Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas Eve Santa...It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

One of the best memories of growing up in a large family of 8 children was waking up on Christmas morning to discover the pile of presents under the tree. The first one to rise would sneak out into the living room to assess the bounty then report back to those who were still asleep. The next challenge was to convince Mom  and Dad to get up and start the gift opening which usually took several attempts. Eventually all 10 of us would gather for the annual ritual of ripping and tearing open the huge pile of gifts.

Then there was the year, 1965 I think, that Mom and Dad decided we would open presents on Christmas Eve. With at least 4 or 5 kids still believing in Santa Claus, this was going to take a creative strategy.  I was in on the scheme as was my older sister Shelley and my next youngest brother, Tony. A simple plan was designed to create the illusion that Santa had arrived early on Christmas Eve at 935-35th in Des Moines, Iowa.

Here was the plan:

Dad was going to take the kids out to look at the holiday lights in the family station wagon. Mom and Shelley were going to stay home and take a nap. While we were out looking at the lights, they would be retreiving the presents that were hidden in our next door neighbor's basement. After driving around for a while, we would swing by the house and if the porch light was on, that was the sign that we could pull in the drive, enter the house and ......Santa Claus will have arrived early!

It semed like a good plan at the time. But in our family, if you tried to put 7 children, ages 3-14, in a station wagon and go anywhere for a drive, you were asking for trouble. Nonetheless, off to the suburbs we went to look at the Christmas lights and displays. In those dats both my parents smoked so I'm sure my Dad was smoking the entire time with the windows rolled up. And there were no DVD players or car seats back then. Heck, our station wagon didn't even have a radio. You just piled everyone into the back seat and off you went. After an hour of touring, the younger kids in the car had reached their limit. "We don't want to look at lights"  "Joe kicked me" "Dad, can we go home?" "Waaaaah!"

So we headed for home in hopes of finding a porch light on. 

Meanwhile back at 935-35th, things were not moving as quickly as planned.  Not only did Mom and Shelley have to move the presents from Mrs. Wyatt's basement, they had to wrap them all. When we drove up the street and saw that the porch light was off, Dad announced that he needed to get his gloves. Tony and I were left in charge of keeping the 5 younger kids from escaping the car. What was probably 5 minutes seemed like 20 but Dad finally emerged from the house and off we went, back to look at more lights. We were only several blocks down the street when a voice from the back seat asked, "Where are your gloves, Dad?" He didn't respond.

Round 2 of looking at lights didn't go well. Crying, whining, and kicking ensued resulting in Dad threatening to stop the car and take off his belt. This was not the spirit of Christmas we were looking for. After another 30 minutes we returned home and again, the porch light was off. Dad parked the car and stormed into the house,  leaving Tony and I to maintain order in the car. A few minutes later, he came out and directed Tony and I to escort the 5 younger kids into the house through side door, not the front door, and take them down the basement and keep them there.  

Tony and I were positioned at the top of the basement steps blocking the path of 5 screaming, bawling brothers and sisters who were trying desperately to get to the top of the steps and into the kitchen. It was a bad scene. I'm not sure how long this drama went on but finally the door opened and Mom was there saying that we could all come up. I'm sure the scene resembled something out of Les Miserables when the rag-tag group of red eyed, snot-nosed children, who had just been through a traumatic incident, emerged from the basement.

Thankfully, this sad tale had a happy ending. As soon as the younger kids discovered that Santa had arrived early (while Shelley and Mom were taking a nap......apparently) all memories of the torturous car ride and the suffering from being held captive on the basement steps washed away. 

 I sometimes wonder if there was a moment when one of my parents said to the other, "You know, it seemed like a good idea at the time."

Merry Christmas  
The house at 935-35th St.  You can see the porch light that was that supposed to signal that Santa had arrived. The side door that we escorted the young ones in to is also visible.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Letter to My Wife on the Eve of Her Retirement

I'll never forget the first time I saw your face. You were sitting at the end of the conference room along with 3 or 4 other staff members and I was there for my second interview. Your smile, your warmth, I still can see it. A friendly welcoming face in the crowd.

I got the job and we became workmates and 6 months later we were a couple. 15 months after that we were married.  We worked together on the same team for 4 years before I moved on and you stayed, another 15 years. This letter is about you and your retirement, but it is impossible for me to tell that story without also telling some of the story of us. The story of your life's work and my life's work are inextricably woven together in a fabric of serendipitous magic.

This Friday,  after 26 years, you will quietly walk out the door and down the street to the parking garage for the last time. Your work there is done and you are ready to walk into the next chapter of your life. 26 years of service to people and companies, providing counsel, advice, teaching and encouragement on the matters that really matter.  26 years of answering the calls in the middle of the night..... from a client who's husband has just left her. From an employee who has a sick child and needs tomorrow off. From the police officers who have just witnessed a traumatic event and need a debriefing. No more getting up at 5 in the morning to get to the manufacturing company by 7 am to do a training session because that's when it needs to be done.  No more driving down the interstate at 7 am on a snowy morning because you feel responsible to be there.
The story of your life's work begins long before that day we first met in a conference room. But from what I've been told and from what I can imagine, you approached your work with the same grace, hard work, responsibility and willingness to learn as you did in the 19 years I've been blessed to know you. Raising 2 children and going through a divorce, I know how important it was for you to keep their lives stable and as secure as you could. I know it had to have been very difficult at times to balance your home and work life demands, but I doubt you ever lost your way or your balance or your grace. And if you did, it probably didn't show on the outside. 

You've shared with me the story of how you learned on the fly how to manage an oral surgeon's practice and all that went with that role. And how later on you stumbled into the job at the Employee Assistance Program after completing your Master's and found yourself moving into greater roles of responsibility sooner than you could have imagined.  By the time our work lives converged back in 1995, you were a consummate  professional in my eyes.

I had the distinct opportunity (and pleasure) to observe you at work long before we became a couple. The first thing I noticed was the impact you had on others and how they felt about you. Words like trust, respect, accepting, encouraging and joyful come to mind. But beyond that, I got to watch how you went about your business.....hard working, savvy, smart, and organized but most of all consistent. Very, very consistent. 

I really do understand why you have been receiving all those kind words from staff, colleagues and others the last several weeks. I would remind you that as the new guy on the team back in 1995, I came to you more than once for advice, assistance or encouragement. Nothing in the outpouring of sentiments you are receiving surprises me at all. Every word of it is richly, richly deserved.

As your husband, I've watched you get up every day and go off to work with a sense of purpose and responsibility, with nary a complaint, more often with sense of joy. I've seen you come home at night with that same sense of joy and purpose as you prepare our evenings meal. Again, with nary a complaint. There have been days when you would have been justified to complain, or feel just a little bit sorry for yourself, but that's just not your style. And I admire you for that.

Your life's work has been about serving others and you've done it remarkably well. As a counselor, you gave others acceptance, solutions and hope. As consultant, you gave others perspective, resources and hope. As a team member and leader, you gave others acceptance, assistance, encouragement and hope. Your ability to show up consistently positive and productive every single day for 26 years, doing the kind of work you've done is no small feat. Instead, it is truly remarkable in my eyes.

I know that remarkable is not a word you would use to describe yourself. Your work has been remarkable. And for you, my love, how about admired? Beloved? Treasured? Cherished? Valued? You are all of things to me and more. I suspect there are many others who feel the same as I do.

Here is the word I hope you can embrace. 


You will be remembered for your acceptance and compassion.

You will be remembered for your guidance and leadership.

You will be remembered for your joy and spirit.

You will be remembered for the hope you gave others.

And you will be missed by many.

I simply couldn't be more proud to have shared some of your work life with you and to be your partner for the last 19 years of it. As one candle burns out, another one is being lit. More than retiring, you are commencing on the next stage of your life. What you do might change a little or a lot, but who you are will always be the same. If our 19 years has taught me anything, it's taught me that.

It will be fun to share in the journey with you. I can't imagine living this life without you, jobs or no jobs.

You done good, Hun. Real, real, good.

Love you as always,