Monday, December 29, 2008

My Christmas Story

On Christmas Eve, my kids and I went hunting. We were at my father-in-law's house outside Plainview, and we traditionally go pheasant and rabbit hunting at some time during our Christmas stay. This year it was me along with all three of my children—my 25- and 21-year-old sons Brian and Duncan, and my 16-year-old daughter Rachel.

It was really a lovely day, with mild temperatures, blue skies, and—rare for West Texas—light winds. We had a list of dry lakes, milo fields, and brushy areas to visit, and set out in mid-morning to hunt the first one.

We saw no birds there, although both Rachel and Brian saw rabbits. (We're still waiting for Rachel to get her first bird, or her first cottontail.) It was incredibly dusty and dry. Not much rain this year. At the next place, it was the same story. And the next. In fact, we saw no roosters that day, only a couple of hens (not legal to shoot), and a couple of rabbits. That was it. Yet in spite of our lack of game, it was a wonderful day. Rachel, after tromping through brush that came up past her elbows, enduring scratches from sticker burrs, yelled out, "This is so much fun!" And we all agreed.

What did it? What made it such a great day? Partly it was just being outdoors, walking in a land where you can see for miles, and knowing that all of this great sweep of earth and sky is just a small piece of God's good earth. Partly it was the anticipation that at any moment a rooster might flush cackling into the sky, or a rabbit might dash out of the brush at your feet. Hunting gives you a heightened awareness that brings everything into focus in a way that nothing else does.

But mostly it was just being together, enjoying each other's company, talking, laughing, loving.
I am blessed by my children. They are all bright, articulate, funny, and healthy. They poke fun at each other constantly (sometimes a little too constantly), and enjoy the verbal thrust and parry of conversation. They are so different, yet so alike. And, oh, how I love to spend time with them.

When they were younger, we made short hunting forays, and we always enjoyed the time. Each of them was a bird dog before becoming a hunter. Yet they tired more easily of the hunting than I did, and I spent a lot of time hunting on my own with just Paco, my Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Paco is long gone now, and we all miss him. I loved hunting with him. I cannot remember a single bird he failed to bring back, if I did my job and brought it down. There is a special joy in bird hunting with a good dog, and Paco was one of the best. But I wouldn't trade one moment of our hunt this Christmas Eve for all the time I spent with Paco, much as I loved him. I often wish I had spent less time hunting with Paco, and more time with my kids when they were small. But such wishes are pointless. We possess the time we have now, and that time is precious.

I love our Christmases. They are always spent with my wife Shan's family, which has become my family over the years. Usually we have lots of cousins, uncles, and aunts around on at least one day. Those days are okay, and I know they are precious to Shan, who grew up with all those cousins and such. But the best times for me are when we are with just the immediate family. The kids are always eager to open their presents, of course, but over the years they have become even more eager to give presents to others. And there is all the other time we spend together; playing ping pong, watching movies and ball games, looking at old pictures, and our family specialty: our cut-throat card games. We play a game called Liverpool Rummy, and in the midst of the hard competition, we laugh almost constantly.

In times past I used to resent that Christmas didn't go the way I wanted. Shan and I sometimes argued over the amount of gifts we gave to the kids. They are the only grandkids, and Christmas was a big deal for their grandparents. I sometimes resented the fact that Christmas was never at our house (barring one year), and that we didn't establish our own traditions like the ones we had when I was growing up. Over the years, God has taught me to love the traditions we have. I tease that "Santa can't find our house," but in reality I've come to take a kind of joy in that. And I know that I'm blessed to have Shan's family. We are not a perfect family, by any means. We all have warts and flaws and foibles. We disagree, and feelings are sometimes hurt. Yet in spite of it all, everyone looks forward to our Christmas time together. It is the highlight of our year. I thank God for that. I pray it will continue. And when Shan and I are the grandparents, I pray our kids and grandkids always want to be with us at Christmas.

May all your Christmases be equally loving and joyous.

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