It was here, and now it’s gone again: Christmas. Up here in northwest Wisconsin, it was colder than usual. Christmas morning was a very frosty 7 degrees below zero, with wind chills as low as -15. That’s pretty cold, a near-record for the date, but wasn’t close to the coldest temperature ever recorded up here. The record is 55 below, set on February 4, 1996, in Couderay, about a 40-minute drive from our house to the north. The icebox door tends to slam shut on us right after the holidays; our low temp on Christmas Day 1995, for example, just a few weeks below the record plunge to -55, was 7 above.
My earliest memories of Christmas are from the early sixties. If I’m correct–and I should check with my mother, who is 81 but remembers all these things clearly–it was the Christmas of 1961 that we spent at my maternal grandparents’ home in Platteville. That year we lived in Whitewater, about 90 miles to the east in southern Wisconsin, and in those two-lane days it was a drive of about two hours to Grandma’s house. That was the year I got a Superman costume for Christmas. As soon as I unwrapped it, I put it on and wore it the rest of the day. There’s a photo somewhere of everyone sitting around the dinner table with me wearing the costume. That outfit was eventually passed down to my younger brothers, receiving more than a couple knee patches along the way, and probably left family service sometime around 1970 or so. It was never the hardiest outfit to begin with, and after a decade of vigorous usage by three active boys, there wasn’t much left of it by the end.
My wife Sue spent many Christmases with her grandparents during her childhood, on their farm outside Chetek, and tells me they are among her fondest memories. All of our grandparents are gone now, and since my own parents moved to Arizona in 1984, we’ve been able to spend only a handful of Christmases with them, most recently in 2007, when my father took us all on a Caribbean cruise. That was especially memorable; on Christmas Day, we all went diving off the coast of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, motoring around underwater in one-person scooters.
A very special Christmas indeed.
Back then, our daughter Kim was three years out of college, single and had recently moved to Boston. Our son Jim was in his sophomore year of college at UW-Milwaukee. Ten years later Kim and her husband, a Massachusetts native, have been married three years. Jim is nearly eight years past his college graduation and is well into his post-grad career. We knew Kim and Mike had every intention to start a family, so it was with some anticipation that on Christmas morning, we connected with them via Skype so they could watch us opening their gift to us. We didn’t record the actual video, but here’s the next best thing:
The previous evening, Sue and I had participated in our church’s annual Christmas Eve service. It’s always very moving, and you can see it here: Christmas Eve at Long Lake Lutheran.
Of course there were Christmas movies to see. The Hallmark Channel devotes an entire month and hundreds of hours to holiday-themed movies, many of them quite good, but for us the big two are White Christmas, the 1954 musical starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, and the 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life, featuring James Stewart as small-town loan officer George Bailey, who is so despondent about a business crisis that he nearly takes his own life, only to be shown what the lives of his family and friends would’ve been like had he never been born.
And so, we bid adieu to 2017.
This weekend we will close out the old year with a trip to Milwaukee to see Jim and his girlfriend, Jessica, for a couple of days. The weather is just barely good enough to allow the 300-mile drive: temperatures in northern Wisconsin the past few days have been well below zero, and today we received more snow. It was 32 below on my car thermometer as I drove to the pool early yesterday morning. One Milwaukee TV station noted that Wisconsin had been colder the past few days than it was in Antarctica. Now that’s cold.
Saturday night we will gather at a sports bar in Milwaukee to watch the Badgers play Miami in the Orange Bowl. A Wisconsin victory will give the lads a 13-1 record, their best ever, but even then, the season will still be a tad disappointing. Going into the Big 10 Championship Game on Dec. 2nd, the Badgers were 12-0 and poised to grab a spot in the College Football Playoff with a victory. Unfortunately, they chose that night to play their worst game of the season, falling to Ohio State, 27-21. Had they won, they would’ve likely been playing New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma, and I had already made plans to attend that game with my youngest brother Brian. But instead of sitting in the stands in Pasadena, where the high temp is expected to be about 75, I’ll be at home, indoors, because the high that day here will be only -2. I’m not sure I’ll have the desire to watch Oklahoma play Georgia in the game the Badgers should’ve been playing in.
Despite that, we are anticipating that 2018 will be a banner year. My next book, Quest for Vengeance, will be published at the end of March. Our grandchild is due in mid-July, and we plan to be there for the blessed event. If all goes according to plan, it will be my last full calendar year of working my day job; sometime in 2019, I’ll become a full-time author (as well as a part-time granddad).
Have I made any New Year’s resolutions? Well, sort of. I always tell myself that I’ll continue my never-ending quest to be the best man I can be; the best husband, the best father, and soon the best grandfather. My workouts at the gym and the pool and the dojo will continue, and I’m always looking for ways to make them better. We made significant strides on the home front in 2017 and anticipate that ’18 will be another year of onward and upward. I hope yours will be, too.