In just a few days we will all be seated at our places on the Holiday roller coaster and sitting there, starving and wondering why mom plans a dinner in the middle of a football game, she says, “dad, will you say grace?”
As everyone shouts “AMEN” and it seems like a thousand hands are reaching for potatoes and snatching hot-crossed buns, you feel the coaster beginning its initial descent into holiday madness.
As I remember what it was like for the holidays I think back to the periods in my life where I paid my fare, stood in line and then was safety-belted in for what promised to be the greatest attraction of the carnival.
The exhilarating drops, the slow and impatient ascents to the next big thing and heading for that all important corkscrew where you would twist and turn and wish it would last a little longer.
And coming to end of a ride that just goes too quickly, you rush to jump in line to ride it again.
I think first of when I first started to ride and how wonderous it all was. I think about my grandfather who had ridden that coaster 65 times in his lifetime and it makes me wonder how many times will this life afford me that opportunity.
Some of the memories are a little blurry and mixed, but this year I want to remember the top five that come to mind for me. Perhaps it will prompt each of you to sit and write down your top five or even perhaps 10 holiday memories and share it around the table this year.
When I think of the holidays, I remember sometimes missing Thanksgiving while we were out in a deer blind in the brutal cold of an oncoming Wisconsin winter. Praying in a little cabin in central Wisconsin and giving thanks for a very fresh venison dinner that we had harvested that morning. My grandfather said at that time, “It’s not all about the turkey. This reminds me that it’s all about being grateful for what is put on our table.” We then drank a toast of homemade anisette that he made in his basement and I will forever hear his booming voice call out “PROSIT!”
I remember the time when all I wanted for Christmas was a Johnny Reb Cannon. Not old enough to realize the political ramifications of that or the rebel flag that came with it, I just wanted the cannon shooting things like I saw on the commercials on Saturday mornings with my Frosted Flakes cereal and the milk dripping down my chin. I ended up getting the cannon and then had it taken away from me a day later. You see, it shot hard plastic 3” cannon balls and I was using my brother’s head as a target. I thought the crying was a little over the top. You may ask… his or mine. Both.
I get to the next memory and I think to myself… no, I don’t want to remember this one, but you have to follow the rule of the top five that come to mind.
It was to be my first Christmas after a crushing relationship and family split. My brother who absolutely refused to let me “wallow” at Christmas called and cajoled and begged me to make the drive from western Iowa where I was working and living to Milwaukee. The trip through Midwestern snow is a memory in itself, but I remember getting to Milwaukee, a pizza party and a Christmas dinner at my sister-in-law’s relatives. They are all crazy and some years, you just need crazy to get through the rigors of life. My favorite memory was my brother opening up his secret Santa gift, his boisterous songs and wearing goofy glasses screaming, “Bring me a drink. I need another drink,” Knowing he didn’t imbibe made it hilarious.
Thirdly, the year my Grandfather died five days before Christmas and while we were all riding the roller coaster, he would not be participating. When the family passed out presents, Grandma had things wrapped and as we would open our gifts, we remembered him. His rifle. His fishing creel. His fly rods. His hunting coat. Not all your memories will be good ones, but that’s a part of the history of your roller-coaster ride.
Fourth, we were living in Minnesota and I thought everyone was being a little more goofy than usual. Our son Troy was home from his first year of college, our senior in high school was in our home basketball gym playing his music at a “holy mother of God” level, I had gone to bed at a relatively decent hour. Suddenly at 1:30 a.m. the doorbell rang which woke me up as I am a light sleeper. She said, “Someone’s at the door,” to which I replied, “No, duh.” Troy and Seth were up and running downstairs but wouldn’t open the door. When they kept asking who it was, I kept saying “I don’t know since none of us has OPENED THE DOOR.” It turned out to be Tyler and Sara from Michigan. I hadn’t seen them since they were married that summer in Michigan and to make a long story very short, the annual DeLap holiday basketball tournament was very competitive.
And finally, five. Coming home from college my first year and flying into Midway Airport in record cold temperatures. My dad parked about a million miles away and I was sure my hands were frostbit. We drove home to Milwaukee to a family who I hadn’t seen in months. After the initial craziness and me sitting, filling my mom in on my life for about three hours, I heard the radio softly playing Christmas music in the kitchen and I just laid there on the couch and watched the Christmas tree lights twinkle and listened to the music and was grateful. Grateful mostly that my parents hadn’t gotten my grades in the mail yet for that first semester.
As you are reading this you are heading to your seat for this year’s ride. I pray it will be in your top five memories next year. Enjoy your turkey.