Staying Connected at Christmas Always Worth the Trip

My sibling and I live 5,000 miles apart, away from our childhood home, yet in spite of the distance we remain close. It helped that we were a family born on wheels. In the sixties, at time when most people wouldn’t take four kids five years apart any further than the corner grocery store, my grandparents and parents loaded the station wagon with, nine bags, eight bodies and one big red ice chest and hit the road. Like the Beverly Hillbillies, we cruised the blue highways from sea to shining seas in our beat up old Rambler.


We grew up believing life was an endless road trip. Consequently we continue to spend an inordinate amount of time in our adult lives riding the rail, flying the sky, and pounding the pavement to remain connected.

Just last week over a span of 24 hours, my youngest sister, Karen, drove to my son’s college game in Minnesota, one evening, and dropped our daughter, Nathalie, off at the Minneapolis airport at 6 am the next morning. Then she drove 7 hours to Sterling to support my mom and middle sister, Sue, as my dad recovered from delicate hip reconstruction surgery in Sterling Rock Falls Hospital. Meanwhile my older brother, Doug, and sister in law, Julianne, picked up Nat at the airport in Cleveland and chauffeured her to her residency interview at Rainbow Baby and Children’s Hospital.

In the meantime, Rush Memorial called her for an interview, so my brother-in-law, Cliff in the Chicago suburbs, helped change her ticket and arranged her pick her up 0’Hare Airport. He will drive her to her appointment at Rush; she’ll take the train from there back to the airport to fly to Utah for another interview.

On December 17th, Gerald and I were supposed to fly from Geneva via Amsterdam to Minneapolis. Our son will pick us up in the car he borrows regularly from my brother-in-law Dick. Then after Nathalie arrives from Utah, we will drive back down to Sterling, via our cabin at Summit Lake, to celebrate my dad’s successful surgery.

“And that my dear,” Aunt Mary used to say, “is love in action.”

One wonders what do people do without family?

Every winter, the McKinzie clan will log miles in the air and on land, braving blizzards, airline strikes and flight delays because Christmas happens whenever, wherever and however we can get together.

Be sure to rejoice in the gift of family especially this holiday season. Safe travels to you wherever you gather. May your wheels keep spinning for another year.

Empty nest

Sept. 13, 2009. Now that printed word is dying, the only way I foresee getting published in the near future is 10 seconds in cyberspace. So Gerald sent me up to become a blogger even though I am of the fraidy cat generation anxious about technology. The economic crisis of 2009 has become so dire that many worry newspapers will not survive. Magazines will be the next to topple.And lastly, books may bite the dust. A bleak outlook for a wannabee writer.Pessimism abounds in our home. As a printing company director, Gerald sees the writing on the wall, but refuses to read it –what is life without words? Email, SMS, Facebook, twitter, blog, it’s a brave new world. How will the over the hill, hard print loving, fifty somethings – ever fit into 21st century.

The existential crisis is nothing new for me.I never outgrew the adolescent angst about, “who am I? ”My life course complicated the question. I moved 12 times in 18 years between 4 different countries on 2 different continents. Since the age of 26, when my pro basketball career ended in a harrowing accident abroad, I kept rewriting the script.

My most recent transition… empty nester. Our daughter long gone enters the medical world as a doctor-in-training in Minneapolis. Our son joins her at Macalester in the Twin Cities. Our living room is tidy, the grocery bill dropped, washing machine stopped spinning, phone never rings, and no one limits my computer time. The house has never been so neat, organized and easy to run. What am I crying about? The emptiness, the haunting loneliness, the bittersweet nostalgia of days gone by when I was M-O-M on call 24/7.

Waves of sadness hit me at random moments when I least expect it. At 8 am as I drive to school sans an inert jean-clad, body slumped in silence under a hoody riding shotgun next to me. At 5 pm when I come from work, the trail of snack wrappers, Poweraid bottles and notebooks trailing from the kitchen to the bedroom has disappeared. Lebron T-shirts, mesh shorts and blue jeans no longer dance in the breeze on the line outside my window. No one asks, “What’s for dinner?” “Can you take me to practice?” “Got any money?”

If my refrigerator, gas tank, and pocket book are so full, why is my heart so empty? Everyday I give myself a pep talk… Isn’t this what I longed for, uninterrupted time alone, no socks to wash, no meals to cook, no one asking to toss the football, catch the rebound, or edit an essay, “ASAP it’s due tomorrow, Ma!”

“Quit moping! Snap out of it,” I repeat like a mantra. He didn’t get hit by a car, fall off a mountain slope, join a cult, drop out of school, get sent to Iraq or any of the zillion other things a mother worries about. Instead he accomplished more than we ever dreamed. He graduated with honors and flew off to college 4,000 miles away. While he enters new adventures, his dad and I remain behind marveling at how that kid, who now towers above us, grew up so fast when we weren’t looking. In a blink, he is gone from day to day lives, but never far from our hearts where he remains cherished at every stage, all ages, always and forever our beloved, green-eyed, Franco-American boy.