Thanksgiving Then and Now

I remember a coloring book page from gradeschool. Newly-arrived Europeans sat at a picnic table with Native Americans seated beside them, with ladies from both ethnic groups bringing freshly harvested items to the table — corn on the cob, potatoes, and other foods that have become staples in the Thanksgiving tradition. A plump, golden roasted turkey waited patiently on a plate to be carved. A cornucopia sat at one end of the table, spilling more vegetables, presumably freshly picked from local plots.

From my 64-color Crayola Crayon set (sharpener built into the back!), I carefully selected warm, earthy colors and brought the scene to life. Staying mostly within the lines, I got fuzzy feelings of cooperation and human kindness, oblivious to the near genocide that followed.

When my family gathers, an adult might crack the occasional cynical joke regarding the holiday’s origins, but it never comes up in the conversation. Discussion of Europeans or Native Americans would result in a fight with ourselves, because our flesh and blood are comprised of both. For the most part we enjoy food crafted by our mixed-heritage hands, remember stories from our childhoods, and make new memories with our own children.

Despite that my generation already met 40 and waved goodbye to it several years ago, we still go outside to play while the older generation stays inside to talk. We even let the 20-something couple join the fun.

Sometimes we stroll through the hilly pasture to see the ramshackle forts the children built near the creek. In a sporadic tradition, we pile into a few vehicles and drive a couple of miles, then make the short hike to a breathtaking waterfall.

Through it all, we enjoy the outdoors, the indoors, the food, and the family — kind of like Native Americans were doing when they saw the first Europeans step off the ships.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to have someone invade the area and, at their most generous, tell us we had the choice to either adopt their culture and their religion or leave. Feeling less forgiving, they would indiscriminately enslave and kill us.

So, while I cannot regard Thanksgiving like a Pollyanna picking the perfect hue for a coloring book page, I am glad that we have each other and still enjoy and appreciate the land as our ancestors did. I can only hope that it isn’t too optimistic to trust we can learn from history rather than repeating it.

Finally, Frost Flowers

I had never seen frost flowers anywhere besides pictures.

Wednesday morning on the way to work, I thought I saw paper trash wadded up in the freshly mown stumps of roadside weeds. I wondered who might have… then I realized that it was the first morning of temperatures significantly below freezing, directly on the heels of days that hit the 60′s.

It wasn’t trash — it was frost flowers, and lots of them.

(click pic to enlarge)

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17 Things To Do Within Driving Distance of Dallas

We lived in the Dallas metro area for nine years, but now that we have moved, we will only see it when we get back for visits. Here are a few things we were able to enjoy fairly easily, and that I recommend. The day trips require no overnight stay, but some will have you leaving your home in the early morning hours.

Day Trips

Visit the beautiful Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge – It’s only about a three-hour drive away, and it’s like nothing else you’ll see driving twice that distance. A day trip is a bit of a stretch, but my son and I made a whirlwind visit up there on a Saturday — out at 6:30 a.m., home by about 10:30 p.m. We saw lots of buffalo within arm’s reach of our vehicle, longhorn steer, and of course the prairie dog town. The mountains look like huge piles of rocks, and several small lakes and clear streams add to the scenery. While on the trails we rarely saw other people. Later we returned with my wife and camped overnight, which made it a much more complete experience. We saw a bull elk grazing streamside and toured the visitor’s center.

Explore the JFK assassination site and memorial – We dropped by spontaneously after seeing a show at Medieval Times. We posed on the grassy knoll alongside visiting friends, while a local snapped our picture, and then strolled up to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza. The museum was closed, but I can only imagine it would add to the experience.

Experience a meal and a show at Medieval Times – Twice we have stepped back in time to enjoy the staged jousts, sword fights, and royal intrigue. Only a Renaissance festival can come close. You’ll need to be prepared to eat without utensils, but you can go anachronistic and have a Pepsi.

Laugh at an improv comedy show at Four-Day Weekend — A talented comedy troupe that performs in a creaky, vintage Fort Worth theater, this group provides improvisational comedy that had the crowd in stitches both times we went. There’s a full bar for refreshments, if that’s your thing.

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A Dad Who Left Early

We lost a great dad this week. His name was Steve Caffey.

When I first saw Steve, probably at Christmas in 1992, I thought, “Wow, that guy needs to wash his hands.” Then I learned he was a mechanic, and realized he probably had washed them more times that day than I would wash mine in a week.

I also learned that he had a youthful energy many his age could only hope to possess. At family holidays, he constantly interacted with children — his own and others’. He made them smile, and they returned the favor.

When my wife and I had a child of our own, I started understanding Steve a little better — why he rolled around on the floor with the kids, and played peekaboo.

It was because he loved being a dad.

I spent some time with Steve outside family holidays. I saw his Coca-Cola collection and the animal sculptures he created with concrete and incorporated into parts of their fence. I saw cannibalized remains of laptop computers in various states of disrepair.

He always had his hands in something, but there was nothing like watching him under the hood.

The few times I stood watching him work on my car, it was obvious he knew what he was doing. He was skinny, but deceptively strong. He could quickly reach and work on parts when others might have to spend hours clearing a path. He could tell me in about two minutes what was wrong with my car, if that long.

One time I rode in his truck with him to take Stephanie to a friend’s house. He spoke of his colorful past, which I won’t try to repeat here. I’ll just say that we both ended up starting sentences with “back in my day..” and sounded like old men, but his stories were much more interesting than mine.

Through all that, I still feel like I only caught a glimpse of who Steve was. During the last several visits to Tulsa, I didn’t see him, but I saw his and Johnna’s children. When they were babies I wasn’t very interested, but now they’ve become some of my favorite folks, always warm and welcoming.

Just like Steve.

Update:
His children have set up a site to raise money for the funeral services. If you can help at all, it would be hugely appreciated.
http://www.gofundme.com/basvmw

To Local Friends Who Soon Will be Remote

We’ve lost weight, gained weight, and learned how to sit and wait. We’ve endured sunburns and broken bones, stomach flus and kidney stones.

Largely thanks to Shannon’s activity during Benjamin’s elementary school years, we have met many others who have children of similar age. We have shared laughs, likes, dislikes, and dining tables. We’ve built things, torn them down, and leaned upon shoulders that sometimes were already overburdened. We have rocked Rock Band like only 30 and 40-somethings can. We have walked many 3k’s and 5k’s — a few to celebrate a friend’s victory over cancer while remembering those less fortunate.

One week from today, the only house our son remembers, and the one where your children have slept over and endured my homemade breakfasts, will no longer be our home.

Watching us bring up a boy from age 2 to age (almost) 11, you have seen us at our best and our worst, yet you have remained beside us all the way. I hope you feel we’ve done the same.

I didn’t care much for children besides my own until I got to know yours. Partially miniature versions of you, and increasingly their own tiny selves, they won a place in my heart.

This isn’t goodbye. We aren’t moving half a country away. We will come visit here, and will welcome you there. We are, and forever shall be, your friends.