Thursday, January 5, 2017

2017- Uncharted Waters

When we were younger, the arrival of a new year was all about the celebration. When I was still in high school, our local movie theater sponsored an American Graffiti marathon on New Year’s Eve. That was also the year of a huge ice storm in my Southeast Kansas hometown. So, after watching the inspiration for the Happy Days TV series four or five times, we ventured out into the icy streets. My boyfriend’s mom had some treats prepared at his house, and instead of asking our parents to drive on the glassy pavement, we decided to walk (slide) the several blocks from the main drag. Another friend showed up with bottle rockets, which whizzed down the empty streets for what seemed like miles. An exciting, explosive celebration for sure!
          After a move to Arkansas, and finding the right man to marry, the New Year’s celebrations continued. When our kids were small, we took advantage of willing grandparents for overnight visits, and tried out some area restaurants for some special nights out. Then, as the youngsters got older, we challenged them to stay up until the ball dropped, and consumed lots of frozen pizza and cheese dip at home.
          When our nest began to empty, hubby and I ventured across the country for a visit with some friends who had moved to the East Coast. Arriving at the airport just before midnight, we welcomed the new year in a Waffle House between Baltimore and Washington. On that same trip, we enjoyed a brunch cruise on the Potomac. Great scenery, and memories to last a lifetime.
          Somewhere along the way, the turning of the calendar page became less about the party, and more about what the new year might bring. We looked back on varying levels of our kids’ education, and forward to what it would take to finish. Significant others came into the family, and talk of weddings and then grandbabies filled up our calendars and our New Year’s Eve brains. New countdowns emerged, as we realized that long-scheduled retirement benefits might actually be within reach, and we plotted the last day of our long-held jobs, and what might happen afterwards.
          Dick Clark, the poster child for the Peter Pan dream of never growing old, did exactly that, and after a last display of bravery, gave his seat in Times Square over to Ryan Secrest.  The world would never be the same.
          So, this year, along with the rest of the “last gasp” Baby Boomers, our ages will begin with the numeral six. A strange place to be. Just yesterday, we were putting on our new P.F. Flyers and zooming up and down on our Christmas bicycles with their banana seats and butterfly handlebars.  These days, we spend much more time in our recliners, saving our strength for the nine to five routines that we just can’t let go of yet.
          Once again, we are too busy looking forward to spend much time glancing back. For a few days in the first month of the year, we will be cruising in the warm Caribbean sun while most of you are shivering in the Ouachita winter weather. Before too long, we plan to return to Florida to meet our sixth grandbaby. There will most likely be a week devoted to Granny Camp, when we gather as many of the kids as possible for some wonderful chaos. The oldest grandson is now a musician, so we hope to be in the audience for some of his concerts and competitions. These coming events promise to be ten times more exciting than any one night celebration.
          From past experience, we know that there will be some surprises, some setbacks along the way. But, rather than dreading these things, we can take them in stride. There is very little that life can throw our way that can’t be handled with a little extra prayer.

          This year, I hope you find happiness in your own life, as you continue to enjoy my rambling thoughts. If you are so inclined, drop me a line in care of Ouachita Life. It helps a writer to know that someone is out there reading and reacting. There is no way to know what the voyage into 2017 will bring, but won’t it be fun to embark together!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Christmas- The Ultimate Comfort Zone

Before you really get started reading this column, close your eyes for just a minute, and picture yourself on Christmas morning. Really. I promise I’ll be here when you get back. One, two, three, close ‘em.
Open again? Okay. So where were you? What were you doing. What did you see, hear, smell?
I’ll share first. I am at my grandmother’s house. The house is quiet, except for my Granny’s humming as she cooks. I can hear the clicking of her basset hound’s toenails on the linoleum floor as she follows Granny around the kitchen. The smell of corned beef hash wafts through the living room. The little aluminum Christmas tree glows brightly in the reflected light of the round multi-colored light machine. Unwrapped toys still sit under the tree, with neatly folded bathrobes and slippers and other warm clothes nearby. We would have a quiet breakfast, just my Mom and sister and me and Granny (and Sam the Basset hound). Soon, my aunt and cousins will return for dinner and playing outside in the South Central Kansas snow.
Your memories are probably much different. But it is not hard to conjure up a Christmas memory. They stick and stay in our heads, and we bring them out when we need to be in a happy place.
 If I try again, and fast forward to when our kids were small, the scene will be similar. Some presents are unwrapped under an artificially green tree in our living room, but Santa’s special surprises: a Cabbage Patch doll, a Pound Puppy and a new pair of cowboy boots wait proudly for the first sleepy-head to emerge from the bedroom. I sit with my cup of hot tea and soak up the precious silence. Santa had come through once again, though my husband and I had wondered how he would manage with our meager paychecks. Outside, the Arkansas sun shines brightly, and I am actually thankful that there is no snow. Here in the foothills of the Ouachitas, slick roads would keep the grandparents from coming over later to watch the kids enjoy their new things. The big dinner the night before had been at their house, and I will most likely serve sandwiches today, along with any leftovers that might arrive with them. For now, heavenly peace.
 Yes, the faces around the tree change, the size and value of the presents vary, but there are constants. Things seem familiar, comfortable.
 Now that our kids are grown, our new normal is that we very rarely manage to have all of our offspring in the same room at the same time. We enjoy each one when we get to see them, no matter the date on the calendar. The tree goes up earlier, stays up longer, to accommodate their schedules. That is fine for me, as I have more of those quiet moments, more time to remember Christmases past.
 Not everyone adjusts to changes in the Christmas routine as easily. The same memories that bring us joy, also cause pain. The absence of familiar faces diminishes our joy. We need to be aware of this, and reach out to those who suffer during the holidays.
 The first Christmas was not comfortable for the young couple who had traveled a great distance to find a “No Vacancy” sign, and a baby who was born in a building intended for animals. They knew, though that something amazing was happening, having heard from angels, and visitors who came to gaze in amazement at the future king. This story is the constant that keeps Christmas so special for all of us. The realization that no matter what else happens in this world, God keeps His promises. Whether in a festive room full of friends and family, or alone in the flickering light of a fireplace, Christmas encourages us, prompts us to look around, to reach out to each other. Let’s remember the hope that filled that tiny, smelly stable so long ago. Comfortable or not, enjoy your Christmas celebration this year!