Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Family Day

Out of the six people in our family three of them had the flu over Christmas.  So Christmas was very low key. But that’s OK because we have another great holiday coming up:  Family Day.

Family Day is a celebration unique to our little family. When our kids were young we lived in the same town as both sets of grandparents. We were expected to spend time at both houses on Christmas Day plus sometimes an aunt or two.  There was no getting around skipping even one household and we were in a dead run all day.  Beaven hated it.  He groaned that he would like just one holiday that was just for us.  Actually, it wasn’t a groan as much as shouting in despair. Shouting with exclamation marks but no anger.  So we invented Family Day. 

Since it was our own invention we got to do it any way we wanted.  First, we declared the New Year’s Day holiday to be Family Day.  We never went to New Year’s parties nor did we watch a lot of football on TV. So the holiday just sat there for us, totally unstructured and available.  We reserved a cabin at our favorite place in the world, Daingerfield State Park. Daingerfield is one of those parks built by the CCC during the depression.  They have three cabins with solid oak floors and sturdy furniture from that era.  It has a small lake with a hiking trail winding along its bank in a loop. Because it’s a small camp it generally flies below the radar of most people.  We always had the feeling that we were the only people in the park. All of the limited amenities were within walking distance and we let the girls come and go without supervision or worry.

We drove up as early as we could on New Year’s Eve. The first goal of the holiday was to get off the freeway as soon as possible and stay there until everybody sobered up.  We brought our favorite holiday food: a turkey and all the fixings, a bottle of champagne and a box of chocolates. At the stroke of midnight I could go outside and look up at the stars and talk to God as my first act of the new year.

The next morning I put the turkey into the oven and took a hike around the lake.  It is the perfect hike: three miles: not too long, not too short. I seldom encountered anybody else.  There is one point, half-way into the hike that is so remote, so quiet that I could stand and listen to things you never hear in the city.  I could hear my head turn on my neck. Sometimes the birds would call ahead of me warning their friends that a human was afoot.  I picked some leaves from a red bay bush. When I got back to the cabin I nestled the red bay into the turkey to create an aroma from heaven.  And there was still plenty of time to get the rest of the meal ready.

The Christmas gifts were new enough that the girls stayed occupied the whole time.  Beaven could sleep whenever he wanted.  Naps were a big activity on Family Day. And I always took a jigsaw puzzle to keep us busy in the evenings. Sometimes the girls brought a friend. Sometimes it was bitterly cold.  But the newness of Christmas gifts without the accompanying hoopla made for the most relaxing time of the year for Beaven and me.

Family Day became our family’s favorite holiday.  And we never missed a year until Elizabeth was in college.  I developed the habit of walking to the park headquarters first thing on the morning of January 2nd before the ranger arrived. I could hear the phone ringing in the office and I told him “Don’t answer the phone until I make my reservation for next year.”

Around our 15th year, we built our little cabin in the woods where we live now.  We didn’t need to make reservations and this house had just about everything the state park had.  We came out here for Family Day a couple of years but somehow it just wasn’t the same. Then the girls got married and things got complicated and Family Day fell by the wayside.

I ended up going into work on New Year’s Day for a few years. For an accountant, the holiday is a dream situation:  there was nobody around to touch the numbers and they couldn't hop around on me. It was the perfect time to make all the year-end entries and I could even print out the financial statements and have them ready by the next morning.

Anyway, we decided to revive Family Day this year. Daingerfield has lost some of its “specialness” now that we live so close to it.  So this year for Family Day we are going to our other favorite campground, Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas. They actually have a better deal, even better than our house.  We’ve reserved two adjoining cabins, each with a complete kitchen, two queen beds and a fireplace.  We can cook our heads off (how often do we have such easy access to two ovens? Or two fireplaces, for that matter?) Sarah will bring her new waffle maker. Or we can do my favorite: eat breakfast in the lodge dining room then go on a hike. The trail starts behind the lodge. We’ve granted Essie special dispensation to skip the hike and stay back reading.  And I have a special present for us all—saved back from Santa’s Christmas bag.

So, if your people had the flu for Christmas or if you’re looking for a way to get over the post-Christmas let-down, you could invent your own holiday--and, in some ways, an even better one.  It is one holiday totally of our own making.  You are only limited by your imagination.

Mazel tov and Happy 2015!

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