Monthly Archives: December 2012

From the mouth of an 8 year old – the true spirit of Christmas

The month of December had been really tough.  It had started with my 9 year old dachshund Elvis having to undergo surgery for a ruptured disc in his back.  The whole process of getting him to walk again was time consuming, emotionally wrenching, and really expensive.

Then in short order we had a series of family problems that only added to the depression that was starting to build.    My brother in law, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma earlier this year took a turn for the worse and is now at home under hospice care as we wait for the time for him to pass.  One of my children is undergoing some marital difficulties which have been extremely difficult for her and the rest of the family.   Work has been rough and especially time consuming.

To say that I was not in the Christmas spirit would be a vast understatement.  No amount of Christmas music, parties or cards helped bring me out of the funk that I was in.   And then I was reminded that I had agreed to play Santa for the San Antonio Childrens Shelter on the Saturday before Christmas.   It was  a commitment I had made over a month ago to the Honors Club at the college where I work.   Deep inside I was really hoping that it would somehow fall through, but it didn’t.

So Saturday came and I dragged myself out of bed and got ready to go.  My dear wife agreed to go with me and we made the trip to the other side of town to fulfill my “obligation.”   When we arrived we could not find out how to get into the shelter, which is secured for obvious reasons.  I called the president of the Honors club to find out how to get in and immediately got bad news.   First, the costume was not there and they had to go out and retrieve it from the person that was supposed to have brought it.  Secondly, the 20 plus kids that were to have been there had been greatly reduced.   Child Protective Services had come in the night before and release almost all of them back home to their parents, including many who did not really want to go back.   All that was left were 3 little boys who were not going to get to go home.  Was it really worth it?  All that work for 3 kids?

They told me that the 3 kids were still looking forward to seeing Santa Clause so I reluctantly agreed to go ahead and do it.   While changing into the costume in the bathroom all the negativity and stress that had built up through the month started to come out.  What was the use?  Who really cared?  On the grander scale of things, was this little charade really going to make any difference?

They led me into the little room where the boys were and one precious little boy ran up to me and hugged my legs and said as loud as he possible could “Oh Santa!  You came!  I really am going to have a Christmas!”   The rest of the time that I spent there I fought back tears that were threatening to pour out.    This little boy Adam (not his real name) had touched that part of my heart that had been covered in depression and self pity.   With those few words Adam had me realize that I was truly blessed.   Sure, I had some issues to deal with at home and work, but I had a great family, a nice home, wonderful kids and a job that paid me well.

Adam asked if I had presents in my bag for him and I said yes.  Then this precious little boy asked if I had presents for Jerry and Eddy (the other two boys).    He had me give them gifts first, and then I handed him his inexpensive gift for him to open.  It was a plastic tool set with pliers, a wrench and a drill.  You would have thought I had brought him a motorcycle or other expensive gift.

From my conversation with Adam I was able to realize that no problems that I was dealing with even began to approach the issues that little boy had in  his life. He spent most of the time clinging to my leg or next to me on the floor as we all played with the toys that Santa had brought them.   This little boy had a lot of love in him just waiting to come out, and all he really wanted was someone to love him back.  He asked for a lot of hugs which I gladly gave.  Although we spent about 30 minutes there it seemed like it was just a few seconds before it was time to go.   Adam asked if he could go with me, and boy do I wish I had been able to scoop him up and take him home.

We took a few pictures (we could not take any pics that showed their faces) and then went to change out of my Santa suit.  As we walked back to my truck the tears that I had held in all that time finally came out.   What had started out as a reluctant chore was a transforming event.   The music was cheerier, the smiles seemed brighter, and I began to look forward to Christmas day.

As I sit here on Christmas day, having spent Christmas Eve with my daughters and granddaughter, going to a Christmas Eve service and then a holiday party with some friends, I feel a renewed spirit of love and optimism.  I slept late, had a great breakfast, and my wife, daughter and son are sitting in the living room with me as we watch “A Christmas Story.”   I am a happy person this afternoon.   Have the problems gone away?  No.  But my ability to deal with them has grown.   And all because a little boy with bright blue eyes showed me the spirit of Christmas that I had buried deep in my heart.    Thank you Adam.  The gift you gave me was priceless.

(originally posted 12/25/2012)


I wish I had a bigger family

I was at my wife’s family reunion in October.  Every  year,  the Palos family (my wife’s  maiden name) gathers in Houston,  Round Rock,  Monterrey Mexico, or San Antonio for a few hours to share a meal, catch up on family matters, exchange pictures and other family history items, and quite simply just have a good time.   I have attended these with my wife even before we married.

I love how families that have not seen each other in a long time fall right back into an easy rhythm of conversation, picking up where they left off one or two years earlier.   Pictures are exchanged, new babies are hugged and kissed, and family members that have passed are remembered.   Those of us who have married into the family are quickly made a part of “the family.”  What a great and wonderful concept.

Earlier this year I took a trip to Chicago for a wedding anniversary celebration on my wife’s other side of the family, and guess what?   Same thing.

The one thing that both of these reunions had in common was that there were 40-50 family members at each one.  Cousins, the kids of cousins, the spouses of cousins all in one place celebrating the opportunity to be together.   It is an amazing thing.

My regret is that I don’t have a large family.   My father left my mom when I was two and my brother was just born.    As a result, I really don’t know any of my father’s side of the family that primarily live in Michigan.  My father had several brothers and sisters, so I am sure I have a boatload of cousins out there, but the question is “where?”  I was able to meet my cousin Debbie one time when she came through San Antonio and we got to share a little bit of family history.    Other than that there is no contact.

My mom was an only child, so I don’t have any immediate cousins.   My mom, however, had a lot of cousins, and they and their family are spread out all over the US  and some in Mexico.   The Carrasco clan, which was my grandmothers side of the family, is quite large.  (Yay!!)  We had a large reunion in Utah in about 1998 at which time I got to meet a lot of my  mom’s cousins and their kids.    In addition to the obligatory “I used to change your diapers” comments, I had the chance to hear stories about my grandmother and her parents that I had never  heard before.    They also shared stories about my grandmother’s sisters that I really enjoyed hearing.

So that is a large family, right?   Absolutely right, but we have not met up in 14 years (as much my fault as anyone else’s.)  I love my brother, but he did not have a lot of kids either, so our family remains small.  Somewhere in Korea is a sister that I have never known, and probably does not know about me.  My dad was stationed there before he met my mom.  I have heard the stories.

I have told my extended family that I want to start visiting and getting to know all of them again.  I am not sure when or if another reunion will take place.   My fervent hope is that it will not be at a funeral, which is the only time that many families seem to find the time to get together.

What if it were true?

The whole Mayan calendar craze has been kind of fun to watch. It really amazes me that so many people have taken it seriously and have planned for their lives to end in just a few short days. But I started to wonder, what if it were true? If it were true, and you had just a few days left, what would you do? Assume that money and travel were not an issue. Is there any unfinished business you would want to take care of? Any relationships that need mending?

I spend this last weekend with my wife visiting her brother, who is suffering from mesothelioma and developed pneumonia. The doctors had his wife call all the family to come and see him. because the time is short. As I write this he has been sent home under hospice care. My wife had taken the opportunity earlier in the year to visit and share feelings and memories. Other family members had not had that opportunity, so this was the chance to visit one last time.

So why do we wait? Why is it that we wait until the last moment to take care of important things? When death is sudden, the opportunity to say the unspoken things or do the undone things is gone in an instant. So many people regret the opportunity to say the last goodbye or the last I love you. Maybe it was an unspoken apology.

My dad passed away 7 years ago this month. We spoke several times a week, and our conversations always ended with an “I love you.” I am so glad that I said it during our last phone conversation because he passed away suddenly and without warning. He was found on the back porch by one of his neighbors. At his memorial service I had spoken to several of his friends and church members that he had met during his short time in East Texas They had worked with him for a long time to get him to get over a lot of resentments in his life. He lived a hard life, and a lot of people hurt him and took advantage of him. As a result, he was quick to take offense in even very minor incidents. My brother and my dad did not speak during the last 4 years of his life. An innocent misunderstanding during my moms funeral led them to not talk to each other.

I was unaware that my dads friends had convinced him to let old grudges go and he was beginning to make efforts to make amends before he died. He actually called my brother a few times before his heart attack, but my dad was never one to leave voice mail messeages. My brother, unfamiliar with the phone number on the call list, never returned the call. We were sitting at the dinner table at my house when somehow I mentioned my dads phone number. My brother realized that it had been my dad calling and it really hurt him to know he missed the opportunity to reconnect.

So what is on your list to fix? If the world really ended on 12/21 would there be any unfinished business you did not take care of? There is never a better time to start taking care of that list like NOW. I know that I have some unfinished business I need to finish. Tell the people you love that you love them. Hug your kids. My hopes and prayers are that every parent that lost a child in Connecticut had that opportunity before sending their kids to school on Friday.

What am I going to tell mom? I lost my little brother!!

It amazes me these days how much more security conscious we are these days about our kids –  and well we should be.  When I look back at what we did as kids,  it surprises me that my brother and I are alive to tell  stories to our kids about what we got into as kids.

It was not unusual for us to wake up in the morning, eat breakfast and head out on our bikes, sometimes traveling several miles away as we explored.  We would ride back for lunch, and disappear again until dinner.   We could not have been more than 8 or 9 years old.   On ambitious days we would pack a lunch and not come back til dinner.    We lived in the Sunset Heights area of El Paso which is on the edge of the University of Texas at El Paso.    Until 1967 or so  it was still called Texas Western College.   There is not a square inch of that University that we did not explore.    In fact, the deep old gully that we used to build forts in is now a huge parking lot at the edge of the school.

We often would take our bikes and ride downtown to go the old plaza where the buses gathered.  At the time the fountain in the middle of the plaza had live alligators in them.   To my dismay they have since been replaced by these cheesy looking fiberglass gators.   They should have just left them empty.

Anyway, I digress.  The point is that parents had a lot more confidence in having their kids out loose in the world back then.    Simpler times?   Maybe.    Do I consider my mom a bad parent for letting us loose like that.  Absolutely not.

Part of the confidence my mom   had in me at the time is that I was able to take my little brother with me on Sunday mornings to church at First Baptist Church on Montana Street which is at the edge of downtown, or at least it was at the time.    This involved taking a bus from Munday park, which was about a block away from the house, to the plaza downtown where we transferred to a bus that headed out toward the church.    After church we reversed our route and made it back home.     My mom was raising us as a single mom working as a nurses aide at Providence Memorial Hospital and would pick up as many extra shifts as she could,  so some Sundays this was what we had to do to get to church.

One Sunday we finished with church and headed back home, so we waited at the bus stop for the bus.  As the trusted treasurer of our little adventure I held the nickels that we needed to buy our fare and get home.   As the bus approached I gave my brother his nickel because he insisted on paying the fare himself.  He got on the bus, paid the fare, and moved to the rear of the bus.    It was at this time that I realized “I don’t have my nickel!”     Apparently somewhere down the line as I was pulling out the money to give my brother his nickel, I had dropped mine on the sidewalk.   I ran back as fast as I could to retrace my steps, and there on the sidewalk, shining brightly, was the nickel I had dropped.    After picking it up I turned to go back to the bus only to find to my horror that it was pulling away, with my little brother on the bus by himself.    Apparently he had gone to the back of the bus to sit down and the bus driver never noticed that we were separated.    Screaming at the top of my lungs and running as fast as my 7 or 8-year-old legs could go, I chased the bus as it pulled away, but I couldn’t catch it.    When I looked up, my brothers face was in the rear window looking out at me as the bus drove off.

OH MY GOD!!!    My brother, who at the most was maybe 5 years old at the time, was on the bus by himself, and headed downtown.    What is he going to do when he gets there?  How will he get home?    Will he get home at all?  What am I going to tell my mom?  I lost my little brother!

The next bus would not come by for at least 20 minutes so I began to hoof it to the plaza.   At the time that was the longest walk/run that I could have imagined.   It certainly seemed to last forever, even though when  I Googled  it a while ago it turns out it was only 8/10 of a mile.   That relatively short distance seemed like a march across the Sahara desert because of the fear that I had that I had lost my brother forever.

My hopes and prayers were that I would find him sitting at the Plaza, next to the fountain with the alligators, waiting for me to show up.   No such luck.    When I arrived at the plaza he was no where in sight.    I checked everywhere that we used to hang around in hopes that maybe he would be hanging around entertaining himself.    Again, no such luck.    The dilemma at this point was this – do I stick around here and look for him, or go on home in the hopes of finding him.

As I think back, I do not know why I decided to walk home from there.   Maybe it was with the hope of finding him on the way, maybe it was the dread of getting home and not finding him at all.   It would not surprise me if I cried on the way home.  As a kid I cried a lot and  I got teased about it by classmates because it continued all the way to 7th and 8th grade (that is the subject of another post in the future).     We did not have a phone at home, so I could not call my mom at work.  It never occurred to me to ask an adult or a police officer to help.  Walking that huge distance home (Google says it was about a mile) was a nightmare for me.   Is he there?  Is he stuck on the bus somewhere where I will never find him?  Will my mom be childless after she kills me for losing my brother?

As I walked down the driveway to our little apartment behind the house I saw my brother sitting at the front door waiting for me.    He was as calm as could be and his only concern was getting in the house so he could pee.   I have no doubt I hugged him a lot and asked him a million questions.   As far as we could tell from what he told us,  he just followed the routine we developed.   He got his transfer when he got on the bus, got off at the plaza, and somehow managed to get on the right bus to get home.    It is said that God protects little children and fools.  He certainly protected us that day.

I am not sure what my mom told me after this happened but  I know I didn’t get punished, and I am certain my dear sweet mom never blamed me for what happened.   My recollection is that we got a lot of rides to church from that point on.  Gee, I wonder why.