Christmas 2019

Sometimes I try to gra2018-12-16 21.09.08.jpgb hold of a moment in time and its almost possible. Tickling my ‘tweenage’ daughter who isn’t really interested in being tickled anymore leads to a walk along the Riverwalk with her under my arm like she was five…but of course she is now standing at the level where she can walk under my arm, its a moment to cherish. Wrestling with my son until he cries ‘uncle’ and as soon as he is loose he says, ‘NO UNCLE!’ and we go again, but he’s getting stronger… I remember Christmas Day 2016 and 2017 as they were the last ones that had real magic. Both of my kids were believers and there was magic all around. Those are moments to cherish.

We survived 2018 and 2019, but not at some cost. February 2018 saw the loss of Grampy and Christmas 2018 saw hospital beds and a whole world turned upside down. In what was a moment in time that is forever etched in the memories of five of my family members, my daughter found out. We had worked really hard to2018-12-24 23.54.10.jpg make Christmas as special as possible and make sure that everything was just as it should be. Christmas morning came and Santa had visited, he had brought all sorts of cool things and two little bears to boot! It was great and the kids enjoyed a moment’s reprieve, then we made the trek to the city t2018-12-25 13.15.28.jpgo go out to lunch (a new ‘tradition’, but not one that has ever taken hold though its happened more than once) and then on to the hospital. Lunch was delicious and we made our way to the hospital for a visit. Grandpa was wheeled out by Grandma and we had brought a small tree and a few gifts.

He hadn’t been here long as only a week before we were set to go on a vacation to the UK that had been planned for almost two years. A few days before we departed he went to the doctor and found out that his trip would be to KU Med instead 2018-12-25 14.20.17.jpgof to Europe. The weeks that followed were filled with doctor visits, hospital stints and a short trip home that wasn’t to last.

As the gifts we2018-12-25 14.03.04.jpgre opened, fun ensued as kids seem to make almost any place you have Christmas magical. then something happened, the look on my daughters face was puzzled and I looked around to see what had happened. I noticed that to bears had been given from Grandma and Grandpa that looked oddly similar to the ones that the Big Guy had brought that morning. In what seemed like an eternity that lasted probably 10 seconds. I couldn’t believe2018-12-25 14.16.46 it was happening and was so pronounced, but as I looked around I could see that her mom, Abie, Aunt Barbara, Uncle Brandon and Aunt Brooke were all seeing the same thing, the glass of the magic of childhood was at first damaged, but much like a rock hitting the windshield, repairable. However, before we could manage to fix the first chip, the spiderweb started to crack across her mind and soon there was no stopping the inevitable. In this Christmas that was already tough, apparently new lessons had to be learned. So, I said, ‘C’mon sweetie’ and we walked and talked. When she came back to sit down she was forever changed, although like with most the hints of what she knew had been there for the months leading up to that morning. We had now survived not only this Christmas, but a tough lesson.

Grandma had been living at the hospital with Grandpa, so neither of them had been home, so she went one by one to greet all of the Grandkids. Now to be clear, if anyone was ever going to spoil the magic of Christmas, my wife was sure it wouldn’t be here Hallmark loving, Christmas tradition following, Uber Christmas family, it was bound to be mine, with older nieces and nephews who never believed. When Grandma made it to my daug2019-02-02 19.54.09.jpghter she could tell that something was wrong. For a moment we said nothing was wrong, then it came out that she had just found out. Then in an unexpected and valiant effort to help her feel better about the whole thing Grandma said, “Well, you know its just like the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny”…and from the look of shock on my daughters face I could see the entire sheet of glass collapse into fragments. In looking around the room there was no help, all of us were just as surprised at the outcome and after taking a vow (required by the family as a pre-nup) never to break the spirit of Christmas, I wasn’t quite sure how to recover.

Later that week the kids and I would see Grandpa for the last time. He told them to be good and was frustrated as ever by a rambunctious boy, but took time to deliver a message that he may have known was his last to them. As we drove away, the tears flowed. My wife made it back a couple of times in the interim, but it wasn’t long until the call came that  she needed to get there quickly, we put her on a plane and then hit the road. The call came when we were in Shamrock, Texas filling up that he had passed. In so many ways I try to say tha2019-02-05 09.49.04.jpgt no year is tougher than another, but its all how you take it, but for these two little ones who had lost one Grandpa in February of 2018, to lose the other in January of 2019 had rocked their worlds. As my mom and I stood there and prayed with them in the parking lot there were lots of tears, then questions…then silence.

Today I look forward to Christmas as it is in this moment, soaking up every moment. With lots of family and friends who I truly value, maybe more than I ever could have before. I have been better at supporting my friends and family as they lose those they love. I have attended more funerals, to be there in support and delivered more meals. As a kid I could never understand why we had to make a meal for everyone, taking food around and visiting folks I didn’t know…now I get it. Its a moment in time that is indelibly marked in your memory and those family and friends that are there for you make the moment easier to bear. There is healing in the process of death and of grieving if we look for it…friendships I have renewed because of their support and those who have always been there, but maybe I took for granted.

Today I have high hopes for Christmas 2019 and the memories that will be made today. Inevitably there will be new stories to tell that become a part of the fabric of 2018-12-31 22.19.27.jpgthe families we are lucky enough to share it with. Getting back to ‘normal’ the Christmas magic is scheduled to start at 0700  and inevitably some small fry will cause that to change and adjust and just maybe today we will see that as  a bonus…as any delay stretches this moment out just a touch more.

 

 

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O Me! O Life! By Walt Whitman

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The Tenacity of Hope

As I walked down the hallway I heard the pastor say, “Hey, kiddo that was the most amazing pumpkin bread ever!” Tears welled up in my eyes as I walked out of the church and got in the car. They couldn’t have known that earlier in the day she had led her parents through her parent-teacher conferences for the first time as mom and dad struggled to not to interject (with nominal success). Growing up is tough and sixth grade is definitely hard on kids, but WOW, what a transition for parents! We had realized the day before that while we could help her check homework, that our days of helping her get everything together and her teachers at school helping her get everything in had passed. The reality had changed and we had to grow as parents while she grew into a young adult.

As that first fall long ago passed with her heading off to pre-school and I wanted to go every moment to see my baby girl. Once I finally got used to the process of Tadpoles Childcare, then our son was born and again I had to get used to sending our precious bundle off. However, they were well cared for by folks I am still friends with today. Then came kindergarten and again my nerves were a wreck as we dropped her and then him off at kinder. Now we hit sixth grade and all of the sudden like a ton of bricks I realize that while my knowledge can still help her in many areas, I can’t understand all she has to get done. In reality, would I want to? Sixth grade and junior high is really tough. I remember my time in junior high and I constantly felt behind the eight ball and out of sync. You know though, in remembering those days I now wonder if the ‘weirdness’ of junior high isn’t necessary for us to find success later on. We have to learn how to work with multiple teachers, get to class, write down our assignments, do our homework, advocate for ourselves and ultimately to take responsibility for the outcomes. That is all new and happening at junior high. That is where it belongs, helicopter parents beware!

To find future success, we have to let them fly and invariably when they fly they will have some struggles. Today my daughter chose to step up, take control of her studies and be an adult for the first time. I am so very proud of her for her tenacity. Tonight, though the reality of her kindness, which is a life skill that isn’t contained in a book, shone through as she was thanked, loved and praised for her awesome pumpkin bread and the kindness she showed in baking it and sharing with others. For all the lessons for her this week, I am most proud of this one. For the lessons mom and dad learned this week, its okay to let them fall, invariably they are tenacious and they fix their eyes on the hope of a better tomorrow and work hard to make it a reality.

 

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Christmas by Dad.

4:54 on Christmas morning 1984, I’m 8 and I’m up! Santa has been to my house and he left a new train set that smokes, lots of candy and as always an orange at the bottom of the stocking. I check it out, and immediately go wake up my brother and sister who have to be as excited as I am to see the magic that has happened in the living room!! They aren’t interested quite yet, so I run in and tell mom and dad about it…yes, yes…isn’t that wonderful? I go back into the living room and start setting up my train set. Then they all trickle in little by little and the magic is repeated. Never so much as when you are a child at Christmas is magic so alive…so much a part of your life.

Fast forward five years and part of my Christmas was late. It was the day after Christmas and all was done when my dad walked in and handed me a box. It was cold outside and he had a cup of coffee in these  little convenience store coffee cups he always used. I could smell the cold coming from his clothes and I saw the sunlight beaming in the door behind him. He turns to talk to someone else and I open the box. It is all so vivid in my memory as I opened the box with the Panasonic alarm clock with green numbers that I had seen in the Sears catalog and mom and dad had ordered for me. I looked up and he was talking to someone else, but he and mom got a hug and I was off to set up the clock.

Thirty years on and its 4:54 am. I’m still the first one up…not sure if that is a blessing or a curse, but you can accomplish an awful lot before anyone else stirs…the magic is about to happen. Our kids are safe and sound, asleep in their beds and it is my daughter who will be the first one up. She will go and tell the other kids about the magic that has happened in the living room. She will try to get everyone to come and see and slowly we will all trickle in. We will see what Santa brought and open our gifts. It will be magical again.

The spirit of Christmas lives on in each child and we get a glimpse as it flashes through them. The magic of the morning isn’t in the stuff, it isn’t in the snow, it isn’t in the tree or the traditions. The magic of the morning is the great gift that we have received. The grace that comes from receiving the greatest gift we could in a totally unexpected form, the grace that comes from a father willing to sacrifice immeasurably for his children, knowing that they couldn’t understand it and wouldn’t ever truly appreciate the sacrifice.

As I look back in what will be the first Christmas day I have ever spent without my dad on the planet, I think about the other side of the Christmas. The 1980s when we were broke with every other farmer in the country and mom and dad struggled to make Christmas happen. The years where he lost his parents, the days when he struggled, the moments where he was hurt by me and the moments where things he said and did hurt me. I realize now that I didn’t see all of the trials and tribulations that he was going through. The tough days that you try to avoid and the moments where you finally appreciate the beauty of the gifts your father gives. Today I realize that its not an alarm clock, a toy train or any other tangible item. The gift is the day that your dad tells you, “We’re burnin’ daylight”. The gift is the moment where you realize its time to stand up to him for the first time. The gift is the moment where he pushes too far and you have to push back. That tenacity, that fighting spirit, that sheer will is crucial to getting through tough days like today. When I thought he was being a jerk, now I know he was preparing me for today.

I didn’t always appreciate my dad while he was here. I couldn’t understand and wouldn’t ever truly appreciate his sacrifice. But we loved each other. In the tough lessons he never left. In the hard times he kept working. In the desperation of $10,000 in medical bills and a crop that was bountiful, but the price was pitiful…he pushed forward. That is what I take from my fathers legacy. Just keep going.

Dad-You are loved, you are appreciated…and now you are free.

Christmas 2018 is gonna be different, lets do it!

 

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We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed?

Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

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Crossing Borders

Driving across the West Texas Plains is nothing new to me. I have spent much of my adult life driving from New Mexico across the border to cities in West Texas but this return trip to New Mexico felt more like a victory parade than a casual drive. On June 28th fifty students and teachers piled off a sixteen hour bus ride from various parts of the Mexican state of Sonora. I have to admit that I had no idea what to expect. I had been asked to build an exchange program for students from the State University of Sonora and I had done just that, but the students and faculty to take part were simply names on a roster. Little did I know how the month would go.

UES Students

Students and teachers at a State University of Sonora campus.

Driving along the Llano Estacado, following a bus with Mexican plates I feel right at home. This area is where I grew up, right across the border in New Mexico. While I felt right at home, clearly it was new territory for the students from Mexico. They had come to the states, learned some English and more than anything about themselves. Exchange programs like this one are crucial to understanding other cultures and folks that think a bit differently. Admittedly, Americans, Canadians and Mexicans have very similar cultures and it is easy enough to move through the three countries and have a basic understanding of each others faith, language and generally our thought process. Much of our perceived difference is really similarities disguised by a different language or way of living.

2015-07-21 09.38.09     Not to say that we don’t have differences, we do. Much as a Californian has a different way of thinking than someone is from Minnesota where I was born. New Mexico is a unique mix of cultures and I will be the first to admit that I see value in this mixture. I grew up with a diverse culture, two languages and best friends that did not look like me. However, the differences in a businessman from Hermosillo, Sonora vs. a businessman from Tucson are likely less stark than we would believe. Teachers face similar struggles in student learning in Chihuahua as they might in Saskatoon. The beauty of an exchange and meeting other people is that you learn how very similar we are. Once the language barrier is taken out of the picture, similarities abound. They love their children just as much as I love mine, they care about the future of their nation just as I care about mine, they smile, laugh, have fears and hopes…just as I do.

Since this event in 2015, so much has come to pass. The peso has lost much value vs. the dollar, the political climate has shifted and we are left as North Americans to consider our future together. To be clear, it is a future together. We are neighbors and we are old friends, although sometimes cranky neighbors. We handle things differently and much like squabbling children, we have all made2015-07-17 19.19.32 mistakes, said and done things we would like to undo. But our future is to be written together. We are neighbors and we will work together for generations to come how well we succeed together is the question at hand. The future will be written by the students who came to this exchange in New Mexico, the Americans who travel to Mexico for business or vacation and the Canadians who welcome us to their country and are equally visiting ours. This is the future and it is unavoidable, inextricably and unquestioningly together.

The students who came from the State University of Sonora learned teamwork at NMMI, but in their time here they taught us much about ourselves and came to better understand our Independence Day when they learned about American independence and watched our fireworks. They better understood why we are proud to be American. They also explained Mexican independence, which was them throwing out two European powers, Spain and France. We are a tenacious continent full of firebrands…and that might explain some of our squabbles.

2015-07-11 11.00.20 So, as students visited Lincoln and learned about the Lincoln County War and Billy the Kid, they came to appreciate the struggle that our ancestors went through in the West. Additionally, when we visited Fort Stanton they learned of two dark chapters in American history, in the mistreatment of the native population, and the Confederate forces who took this fort and claimed Southern New Mexico in the early years of the Civil War. There are similar dark chapters in Mexico’s history. One of which is still underway in their war on the gangs and cartels that prey on their young for new members and constantly work to undermine the freely elected government in Mexico City and the States. They are not our enemy in the War on Drugs, they should be our ally.

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When you look at these pictures, realize that they are Mexican citizens who are going to college, working hard and building a stronger Mexico. When we make blanket statements, they are not only unfair, but they serve to undermine our relationships with our two neighbors. These folks are building a stronger North America. Lets stop squabbling and take time to understand their strengths and struggles as they understand ours. An economically strong Mexico stems illegal immigration naturally, it builds a bigger table. It’s a table and a meal that we are setting for our children and grandchildren. Let it be a table of peace.

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The Memories in Things

Vintage Nishiki

 

I was cruising along on my circa 1987 Nishiki Manitoba bicycle when I realized my tire was going flat. Now this bike has seen some miles. One Spring my brother and I put together all of our birthday money from grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, our lawn mowing money and anything else we had made and told dad we wanted to get some mountain bikes. Living in rural New Mexico there were not many bike shops and we knew that Cycle Cave in Albuquerque was the coolest of them all. This is long before the big sports stores and the Walmart that now offers virtually everything in my hometown. We set off one Saturday morning and drove the four hours to Albuquerque dreaming of the bikes we would buy. We arrived at the cycling paradise with everything you could imagine in a store that was huge for an 11 year old. We shopped and shopped and finally decided on the Nishiki Manitoba. It had everything you could want…and we could afford it! We bought two of them that matched, but mine was slightly larger as I was a bit taller at the time. We loaded up the pickup, got some dinner and started the drive home. Now, my dad always liked to drive late into the night, who knows why, but when we pulled off the road at the Bosque Del Apache in Fort Sumner, I came to realize it was a lack of funding that kept us from the cozy hotel down the road. We slept for a few hours in the pickup and then started home.

It was first light one Sunday morning when we drove into Portales and dad dropped us off at C&S Oil to fill up our tires and ride across town to get home. We raced, we sped, we crossed the University campus at record speeds and made it home to see Dad had woken up mom and my sister (it was well before 7 AM) and they were smiling as we road up triumphantly on our new bikes. It was glorious. We weren’t sure who we beat, but we were the victors…maybe it was life itself that we had beaten…maybe it was having something new when we were struggling through the Agricultural depression…maybe it was that those bikes represented freedom to ride anywhere in town mom would let us. Freedom, ultimate freedom.

Today I looked at my tire that has been replaced multiple times and now has several holes and needs to be replaced again. The seat is the same one that I rode that day so long ago…and it’s not comfortable…the paint is faded…logically it’s time to move on with a new bike. But as I look at this bike I remember a trip with Dad, a race with my Brother and the moment where we raced like the wind across town to get home before Dad. He beat us that day, but it didn’t matter, we were all smiles in that moment.

That moment will never come again. It lives only in my memory and that of my brother, sister and mom. Eventually no one will remember that moment. The bike reminds me of that day. When I move on to the next realm, get rid of it, it won’t mean anything to you…but to me, it’s a reminder of a moment in time that was beautiful.

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