Saturday, December 20, 2014

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

December 16, 2014: A Mary Story

Love abound? Probably not...
Cleaning up my e-mail archives, I stumbled on a story my mom shared with my nephew and then later shared with me. My first ordinary day as the little sister...

Sandy Wagner: home from the hospital 9/16/67

Dear Josh,

Aunt Sandy turned 46 years old last Friday, the 13th. After getting home from the hospital on the 16th, I laid Sandy on the sofa and called Matt & Mark to come in the house from the backyard. Babysitters Gma & Gpa Gib were going on and on about our new pink bundle of joy while both boys walked very carefully to investigate what warranted so much attention. They got real close to her face for a really good look. Who to blame? I don't remember, but someone flipped the top of the blanket over Sandy's face. No longer interested and impatient to play again, they left the room to go back outside.

I wish I could describe Gma Gib's reaction and Gpa Gib's laugh. Gma Gib was a little less complementary a few minutes later saying "She looks like a little papoose!" Granted, Sandy's skin was somewhat ruddy that hot day and it didn't help that I had wrapped her as tight as a drum in her blanket. Gma Gib never beat around the bush.

Gramma Mary

Friday, December 12, 2014

December 12, 2014: Sentimental Sandy

My record player and favorite holiday vinyl
Today I'm working from home. New windows are being installed. This was a planned expense. Last week the water heater was replaced and the week before that, the heater and air conditioner. None of which were planned. Ouch.

'Good attitude', I keep reminding myself. I will have a whole new house by the time I'm done! Expensive? Yes, but thank goodness I have saved for a rainy day (I thank my parents for teaching me this early in life). far as these last few weeks go...such is life.

Dealing with monetary matters and material 'stuff'' doesn't cause me to lose sleep. I fully realize that it's all just stuff. Here today, gone tomorrow. It's the non-material stress in life that requires me to stay focused and stay positive. Relationships, health, attitude...they all take work and are so intertwined with those around us; inner circle and outer circle. A careful balance with much nurturing is required. But even with the best nurturing, they can still go astray.

That's tough for me. I want to fix everything. And I think I can fix everything. It's in my DNA. When I can't, I'm bitterly disappointed. But...back to the wiring, I must rally. Happiness is a choice. I choose happy. Always. Even when life seems full of lemons.

A friend once complemented me on my positive attitude. She coined me Sentimental Sandy as I tended to reach back to happy life moments in times past. I do this in my story telling and picture sharing. If they warm my heart, I typically find a way to share these sentimental tidbits with others.

It's not a bad gig to be a little sentimental. It brings joy to the moment and it's of my free will on which memories I want to focus. I've personally never believed in holding a grudge. Holding on to negative feelings makes no sense to me. What does that gain? Nothing.

Rose colored glasses? Perhaps. But I sure have a happy life. A better choice, in my mind.

Today I dropped Garrett off at the office to proceed home to meet the Pella crew. The time required to deal with this home issues certainly hasn't been allotted in my time budget. But such is life. Time to turn on my favorite Sirius Christmas station, Traditional. I swoon with Bing Crosby and sing along with Bob Hope as he entertains the troops. I warmly think of my deceased grandparents as Glenn Miller swings to Jingle Bells. Happy.

At home, I quickly turn on my favorite Christmas vinyl. My parents played this same record when I was child. Our record player of the 70's was a large wooden piece of furniture, topped with burning Christmas candles, handmade decorations made at school, and a nativity scene.

I recently discovered this vinyl burrowed in a corner stack at an antique store. I was filled with sentimental joy when I found this treasure, deeming it a Godwink.

My morning has been filled with hanging my kids' pictures from Christmas' past and Santa letters on the wall of my art room. My "Christmas Music Festival" music fills the air of my small space with coffee mug steaming and my sweet pup is nestled in at my feet. A mini-Christmas tree sets in the corner, filled with ornaments from my childhood.

A good day, I believe. I wouldn't have it any other way. I choose happy.

Monday, December 1, 2014

December 1, 2014: Brad Lane...Gone, but not Forgotten

Brad Lane...Gone, but not Forgotten

Brad died on December 1, 2007.  Although it has been seven years, many details from the days following his death feel like yesterday. This is especially true each year as we reflect on the anniversary of his passing.  Somehow that fateful time becomes a raw memory imbedded in the mind with a void that grows bigger in the heart as this day passes.  I see it in the eyes of his family and in their words of encouragement to each other as they cope to get through and rally as a family.  That is the Lane way…cope, love, persevere together.  As this anniversary is now behind us, the memories burn bright again.  And we all know that memories come in many shapes and sizes.  For the Lane’s, memories are carried in the good; that of a lovable brother, uncle, son and in the bad; the painful memories of losing Brad.
What began as a very ordinary Saturday in Nebraska, one that most of us have experienced a hundred times over, turned into a day that changed our lives forever.  A rain hit the ground that early morning and turned into a mild ice storm.  With resolve under the cloudy skies and slippery roads, I ventured out to follow my Saturday gym routine.  My family stayed back at home in different stages of sleep and sleepiness with the beginnings of our seemingly Saturday normalcy.  But this day quickly turned into all but normal.  In between workout reps, I picked up my phone and noticed several missed calls from home.   “Probably the boys wanting me to pick up donuts on my way home,” I thought.  Scott answered my call back with a statement that was so surreal at the time that I couldn’t even comprehend who he was referring to.  “Brad is dead”. After a very confusing conversation that followed, I was aware that the 'Brad' Scott was referring to was his younger brother.  Brad Lane had died that morning; just four days shy of his fortieth birthday.
I actually knew Brad before I knew Scott as I was introduced to most of the Lane
family in 1986 while a pregnant Robbie’s loyal sidekick and trusted friend.  I remember my first introduction to this crew was a framed family picture that Robbie proudly had on display in her dorm room.  This treasure had the Lane kids sitting stacked one after another up a playground slide with heads peaking out either side.  The parents sat proudly at the top of their brood.  Robbie would recite their names to me and point out their individual differences and similarities.  I was intrigued by these smiling toe heads from the get go and before I had even met them.  The Lane clan was a cross between the “Brady Bunch” and “Eight is Enough” (but with nine kids instead of eight). And Brad was the fun loving brother.  He was always the one to get the first laugh and a charmer with his boyish grin.  He had a sense of genuineness to him that made you instantly feel at ease.  I personally experienced this unconditional acceptance as he immediately received me as “one of them”.  I felt like a Lane girl from day one.  For Brad, being Lane and being Otis (Brad’s family nickname) meant acceptance and putting others before himself.  Brad never knew a stranger.

Brad and I with Jason and Jennifer...visiting my Aunt Joan & friends :)
We buried Brad on a Wednesday.  It was a cold day with overcast skies.  As we were still trying to make sense out of the unthinkable, there was a general feeling among family similar to that of a dull ache.  We didn’t know the answers and couldn’t even begin to put our arms around the reality of this loss.  But the family pulled together as we cared for the many grandchildren, made funeral arrangements, and made many trips to the airport with arms open to mourning out-of-state family.  Just as this large crew came together for the multitude of celebrations over the years, they were now preparing to bury their son and brother as a unified family.
People came to the wake and the funeral in masses.  Devotion and love toward the Lane’s was evidenced by the number of people who had come to pay their respects to a family that had always continuously given of themselves.  As Cookie and Russ unselfishly shared their love of life with those they encountered, these same people were now overwhelmingly supporting them.  All who know the Lane’s know that they are a family who would give you the shirt off their back.  And they would do this knowing there was no spare shirt in their drawer to replace it.  I have had the benefit of being a part of this family for over half of my life and being “raised” Lane during my young adult years.   Through this blessing, I have learned many great lessons of the heart and the value of being a part of a family that continually gives.
 There is a saying that people don’t always remember exact words or actions, but they always remember how they felt.  This best describes Brad’s funeral.  I don’t remember the exact readings nor do I remember who I sat beside, but I do remember holding on to each other as we sobbed with tears that never stopped flowing.  I remember feeling a huge sense of sadness and loss, but also a sense of complete family unity.  I remember all of us watching closely over grandchildren and reaching out to hold them as we saw them struggling during the service.  I remember watching my sons cry not only for a lost uncle they adored, but for their broken father and bereaved grandparents.  There was a hole that was left in the heart of a family that can never be replaced.
Fr. Don left a mark on this mourning family with the most amazing sermon from the heart; a true gift to the Lane’s.  As a long-time family friend, Fr. Don Shane watched the Lane children grow up.  He celebrated mass with the Lane Family filling an entire row at church.  He spent time in their home, baptized their grandchildren, and shared many laughs with this family full of an abundance of family humor.  He spoke from the heart with no focus on the “whys” of Brad’s death.   Although I may not remember the exact words, I can tell you that what he said moved me and brought comfort to a family who knew the words he spoke to be true.  “Many families are wealthy.  Most would think this to be a monetary assessment.  I am here to tell you that the Lane’s are a family of wealth.  Their wealth is in kindness and love.  They have richness in a deep and unconditional love for each other and all who are privileged to be part of their circle. Brad was a part of this love and knew this love.  This family grieving in front of me is the wealthiest family I know.”

The Lane Clan...sometime in the 80's
Brad was buried on his fortieth birthday.  We had finished the funeral luncheon and had invited family to gather at our house.  No one was really ready to part and the Lane way is to be together and share time together…pictures, memories, conversation, and always a lot of great food.  So that is what we did.  We packed up cakes and food that had been dropped off by many friends and traveled to West Omaha as we opened our home to anyone who wanted to join us.
As we sat in unity at our house, strange events were unfolding in Omaha.  There was a random mass shooting by a lone gunman at the Omaha Von Maur department store. There were many dead and wounded with many more questions as to the whys and hows.  We were glued to the television set at my home trying to piece together yet another tragedy in our community after an already emotion-filled day.  The following day when the details on the timeline of shooter entry and killings were depicted in the paper, I was quickly aware of a blessing bestowed on me.
The weekend before Brad died I had purchase a little black Christmas dress at Von Maur.  The day before Brad died I noticed the length of the hanging dress in my closet, tags intact, and deemed it too long for my taste.  I had placed the dress in the back of my vehicle making a mental note that I would return it the next week on my way to an out of town client meeting.  You see, as the forever planner, I had mapped my route to my future client meeting and knew a stop by Von Maur in route would both be multi-tasking at its best and an avoidance of the weekend mall crowds.
The day after the funeral and shootings, I noticed the forgotten bag in the back of my car.  The timeline of my aborted plan quickly surged through me as I compared it to the actual series events that transpired over the previous 24 hours.  My client meeting was canceled as it was on the same day as Brad’s funeral.  Based on my scheduled meeting time, if it wasn’t for Brad’s funeral, I would have been at the customer service counter of Von Maur at the exact time that several people were killed and critically wounded by the young gunman.   Although I haven’t shared this Godwink story with many people, I have always felt in my heart that Brad somehow saved my life on that fateful day.  And although this is a far-fetched thought, it is something that I will always hold in my heart to be true.  Brad was a Lane, tried and true, and that’s what Lane’s do; they give you the shirt off of their back and put their family first.
The reality is that the void of Brad’s loss will never be filled and the hole in the heart of the Lane Family never replaced.  Regardless of his journey; a child, brother, son, uncle was taken from this family.  He was a kind heart that we all so desperately wish would have had one more chance at life.  But that is not a decision of man, but of our God. Our blessing stays with us in our memories and in the smiling loving faces of the many nieces and nephews who each carry on a piece of Uncle Brad in their heart.  I can picture him now with his boyish grin looking down at all of us from heaven.   The innocent reality in Brad was that he never judged others and gave of himself with all that he could offer.  And we all know that the heart and the love of a family is the most valuable asset of any individual.  It is this wealth that makes us whole.  Although Brad’s life was short and his accomplishments few by the naked eye, his sharing of kindness and love was a big contribution to a great family legacy.  And the Lane family legacy will continue to make a difference in this world one person at a time.