Something to be proud of

It’s quite possible that the thoughts I’m about to share are largely due to hormones, seeing as how I’m 8 months pregnant. Nonetheless…

Several months ago I found a picture of my late grandparents, Robert (Bob) and Inga Blair. I found a rustic frame to put the picture in and created a place for it on the bookshelf in my home office. It’s a simple picture—just the two of them standing in their dining room. Grandpa was wearing his good cowboy hat and Grandma was wearing earrings, so they must have been on their way to town. Grandpa’s arm was around Grandma, and she was holding his hand. They both wore their big smiles that had created deep lines in their faces over the years. Smiles that, if you knew them, reminded you of their wonderful senses of humor that had endeared the entire rural community to them.

Grandma and Grandpa

Grandpa was a small Irish man who was as tough as he was kind-hearted. He had a funny saying for every situation, and he never met a child or animal he didn’t love. He left home after the 8th grade with no possessions, started his family during the Great Depression, and accumulated more than 10,000 acres of land over the course of his lifetime. He left a legacy behind him, rich with not only possessions, but family and people who loved him. He was the bank when his friends couldn’t get a loan. He was the voice of reason when someone was being rash. And he was a scrapper when he was defending the code he lived by. At his funeral, friends shared memories of him that filled the room with laughter. I shared something I’d written about him called The Greatest Man I Know that filled the room with tears.

My grandmother was equally unique and wonderful. Her love for her family knew no bounds. She was a Norwegian woman with a personality big enough to handle my grandpa’s and a spirit light enough to appreciate his shenanigans. She was always trying to put meat on people’s bones. When we were young, she’d disappear into the other room and reappear with a measuring cup full of skittles for each of the grandkids that came to visit. We never did find her hiding place for those skittles. Grandma was a woman of few words, but when she spoke, you listened. She was the perfect complement to my grandpa, like a team of horses. They just worked better as a pair.

Without going into a lot more detail, suffice it to say that I loved my grandparents fiercely. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that the special role my grandpa played in my life is one that not everyone has had the pleasure of experiencing. Not everyone has had a rock—a role model—like my grandpa. For some reason, my brothers and I just wanted to make my grandpa proud. Sometimes that meant getting out the lawnmower and mowing his lawn without being asked. It would have been enough to hear him say thank you, or to receive that “good job” slap on the back from him that almost hurt… but he would also reward us with a crisp $5 or $10 bill. My brothers and I worked hard and played hard with Grandpa, and loved every minute of it. Some of my favorite memories of my childhood involve having an ice cream cone with Grandpa after a job well done, or taking a ride on the bench-seated 3-wheeler that Grandpa would pull out before the sun went down on a summer night. They were simple pleasures but they meant the world to us.

To this day, the opinion of my grandpa matters to me. It’s one of the reasons my hair has been long all my life. Grandpa liked it that way. He’s also big part of the reason I’m frugal with money. He didn’t buy what he didn’t need. He taught my dad to be that way, and from watching both of them make financial decisions for the ranch over the years, I’ve learned to be careful with money too.

Now, since finding that picture of my grandparents, at least a couple times per week I’ll look up from my work and glance at it. It always causes me to pause for a minute and remember them. It always causes me to shift my focus and see my life in simpler terms—the terms Grandpa lived by. I find myself wondering what Grandpa would say about my life if he were alive today. I wonder what questions he would have for my husband and what adventures he would have taken Mylo on out at the ranch. I wonder what new stories he would tell about his life as a young cowboy that he’d recall when spending a day with us now. (No matter how many stories he told, there were always new ones we’d never heard.)

Today I sat in my office chair, feeling my unborn son moving and kicking inside me, and I glanced up at that picture. Suddenly tears were streaming down my face, partly because I miss them, but mostly because my husband and I have decided to make our son’s middle name Robert. I think my husband agreed to it because he knows it means a lot to me, but he will never know how much it means. He’ll never know how sad I am that my grandpa never got to meet my husband… never got to look in my husband’s eyes and grip his hand firmly with a handshake that both greeted him warmly and evaluated him as a man. He’ll never know how much I wish my grandfather could have seen what a hard worker he is and how well he takes care of me and his sons. As I thought about this I was reminded of the Montgomery Gentry song, Something To Be Proud Of. You see, I know my grandpa would have been proud of the family I have and the life we’ve built. I know he would have liked my husband and I know the smile my sons would have brought to his face. So my tears as I thought about all of this come from sadness at the missed opportunity to see pride in my grandpa’s face. But they also come from the joy I have about my husband, my boys, and my opportunity to let my grandpa’s name live on in my son.

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Gratitude

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.” ~Seneca

I feel gratitude right now. I have felt it before, sometime in college when I realized how lucky I was to have the family I have. Not everyone is so lucky. I didn’t always know that. As is so often true I suppose, I didn’t know it until I needed them. You don’t realize that someone is there to catch you until you fall.

I felt that same gratitude with every hardship I faced, until slowly I learned to stand on my own two feet. I stopped falling, or at least falling so hard.

I feel gratitude again now. I waited a long time for the man who would elicit such a feeling. Truthfully, I didn’t know exactly what I was waiting for, just as you don’t know what the best day of your life will be like until you’re living it.

My sister-in-law gave me a card once. I can’t remember the reason for the card… a birthday maybe. But I do remember what it said. I saved the card and committed the message to memory. It was meant to encourage me–to give me strength to continue waiting. She had waited and found my brother. She knew I was waiting too. The quote was from the movie “How to Make an American Quilt”. It was an excerpt of this:

I know our marriage has as good of a chance of being wonderful as it does missing the mark.  However, I’m banking on our love for each other to weigh a bit heavier on the wonderful side. As Anna says about making a quilt, you have to choose your combination carefully. The right choices will enhance your quilt. The wrong choices will dull the colors, hide their original beauty. There are no rules you can follow. You have to go by your instinct.  And you have to be brave.

Today I’m stepping back to look at my quilt. It’s wonderful. I chose my colors well. Not only is it beautiful, but it’s warm and comforting. At the center of the quilt is the man I chose. Surrounded by him are a wonderful and bright little boy, my step-son; a loving mother-in-law who would give us the world if she could; her husband, who is endlessly patient and kind; and two dogs, full of personality and quirks.  The backing of the quilt is my family, who support and love the colors I’ve chosen. In pieces, we’re chaotic, but sewn together, we make sense. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s my quilt.

I am walking through life, wrapped in soft armor. And I know who to thank for it…

Life is so, so sweet

For the second day in a row, at 6:30 pm, give or take 10 minutes, I opened the door to our house and was hit by the smell of a hot, home cooked meal. And I was greeted by smiles from the most handsome man I know and his precious little boy. Tension melted off my shoulders and I became acutely aware of how happy I was to be home.

How happy I was that this was my home.

How lucky I was that I found him.

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If you had asked me a year ago where I would be this July, I never would have guessed that I would have moved to Colorado Springs, be engaged to a Navy fighter pilot, and be learning to be a mom. My life has shifted 180 degrees, in the direction I’ve always wanted it to go but couldn’t take it there alone. And I can now confirm that what I always believed turned out to be true… that it would be easy when I met the right man. That everything would fall into place and I would “just know”. That my priorities would shift and I wouldn’t be so career-focused. That everything would make sense.

What I didn’t know, however, was that it is possible to be in a relationship and to be in love every day. It is possible to be in a relationship and to be perfectly content with life… to be free of anxiety and doubt. I didn’t know what it was like to trust someone fully. I had always felt the need to hold something back… love or time or (sadly) money… to protect myself. I had never met the man I could invest in fully and throw caution to the wind. Until now.

But now, here I am, coming home to a home cooked meal on the days that I work and he doesn’t. And I sometimes come home to find flowers on the table for me, just because… or a refrigerator stocked with foods that he doesn’t eat, like Greek yogurt and hummus. And I always come home to a man who greets me with a smile and is as excited to spend the evening together as I am.

And have I mentioned how handsome he is??

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I have found such joy in simplicity. Such fulfillment in being a part of a family. Just this morning, Little Man followed me around the kitchen, still in his pajamas, giving me hugs every few minutes. I stopped what I was doing and knelt down for a full-on hug, where he rested his head on my shoulder, and overflowed my heart. Just a hug. Who knew that was all it would take.

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Life is so, so sweet. I am so blessed.

 

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I hunt like a girl

I can count on one hand the number of hunting seasons I’ve missed since I was about three years old. When I was little, I just tagged along. Dad would leave the pick-up running so I’d be warm, and I’d eat candy and drink soda while I waited for the men to come back. I remember feeling like I needed to at least look for deer, so I would have something to report upon their return. Just tryin’ to be helpful. But usually I crashed from the sugar and fell asleep across the binoculars and ammunition boxes that were scattered around on the seats of Dad’s work pick-up.
 
When I got a little older, it became my job to “walk the bottom”. Two people would sit at the end of a draw and wait for the rest of us to walk it, pushing deer toward them. The walkers would spread out, with one person walking the top of each side, one person walking the middle of each side, and one person walking down through the bottom, crawling over dead branches and wading through creeks. The person walking the bottom made a lot of noise, got a lot of exercise, and saw very few deer. It was a perfect job for me.
 
When I was in college, my dad gave me my first rifle, which to this day is one of the best Christmas presents I’ve ever received. It’s a small .243 with a good scope. It has almost no “kick”, so I wasn’t scared to shoot it, and the size doesn’t weigh me down. I didn’t know it then, but it’s a pretty small gun as far as deer rifles go. But that’s ok. It just means I have to be a good shot. And so far, I have yet to shoot at something and miss.
 

My rifle

But I don’t want to mislead anyone. I don’t deserve any praise. Because the truth is…

I hunt like a girl.

Every time I raise my rifle to look through the scope, my heart starts racing. I’ve only killed two deer… only shot twice. And both times, I was terrified. Scared to pull the trigger. Scared to miss. Scared to not miss. Scared for the deer. Scared to make a fool of myself. But I suppose that’s part of the reason people hunt—to overcome the fear. (Try getting a man to admit that.)

I get cold faster than the men do, or at least I start complaining about it sooner. My feet freeze in the South Dakota cold and I start wishing for hot coffee and a fireplace. It’s a production when I have to go to the bathroom, not only to find a place out of sight of all the men and their binoculars, but to get out of six layers of clothing and… you get the idea. I have not and will not ever “gut” my own deer. I couldn’t saw through the pelvic bone if I tried, but mostly, I just don’t want to. I may have just killed a wild beast, but thankfully, the men recognize that I’m suddenly a damsel in distress once it’s on the ground. And I’m happy to let them be my heroes.  🙂

You see, the real fun of hunting for me is not actually in the hunt. It’s in everything that comes along with the hunt, such as the whispered conversations I have with Dad as we sit in the snow and wait for the sun to come up and the bowls of chili we eat around the dinner table to thaw ourselves out. I look forward to deer season all year long because it’s time with my dad and brothers and family friends that I cherish. Dad beams when his kids are home. It’s his livelihood—his ranch—that brings us together for a common purpose. It’s the time when we bond together for a shared goal. We scout and plan and strategize. And while we do that, we eat and drink and laugh at stories from deer seasons past. It’s our family and our time. And while each hunt is an opportunity for all of us to bring home a trophy, we always make it mostly about one person. “Let’s get Dan that monster whitetail. He’s overdue for a big one.”

I remember the first year I hunted to kill—the year after Dad gave me my rifle. The whole weekend was about getting me a deer! After a day and a half of missed opportunities, it was the afternoon of the second day. It was our last hunt before sundown, and we would be leaving the next day to drive back to Denver. I felt pressure to not let everyone down after the effort they had put into helping me. We had our plan. The deer would be coming out to eat before sunset, and we were going to put ourselves in position to see them on the alfalfa field. There were four of us on the hunt: Dad, my big brother Dan, our friend Troy, and myself.

We parked the pickup at the top of the hill above the alfalfa field and walked, out of sight, down to the haystacks near the field. We must have spotted two dozen deer as we walked slowly, quietly into position. And then we spotted it. … The Big One. … The one we were hoping to see. My heart raced. We huddled and Dad whispered the plan to us. But before we could execute it, The Big One took off. He dropped into the draw near the alfalfa field and was out of sight. We started running to where he disappeared, hoping to see him come up on the other side. And we did! We crouched in the snow, watching him slowly climb the hill on the opposite side, waiting for him to come into a clearing.

And then he stopped. Broadside. And Dad said exactly what I was praying wouldn’t be said. “Pam! Shoot him!”

I took my gloves off and settled into the snow, stabilizing myself. I drew up on him and found him in my scope. He still looked tiny. “Dad,” I whispered. “How far away is that??”

“You can shoot him at that distance,” he said.

I looked again. No better. Shit. Deep breath. Holy shit. Ok.

I tried to remember everything I’d been taught about shooting a gun. Very little emerged through my adrenaline clouded consciousness. Let out all your air, I remembered. So I did. But that was no good because then I had no air. So I took a deep breath and held it. And aimed. And prayed. And fired.

The deer bucked. HIT!! As soon as the men confirmed that I had hit him, they all opened fire. World War III erupted on Dad’s ranch. I didn’t fire another shot. I froze. They all emptied their rifles while the deer slowly made its way up the hill and out of sight. None of them could land a second shot. The Big One was wounded but not even scared. But there’s a rule on Dad’s ranch. You never leave a wounded deer without exhausting all efforts to put it out of its misery. And so the hunt was on and chaos ensued. Dan sprinted nearly a mile back to the pickup and came tearing across the prairie to pick us all up and take us across the draw to where we last saw the buck go out of sight. Dad nearly fell out of the pick-up when Dan punched the gas before he was able to close the pick-up door. We bounced around with all the guns and binoculars and ammo, speeding across trenches and ditches, where no vehicle should go. When we got to the other side of the draw, one-by-one, we bailed out of the pick-up to try to pick up the deer’s trail in different places.

I bailed out last. And saw The Big One! This time he was running. I fired and hit him again but he kept running. Dan fired his last bullet at him and missed. Then he grabbed my gun out of my hands and ran after him. I just laughed at the ridiculousness of it. Dan fired and hit him this time but still didn’t stop him! Finally, Troy fired and hit him, and it was bullet number four that brought him down. It was my deer… but it was our kill.

We went home that night wired from adrenaline and high on success. It was a shared victory and a story that would be told for years to come. We even named part of the ranch after that story. The place where I sat in the snow to take my first shot became known as Copper Hill because of all the bullets that were fired there. As the story spread over the months to come, the neighbors teased me about running the town out of ammunition. I just smiled and reminded them that I only fired twice. And both shots were hits. Blame the men for the rest of it. 😉

My next deer hunt went much better but was much less exciting. One shot, meat. I learned my lesson after the first one. My little rifle is not meant to kill a deer at 350 yards. Or 400 yards… or 450 yards. (The distance grows every time the story is told.)

I leave on Friday to go home for another hunting season and I can’t wait. This time my brother is bringing his little boy, who is old enough now to sit in the pick-up and eat candy. Dan is passing the tradition on through the generations, and I look forward to doing the same with my kids. I hope I have a daughter.

So she can hunt like a girl too.

Deer season 2010

Maybe it'll be big enough next year

He Was Our World

All parents have bedtime rituals they go through with their kids, and all kids learn to expect the routine. When I was little, my favorite part of the ritual was when Dad would come in to say goodnight, and we would beg him to “bounce us”. He would pick us up and tell us to stiffen up, like a board. We’d lie flat across his arms, and he would toss us up in the air and flip us over, from our stomach to our back and vice versa. We never knew how many times he was going to catch us before he finally let us drop to bounce on the bed. Then he tucked us in and said goodnight. Anyone who has had any experience with kids knows that this is exactly what you should not do right before bed, because he wound us up and left us laughing in the dark, far from being ready to fall asleep. And Mom would just shake her head and say nothing. It was Dad’s ritual and we loved it, so she let it be.

 There is something incredibly special about the relationship between a father and his children. Obviously that’s true of a mother-child relationship too, but I’ll save that for another discussion. Lately, I’ve been thinking about dads.

 I had a conversation recently with a friend who lost his father just before the holidays a couple years ago. I don’t know this friend’s history very well, and I didn’t know his dad at all, but the subtle change in my friend’s voice as he told me about his father was unmistakable. What I took from the conversation was this… his dad, Jim, was larger than life. Jim was a big man, standing at a towering 6’5” over his pretty little wife. But it wasn’t his size that made him a giant. It was his character. Jim was married at 22 while still in college. He joined the family furniture business and ran it for more than 20 years. During that time he and his wife had three kids who were raised to live by the Golden Rule and let their faith guide them. My friend told me once that he just wanted to be seen as a good person, like his dad was.

 The loss of his father was sudden. Jim went for a walk one day and didn’t make it home. In fact, he didn’t make it to the end of the block. It was just his time. He was one of the longest living double transplant recipients, having received a new kidney and pancreas to battle his diabetes 18 years earlier. He had gone on to make the most out of life, and counseled others going through the same procedure. The Organ Transplant Society publications bear Jim’s quote, “No one should have to go through this alone.” Jim showed his children what it meant to be a good man, and they would discover that he would be their example of what a parent should be as well. To his wife, he was a good husband. To his community, he was an honest business man and good Samaritan. But my friend said something that left me thinking for days about the importance of fathers. When talking about how he and his sisters leaned on each other every year on their late father’s birthday, my friend was quiet for a minute before saying…

 “He was our world.”

 The love of a mother is one that is soft, patient, nurturing, protective. Metaphorically speaking, moms are like a warm hug when you need it most. But the love of a father is different. I remember Theo, my little brother, saying that our dad was the strongest man in the world. As a toddler, he could easily be coerced into eating his food if you told him that “5 more bites” would make him big and strong like Daddy. Children put their fathers on a pedestal and strive to make them proud. Dads are more likely to let their children climb out on a limb and sometimes fall. They’ll be there to pick their kids up, but unlike a protective mother, a dad wants to see his kids push themselves… face failure and learn from it. Scratch up their knees from bike crashes and do it better next time. Research has shown that it’s our dads who teach us to believe in ourselves.

 Studies have also shown that the influence of a father in a girl’s life is predictive of emotional health as an adolescent. Girls who grow up with an involved father are more confident and less likely to wind up in an abusive relationship. It’s our dads who teach us the way we should expect to be treated by men and to stand up for ourselves. I don’t mean to imply that these things can’t be learned from our moms, or that every dad is a good dad. That’s simply not the case. But having a great father figure is undoubtedly a “one up” and a true blessing in a child’s life.

 Hearing my friend talk about his father so reverently dug up some memories for me. I was about 10 years old the first time I received flowers for Valentine’s Day. Three roses and some baby’s breath… from my dad. I felt so special, as if I’d graduated into a new chapter, because I thought only women received Valentine’s Day flowers. The little card said “A rose for my Rose.” (My middle name is Rose.) My dad was the only person who ever called me by that name… or Rosie. He also sang Yellow Rose of Texas to me all the time, until I had every word of the song memorized. To this day, I still have that little Valentine’s Day card.

The summer before my 8th grade year, my dad was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. He had been sick for a while, and we finally knew why. He was hospitalized for a short time, and when they released him, we were told that he shouldn’t be alone until he was used to regulating his blood sugar levels with insulin. So I volunteered to move back to the ranch, go back to the little one-room schoolhouse I had attended when I was younger, and live with Dad. (We had two homes at the time… one in Spearfish, where Mom went to college, and one at the ranch where Dad’s livelihood was.) So Dad and I became very close that year. He would let me drive the old ranch pickup the 10 miles to school, as practice before I got my license. He didn’t bat an eye when I backed into my grandpa’s pickup, damaging both vehicles. It was a learning experience, he said. Dad and I sang to country music on our trips into town. We had our favorite shows. We walked a hundred miles, scouting for deer before hunting season. We truly became friends. And to this day, my dad is one of my closest friends. He taught me to be independent, but is always there to pick me up when I fall. And as much of a rock as he is for me, he is a marshmallow on the inside. If Dad ever sees me cry, his eyes water along with mine. It’s a bond that I cherish.

So as I heard my friend talk about the loss of his father, my heart ached for him. I imagined all the calls I make to my dad, to share milestones, to ask for advice, to bounce ideas off of him… and I can only imagine the emptiness I will feel when the day comes that I can no longer call my dad. Actually, we had a scare a few years ago, so that day came a little too close for comfort. Dad was told he had Melanoma, and a misunderstanding between him and the doctor led our family to believe that he had Stage 4 Melanoma. Stage 4 means that the cancer has spread to lymph nodes, the blood, the organs, etc. The prognosis is terrible. I was driving when Dad told me the news, and I could barely stop shaking enough to pull my car over and have a grand scale break down. My brothers and I all flew home for Dad’s next appointment with the specialist. And you better believe some tears of joy flowed when we learned that it was actually Level 4 Melanoma… indicative of the cancer’s depth in the skin. It had not spread, and a simple surgical procedure would cure him. We had a second chance to make the most of our time with Dad. I dread the day that I have to face that terrible news again.

 When a child looks at their father, they don’t see how much money he makes or how powerful a position he holds. That’s not how a man rises up on a pedestal in his child’s eyes. Rather, it’s the time he spends playing with his kids that matter. It’s stories he tells them. It’s playing catch. It’s laughing together. It’s wrestling and tickle fights. It’s bedtime rituals and letting kids break Mom’s rules sometimes. And it’s even the tough love that he has to give as a disciplinarian. It’s a one-of-a-kind relationship. We should all count our blessings if we had an amazing father, and count them a second time if we still have him…. because we only get one dad.

 And he was our world.

 

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Tradition

It’s funny how a simple question from another person can resurrect memories that you hadn’t thought about since childhood. Someone recently asked me about my family’s Christmas traditions, and it made me reminiscent. I began thinking about all our traditions, and some things came to mind that I hadn’t thought about in ages.

My favorite childhood tradition was playing cards at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Almost every weekend we would drive over to their house after dinner one night to play Pitch. They would have the kitchen table pulled out away from the wall, and the playing cards would be sitting on the table next to a pen and paper to keep score. Grandma always had some kind of goodies to serve us, which Mom rationed so we wouldn’t have a sugar high before bedtime. Homemade popcorn was made, ice tea was served, and as soon as we’d drawn cards for partners, we sat down at the table and the game commenced. No matter how many times we heard Grandpa call someone a Ninnyhammer, our laughter was just as loud as the first time. The game was always fun. Grandma could be counted on to mistake a heart for a diamond and get flustered enough to cuss. Grandpa could be counted on to make a risky bet and take his partner down with him when it didn’t pan out. “I got what the little boy shot at” was Granddad’s way of saying that he got nothing…made zero points. And we would all laugh, him included.

Tradition is what keeps a culture alive. The wedding ceremony involving a bride in white being given away by her choked up father is one that has held on. But we really have very few that belong to the American culture. Thanksgiving might qualify, although I wonder if anyone pays attention to the reason for the holiday anymore…to give thanks. The Christmas celebration would qualify, but it’s become a commercialized event focused on gift-giving as opposed to a religious holiday. Nonetheless, they both bring families together and that’s reason enough.

What events held importance in your life? For me, the year progressed as follows: In the winter we built snow forts and looked forward to ‘snow days’ when we could stay home from school. Dad would tie sleds on the back of the snowmobile with ropes and pull us around (over frozen cow pies…funny what you remember). Mom would bake things that made the house smell good when we came in to thaw out from sledding. Spring was branding season. The neighbors helped us at our brandings and we helped them at theirs. They involved a lot of work followed by a lot of good food. Easter came, which meant a new Easter dress. In the summer was baseball, two games per week and practice with dad behind the shop. By “practice” I mean my dad would hit balls to my brother and me on an uneven field cut by a windrower. My brother and I fought over the number 34 jersey, Kirby Puckett’s number. We put up hay in the summer, every day that it didn’t rain. There was always at least one inner tubing trip down the Cheyenne River, followed by camping. The muddy water dried on you and cracked on your face when you opened your mouth wide. It was a race to the shower when we got home the next day.

We always took a family vacation in August: Disneyland, Yellowstone, Minneapolis for a Twins game and Valley Fair, and when we were older, a cruise in the Caribbean. (That was the first time I ever saw Mom drunk. Tequila Sunrises go down a little too easy.) In the fall, raking leaves and jumping in leaf piles sticks in my head. Halloween was thought about well in advance, because my mom would sew us some of the coolest, most elaborate (and most uncomfortable) costumes you’ve ever seen. Because we lived in such a remote area, trick-or-treating beyond Grandma’s house was out of the question, so the community threw a big party for the kids. There was candy, games, costume contests, bobbing for apples, and tag outside in the dark. November brought hunting season. Friends and family would come, bringing with them gifts, stories, laughter, and a great reason to make chili. Thanksgiving was our biggest holiday, and usually included dozens of family members and a houseful of chaos. But Christmas was my favorite because Mom and Dad would point out Rudolph’s nose in the sky on our way home from Christmas Eve mass (as a ploy to get us to bed in a hurry). Christmas day was a small gathering of just my family and my beloved grandparents, and it included plenty of free time to play with new toys.

I think about these things as I plan for the kids I don’t have yet. What traditions will I carry on for them? Undoubtedly, the things that hold importance to them will surprise me, just as the things I recount from my childhood surprise my parents. Just goes to show that you can’t plan the moments that will be sealed forever in time.