|Family picture taken in 1984|
They moved in the fall, shortly after I started my sophomore year. I had just started dating Scott and my brother, Matt, had finished a two year stint in the army and was attending college in Fort Dodge.
As we faced our first Christmas outside of our comfortable existence in Remsen, Mom and Dad surprised us with plane tickets to Arizona. This was our first visit to their new home. Mark drove up to join us from Tempe.
I had mixed emotions about this holiday trip. Every family tradition I loved was now history. I had just started dating Scott and couldn't fathom the prospect of being separated from my boyfriend. Matt and I were both enjoying our college years. Christmas breaks in Remsen included socializing with our high school friends, back for the holidays.
Instead we found ourselves traveling to a place foreign to us; lacking of the traditions and relationships that were a big part of our young adult lives. Our plane ride was melancholy, to say the least.
Dad picked us up at the Las Vegas airport and brought us to the Strip. We were introduced to non-Iowa venues; gambling, magnificent buildings, endless buffets and winter warmth. Matt and I quickly became more enthusiastic on our holiday displacement.
Treating our trip like a new chapter for the Wagner family, Dad assured us that we would be enjoying ourselves, but no need for the youthful holiday stuff anymore. He and Mom hadn't put up a single Christmas decoration and no need to waste money on gifts. We would just enjoy each other's company, explore the states new to us and catch some good movies. Sounded good to us.
As Mom was busy with her new 8-5 job and Dad on a more flexible work schedule, we spent most of our time with Dad. The trip was full of mini-adventures and family fun with Dad leading the charge. Matt and I bantered endlessly. The joy in our sibling bickering was a stark reminder on the little time we spent together with our new separate adult lives. I really missed my brother.
Somehow in those few days of hanging out with Dad and Matt, we all realized that all was going to be just fine in our new Arizona chapter. The laughter and love felt the same in Iowa as it did in the Southwest. I could tell that our brother and sister interactions made dad happy. He couldn't help but smile.
Soon Mark joined us on noon on Christmas Eve after a three hour drive from Tempe. Matt and I were so excited to see our middle brother. We hadn't seen him for a year. The joy in siblings reunited must have been obvious and heart-warming to our dad. As we finished hugging, Dad made an announcement.
"Let's go shopping. We are putting up the tree and celebrating Christmas this year."
Mom worked until 5:00. We spent the afternoon shopping the bare aisles at Shopko for last-minute treasures. Cheap cologne, novelty stocking stuffers and logo'd t-shirts were secreting purchased as we all spread across the only department store still opened in Kingman. Then following a trip to the grocery store for traditional salami, Chicken in the Biscuit crackers and not-so-traditional beer, we headed home to surprise mom.
As Mom walked in the door to our jubilant faces, she quickly realized what transpired that Christmas Eve with Dad's proclamation.
"Mary, let's get out the Christmas boxes. We have a tree and decorations to put up."
So as Mom prepared the turkey that had been slowly cooking in the oven, the three Wagner kids decorated the little townhouse with the decorations we grew to love as children. We were giddy with the spirit of Christmas.
As Mom took a picture of the three of us by the tree, the boys wrestled for position as I whined for them to stop. Soon I was in a headlock with them. Our first Arizona Christmas.
I wish I could find that picture. I remember it like yesterday. You can't script happiness. We all felt happiness on that Christmas day. The lesson learned was that the love of a family continues regardless of age, home addresses or distance between us. Thank-you, Dad, for deciding to put up the tree. That will rank on the list of best Christmases.