December 20, 2014: We are the World

My brothers...Christmas shenanigans 1986
My kids are now adults and an almost-adult. With this rite of passage comes a new way of thinking and planning Christmas.

Although kind-hearted, I know my eldest, at his ripe age of 21, is as concerned with friends' home on break and which party everyone will be at, as he is our family Christmas. Reality: He is more concerned with the former.

My eighteen year-old is just as happy spending time with his girlfriend and her family as our gift opening by my Christmas tree. I'm pretty sure the former wins out again.

And then there is my youngest son, fourteen year-old Grant. Gift buying and wrapping are now an afterthought. Cookie decorating is out. Hanging out with friends; definitely in. Last year, Grant was still a bit fresh in the Christmas frolic. The dawning of a new age has become apparent with his high school years beginning.

Christmas looks totally different this year. Although the tree is glowing and decorations are up, the boys seem to be just playing along with our Christmas traditions. Rather than pretending, I am the wiser. It is the start of something new.

I remember this same change in my own life as a young adult. My age at the time fell between that of my oldest two now, but the feeling was the same. Though the outcome was a pleasant surprise for my family. Our new kind of Christmas was one I will always remember.

Matt, Cousin Adam, Mark, me
My mom often refers to the era of our childhood as our Norman Rockwell years. We lived in a picturesque small town surrounded by miles of open farmland. My mom cooked our meals, sewed our clothes, and stayed home by day for most of our childhood. My brothers and I behaved moderately well within the confines of our small school and church, but ran wild in the open air of the town's parks and streets as our playground.

My dad was the town barber. Always hard-working, dependable and involved in the community. I remember Dad ushering and lecturing at church sporting sideburns and wearing polyester pants. He sat on Parish Council and played in a weekly bowling league. My mom and dad played the traditional parenting roles of the 70's perfectly.

Christmas festivities were run much the same way. Although Dad would help with the heavy lifting of putting up the tree and transporting us for shopping trips, it was my mom who carefully wrapped the gifts, planned the sweet treats, cooked the meals, and made sure each detail of the holidays was accomplished to perfection.

Every year we followed a similar routine; Christmas Eve at my grandparent's farm, Christmas Day at my other grandparents up the street, and always church and lots of colorfully wrapped gifts. All changed in the mid-eighties. It started with my oldest brother joining the Army after high school.

We celebrated our first Christmas with four, rather than five, in 1983. To fill the void, we talked into a tape recorder, sharing our family celebrations with words and stories told into a little microphone. All of our holiday moments of that year were mailed First Class to Germany in a box of filled with cassette tapes.

That same year, my middle brother and I decided to go to a party at a friend's house late Christmas Eve night. Our graduated friends were home from college and this party was the gathering spot. When my dad figured out our socializing ways, he wasn't a bit happy with our young adult choice of a party on Christmas Eve nor was he happy with the parents who allowed this social gathering on a family night.

Soon brother #2 set off on his own, leaving me as an only at home. I will never forget the gift I received that year. It wasn't wrapped nor was it given to me on Christmas Day, but it was a Christmas Gift to me, nonetheless.

1985 was the year of every cool song artist coming together to belt out "We are the World" in raising money for the poor Africa. It was also the first year my family had cable television, watched a station called MTV, and had access to a whole new world of media. Not only did my dad order me a "We are the World" sweatshirt that year, he also did it at a time when we hadn't experienced mail-order-anything outside of the Sears or JC Penny's catalog. It was a quite impressive gesture from a dad.

Very grateful for this ubber-cool gift, Dad's purchase was also a great reminder to me of something more than my dad's generosity.

Dad was always our pillar of sound advice, discipline and all things stable in our lives. With the sweatshirt, I was reminded of something I knew, but didn't always see in our day-to-day routines; his soft heart.

He watched the same video on those poor African kids that I did and it tugged at his heart as it did mine. Not only did he buy the sweatshirt for me, but more importantly, because he felt moved to do something to help the cause.

My dad barely said a word when he gave me this gift as he never made a big deal out of anything he did. But I knew that the gift had meaning and he went through a lot of effort to have it hit our mailbox.

Two years later, our Christmas was full of huge changes. I had completed my first year of college and my parents moved to Arizona. This would be the first year our little family of five would be completely apart over the holidays. Brother Matt was done with the Army and going to college in Iowa. Mark was living in Tempe, Arizona. And my parents lived three hours north of him in Kingman.

In reality, my siblings and I didn't really think being apart was that big of a deal. We were busy with our new lives; full of friends, as well as girlfriends/boyfriend and their families. It was all new and exciting in our young adult minds. But my dad thought otherwise. He bought plane tickets for Matt and me to fly to Arizona over our holiday break. Mark would meet us by car.

Matt and I boarded the plane following our college finals and immediately continued our sibling banter from childhood. We knew innately that being together was the right choice. With a shared Walkman and variety of cassette tapes, we listened together while jostling for elbow space. My favorite sweatshirt was worn, reminding me of a special gift and song from the past.

With our collective ages ranging from 19-21, Dad decided that we were going to do adult things this Christmas and not 'mess' with a tree and all the childish 'stuff'. They lived in a different house, in a different state, without any of the rich memories we shared in our many Christmas' past. I remember Dad saying that it was time to start new traditions. We all agreed.

We discussed plans filled with casino buffets, movies, a night of cards and appetizers, as well as finding venues to explore in their new town. All sounded good to us. Until Christmas Eve.

The year would have been 1986. My brother, Mark, was working a half day in Tempe and wouldn't arrive in Kingman until late afternoon. My mom was working a full time job and would be at work most of the day.

There was a bit of role reversal this Christmas that none of us were accustomed to; my dad took the day off. This Christmas Eve found Mom working while Dad, Matt and I spent the day together. It was up to us to finalize the plan when all five would be together later in the day.

As we poked around town after breakfast, enjoying the downtown holiday decorations, something happened. Dad made a declaration.

"We are doing Christmas right. We're all together and we need a tree and decorations. Just like we've always done. Doesn't matter that we're in Arizona."

And that was it. Dad made up his mind. Over the next four hours, we ran around town buying the perfect tree and whatever gifts were left on the shelves at the discount stores. We pulled out the family Christmas decorations and put up every one. It was a feeling of complete joy and bliss as we frantically tried to pull off a perfect first Christmas in Arizona.

By the time Mom and Mark arrived, the stockings were up with the tree glowing in lights and shiny bulbs. A stuffed turkey was in the oven and our family Christmas vinyls played on the record player. You would have thought we prepared and planned for weeks.

Our working mom walked in the door to a surprise prepared by us. It was just like our Christmas Eve's of the past. Only then, it was Dad coming home from work with Mom and kids awaiting his arrival.

Mark joined us shortly thereafter. And we celebrated. Just like we did in all those Christmas' of the past. The gifts were smaller, as there wasn't much left on K-Mart's shelves the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and the venue different in a warm non-white Arizona. But none of that mattered. What mattered was that we were together. And regardless of our ages, we shared the same joy we did as young school children.

I told Zach last week about my "We are the World" sweatshirt.

"Seriously??" was his response. "Can I have it?"

He was impressed and I was immediately proud of my past treasure.

Being a non-hoarder by nature, I had to break the news that I got rid of it many moons ago. Poor choice, I now know. I tried to find one on-line this year as a gift to my eldest. It appears this vintage sweatshirt is now hard to come by; coveted when found and worth a high price.

I get it. It sure was worth something to me. And as far as Zach and the other boys go this Christmas, all will be okay. We will be together in Colorado after the 25th. They will have had their time with friends and Omaha family. And although this be our first holiday in Colorado, I'm optimistic. After all, home is where the heart is.....

Dad and Mom at a Christmas in the early 80's


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