Sunday, December 24, 2006

There's no place like home for the holidays...

I'm not much of a holiday person. I admit that. But there are some holiday memories that just stick with me, make me laugh and make me mist up a bit.

There was the time when I was very little, probably four or five years old, and was in the Christmas pageant at the Methodist Church, where I went to Sunday School at the time. I remember very little of the pageant, but I remember that we almost didn't get there. When it was time to go to the church for the program, it was so foggy that we nearly couldn't see past the hood of the car. It wasn't typical southern California fog, but more like San Joaquin Valley tule fog, the kind that everyone thinks of when you compare fog to pea soup. When we stopped off to pick up my grandmother, we waited at the end of her long driveway and my dad walked up to the house to bring her to the car; he was afraid that if he drove in, he wouldn't be able to back out again without hitting a tree.

Still, we perservered and made it to the church. As we were going inside, my dad said, "Wouldn't it be funny if were clear as a bell when we come back outside later?" We all laughed and said the early 1960s equivalent of "Yeah, right." We all went inside, the program went well, I guess, since I don't remember any big mistakes being made. I think there were cookies and punch afterward. And when it was time to go, we went outside...and it was clear as a bell. The east wind (you might have heard of it as the Santa Ana wind) had come up and sent the fog back out to sea. Not that my dad was a prophet or anything...he had just lived in the valley long enough that all he usually had to do was go out and take a look at the sky, see which way the wind was blowing from, and he could usually give an accurate weather forecast.

But that's not my favorite Christmas season story. My favorite is from the Christmas about five years after that.

That was the year we were living in Blythe. In a motel room. The thing was, my dad was a produce inspector for the state of California. Sometimes he got sent away from home to work for as long as a month or six weeks at a time. Since it was just my dad, my mother, and myself, we always went along with him when he would work out of town. A few times we lived in apartments, but most of the time we would live in a motel room with a kitchenette attached. This went on for the whole time I was in elementary school; at least a couple of years during that time, we were away from home for at least six months out of the year.

That year, we happened to be in Blythe over the Christmas holidays. Down in the desert there are a number of crops to inspect at that time of the year. I think it was the only time we were actually away from home that time of year. We would have rather been at home, but we got a small tree to sit on the dresser in the room and there were the full complement of presents underneath it. But we didn't know if my dad would have the day off or not; he had had to work on holidays before, so we didn't plan anything.

When he got home after work on Christmas Eve, though, he had news. He had Christmas Day off. Then he asked if we'd like to go home for Christmas, spend the holiday in our own house. Well, of course, my mother and I both said. And so we packed up the car and off we went. Thing was, it was a Volkswagen bug...the old, traditional kind. So I shared the back seat for the more than 260 miles from Blythe to Simi Valley with the Christmas tree and all the gifts. It was a good thing I like the smell of Christmas trees.

We drove a good part of the night, got home very, very late, slept a few hours, had Christmas morning at home. Then, of course, we had to pack back up and head back to Blythe since my dad had to be at work bright and early the next morning. We stopped off at a Denny's restaurant or somewhere like that for Christmas dinner along the way, I think. But we were home for the holidays, and that was a wonderful thing.

And so, for those of you who are home for Christmas this year, treasure the opportunity. And for those who aren't able to be at home this year, treasure the memories of the times you were home and I'll send good thoughts that you are able to be home...wherever you consider home to year.

Happy Holidays.

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