My grandparents, my mom’s parents, lived in Fort Worth, Texas. My parents, my sister and I always lived “far” away, the closest being 300 miles. Typically, we would pack up the family car the day of Christmas Eve, drive to Fort Worth, and would arrive well after dark. My sister and I would sit in the backseat, excitement seeping through our pores. We would be restless. We would try to sleep, sometimes crawling into the back window well so we could watch the cars go by, but sleep would elude us.
It finally would get dark. Sometimes we would turn on the radio, with news reports of an unknown object in the air — a sleigh driven by a man dressed in red, with some type of deer at the lead. We would crane our necks, sure we could see something.
The magic continued as we arrived in Fort Worth. As we rounded the bend on my grandparents’ street, we always were greeted by the most beautiful (in our mind) Christmas lights in my grandparents’ home. Despite having driven hundreds of miles, all of us would pile out of the car into the open arms of my grandparents and my uncle. We were smothered in hugs and kisses. Both grandparents smelled of pecan pies and German chocolate cake. The light of the Christmas tree burned permanent images into our memories. No matter what our previous year had been like, we knew that now we were safe and loved, with our family whole once again.
This year will be different, yet the same, for our family. Long deceased are my parents and my grandparents. My wife’s mom, the last of my children’s grandparents, passed away this last February at age 99. Though none of my wife’s siblings live in Wichita (where my wife’s mother lived), we are all returning to Wichita, coming from Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Illinois and Colorado. We have a gathering place arranged.
I know it will be special.
Through the traditions I learned from my grandparents, and through the traditions that I and my children have learned from my wife’s parents, I know how important maintaining those traditions are. It is not the traditions themselves, but the family that goes along with them. I know that it is an effort. I know it would be easier not to have to travel. I know most of the family is putting in a lot of effort for just a few days together, but I also realize that those efforts keep us from drifting apart, perhaps permanently.
While we will be missing the children’s grandparents, I get to celebrate being a first-time and new grandparent. Some of my wife’s nieces and nephews have had children this past year, and we will celebrate their births as well. We will be welcoming the next generation, and I hope to copy my grandparents and smother them in love and kisses.
My hope is that the “effort” we demonstrate will make it part of the new tradition as we begin passing the torch, that they too learn and remember how important it is to get together as a family.
It is so easy to lose contact with family. It is so easy to dismiss traditions.
Merry Christmas to all of you. Merry Christmas to all of my friends, family, clients and co-workers. You are all worth the effort.
Randy Clinkscales founded Clinkscales Elder Law Practice in 1985. He is a 1980 graduate of Washburn Law School and has represented clients at the administrative, county, state and federal levels.