Monday, February 21, 2011

Over the River and Through the Woods

The Waltons had it made. To clarify, I’m talking here about the TV family, not the multi-millionaires from NW Arkansas. Yes, when it comes to family unity and stability, having a great big house on top of a hill was a wonderful thing. Three generations living under one roof year-round meant that for holidays there was no question about the venue for a celebration. All roads led to Walton’s Mountain. Even during times of great hardship or war, all the members of the family had one goal, to arrive at Grandma’s table in time for Grandpa’s blessing before carving into Olivia’s perfectly cooked turkey.

Of course, real life has never been that simple.

About the middle of November, you’ll hear me start to spout some very familiar phrases. “The date on the calendar doesn’t really matter. We love seeing you anytime.” And then there’s the ever popular “Even if we can’t all be together at the same time, We’ll love having each of you.” Sigh.

These statements are actually very true, of course. And to be fair, our children don’t neglect us. We talk to them quite often, and have seen all of them as recently as last summer. It’s just that as the smell of freshly baked sugar cookies starts to fill the air, I have to repeat these things over and over to convince myself.

I blame the media.

Just when I’ve adjusted to seeing my kids and grands on a trickle in and out basis between Thanksgiving and Spring Break, one of those hokey commercials pops up on the television. You know the scene. The well-groomed family is gathering around a perfectly dressed table next to a beautiful Christmas tree. Everyone glances with a smile at the picture of the one missing member who can’t join them because they are… fill in the blank … off to college, defending our freedoms in the military, or serving as a missionary in Bora Bora.

The youngest members of the group are peering out the window through the gently falling snow trying to catch a glimpse of Santa’s sleigh. Just as Mom carries the antique gravy boat to the table, the doorbell rings. Dad opens the door, and Surprise! Wayward Child appears on the porch with his back pack and duffel bags full of dirty laundry (oops- I mean Christmas presents). Laughter, hugs, cut to the product logo.

What are they trying to sell? Don’t bother me with details.

An Eighties movie called “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” emphasizes our obsession with being home for the holidays. The characters played by Steve Martin and John Candy suffer all sorts of indignities before bonding and ultimately making it just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

In our family, we’ve often tried to explain to our kids how difficult it is to make a journey to see each other. Our oldest grandson used to recite a little “How do we get there?” speech, which summarized the directions to his destination. He particularly liked the route to Uncle Jon’s, Uncle Chris and Aunt Kat’s houses- “Out on the highway, over the mountains, and through the tunnel” back in the Fayetteville days. Then, after he moved to Texas, the trip to see anyone was “Drive, drive, drive, Take a Nap, drive, drive, drive some more.”

Add to the logistics the fact that all of our little families have jobs and vacation schedules to juggle, and the realities of assembling in one spot on any given day become very difficult. I understand that perfectly, really I do.
Uh-oh. There’s another commercial, playing “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” Somebody turn that doggoned TV off.

After all, Christmas is not about me, anyway. It’s a time to be reminded of the great love our Heavenly Father demonstrated when he sent His Son to live here with us. Because of that great gift, we all have a chance to be together at home someday.
So, Good-night Grandpa, Good night, Mary Ellen, Goodnight Ben, and Merry Christmas John-Boy, wherever you are!

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