tennis courts?

The answer is yes, but it wouldn't be for the beauty of it.

I still want a pool party.