Sunday Post 198: Unpacking Memories

I put them in the attic early each January.  I wrap them up carefully because they are so incredibly special.  I store them in boxes eleven months of the year, and then, right after Thanksgiving, the kids and I unpack these holiday memories.

There are so many.  There is the mule ornament from our Grand Canyon vacation.  Her mother surprised us with a donkey dive into the vast hole.

The guide proudly announced, “We’ve never had a mule fall into the canyon.”

Although I was grateful to hear this good news, even the thought of dropping 6,000 feet while clinging onto the mane of a donkey threw me into a full-on panic attack.

I told Lisa, “My ass ain’t gettin’ on that ass.”

I wasn’t a virgin, and this was not Bethlehem.

When Lisa returned, her legs permanently bowed and her derriere scabbed over, it was difficult not to say, “I told you so.”

As she walked toward the shower, I let a little “hee-haw” slip from my mouth.

She flipped me the bird.

I laugh each year when I think of that day.

Usually, memories strike like a slow sink drip.  At Christmas, they pour out like a fire hose.

Cards from old friends who have long moved on.

Those hymns we sing but once each year.

The annual Christmas pageant, the one she directed ten years ago.

Those cookies I work to recreate with limited success.

It’s not just Lisa.  I seem to remember my grandparents more at this time of year – Grandmother Tanner’s seven layer cake, an annual Thanksgiving tromp through the woods with my granddad.

The beautiful thing is that the girls and I now have new memories that have been created:  the late night Christmas Eve service which we couldn’t do when they were younger, the creation of some sort of wonky Christmas card picture, big colored lights on the tree which were outlawed before.

Even though they can be painful, I’m thankful I have fond memories.  I just wish they’d come a little bit slower at this time of year.

Sunday Post 150: Teach Them Well

You always try to teach your kids good stuff.  Sometimes I think I focus more on making sure that they know the proper way to use me and I in a sentence than to ensure that they understand the importance of loving their neighbor.

On Christmas, I worry about the same thing.  I know of families who forego presents and instead take a mission trip.  Others choose to make a significant contribution to a charity or serve lunch at a shelter on Christmas day.  We just eat like hogs and give each other an exorbitant number of presents, many of which we don’t really need.

I think my parents realize how we indulge on this day and that we really should have a different sort of focus.  So each year, after we’ve opened our presents and before we stuff our faces, they sit the family down at the dinner table.  As our stomachs rumble and the smell of turkey wafts through the air, we pause to listen.

Being a minister, my dad has always been able to share a sermonette off the cuff.  And that’s exactly what he does.

In front of your plate you’ll see an envelope with your name on it.  Your mother and I have decided to support several charities across the world in your honor.  There are a ton of folks out there who don’t have the ability to give a single gift at Christmas.  There are many who don’t have food to eat, and yet, look at us.  I’d like for you to read your card to the family.

Each of us, from age 11 to 75, reads and shares the story of someone in need throughout the world and how my parents have chosen to support them.

They aren’t sharing this information to say look what we’ve done.  They’re sharing the information to help teach the next generation that it isn’t all about us.  They share to teach us and remind us that we are incredibly fortunate and that we should be thankful.

It’s not a guilt trip – my mom and dad would be the first to tell you they indulge their children and grandchildren as much as any other proud grandparents.  But they take their job of passing down their passion for loving their neighbors to those who will soon follow in their footsteps.

I guess one day I’m going to be the one holding that torch.  I should start now – pretty big shoes to fill.

 

Tighty Tight Tights

Fezzi

Tonight was opening night for Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol.  The girls and I do enjoy participating in this special Raleigh tradition.

Although I wouldn’t trade anything for the experience, I don’t think I’m going to pursue acting as a full-time career.  There are just a couple of things that make me thankful I work at the Y and not on Broadway.

Now I’m all about a costume, and in this play, I’m hooked up.  My on stage 19th century family is The Knife Grinders.  Yes, I get to carry a huge stick with convincingly real looking knives dangling from the top.  And, I get to wear a cape – which makes me feel like Dracula, which for some odd reason I really enjoy.

But in the second act, I transform into a dancer at a very festive party.  Although I’m smiling on the outside, my insides are quite out of sorts.

Like Beryshnicov, my role requires me to don tights.  They are hell to get on.  And once over my knees, they knot my boxers up like the balled up paper wads we used to toss at each other in Mr. Green’s seventh grade general science class.

My undergarments are twisted and turned in every direction all smashed together by the elasticity of the hose.

On top of those two items come the elastic waist knickers complete with suspenders to ensure that the pants stay on the body as I gracefully leap through the air.

As I froze on stage, the entre into the festivities of Act II, I realized that the elastic of my boxers were in my southern hemisphere, the elastic from the tights were on the equator and the knickers had ridden up to the north pole!  I felt like Saturn, all sorts of rings around my body.  It threw my concentration off terribly.  My personality demands organization in my pants.  I cannot dance with my innerwear all discombobulated.

And once it was over, I had to go to the bathroom.  Jiminy Christmas, it took me 8 minutes to find my parts.  Have you ever really needed to go and been constrained like that?  It’s claustrophobic.  I nearly had a panic attack right there in front of the urinal.  I got both hands stuck in my pants and couldn’t move.  Felt like a straight jacket.

The strength of my hosiery was also alarming.  When I pulled them down, they clenched my knees together like I had leg lock jaw.  I had to roll them down as if I was making a snake out of Play Dough to get them off.

On the bright side, spreading my thighs ten times gave me the workout of a lifetime.  What a great way to tone up below the waist.

I actually find it hard to believe that men in that era actually wore this stuff.  I mean, I thought they were tough.

Nah, they were just like us – I imagine they did whatever their wives told them to do.

“Archibald, I’d liketh for you to wear tights with your knickers tonight.  The neighbors are coming over for goose.”

“Do I haveta Clementine?”

“Archibald Nimrod Finnamore.  Putteth on ye tights!”

“Geeze.”

“Oh, and would you slaughter a pig as well?”

I can’t dance for two minutes in the things.  Imagine what they had to do in them!

Thank goodness men came to their senses.

Purchase Danny’s Book Laughter, Tears and BraidsAmazon or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful:  Click here.  And thanks!

Sunday Post 148: Christians Unite

Aren’t we supposed to be on the same side?

I grow so weary of Christians attacking each other.  I grow so weary of disagreements on issues driving us to question each other’s commitment to Christ and in some cases leading us to question someone else’s faith altogether.

How could we possibly determine whether someone is a Christian simply because of his political affiliation?  How could we imply that we love God more because we stand on one side of a single issue?

Yeah, there are those who believe that it’s not possible to lead a Christlike life if you’re not exuberant about paying significant taxes to support those who haven’t been born with as many earthly blessings as you.  And, there are those who condemn someone to hell if they support gay marriage or the pro-choice agenda.

I get it!  I have passionate views as well.  But I wouldn’t question someone’s personal relationship with Christ because they don’t fully agree with Danny Tanner’s social and political views.  I might argue with them; I might wonder why they believe what they do; but that’s as far as I’d go.

I don’t like Fettuccini Alfredo.  Does that mean I don’t like Italian food?  It does not!  I just don’t particularly like that white goopy sauce.  Do I think you’re ignorant because you do?  No.  I think you have different taste buds.  If I’m splitting dinner with you, I’m going to try to pursuade you to order something else.  But I won’t question your commitment to the Italian food cause.

An athiest who reads this blog once commented that if every Christian talked about their faith as I do that maybe she’d be more interested in learning more.  That made me feel pretty good!

I’d rather see a sermon than to hear one any day.  How could someone who doesn’t believe in God have any interest whatsoever in learning more while watching us condemn each other?  It is so NOT what Christ would do.

Let’s celebrate Christmas by doing what He would want us to do.  Go find a Christian you don’t agree with – and give him a hug, and begin acting out your faith with those who are actually on your side.  Once we get that down, we can reach out to those who have no understanding at all.

Purchase Danny’s Book Laughter, Tears and BraidsAmazon or Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

If you have read the book and are willing to write a short review, it would be helpful:  Click here.  And thanks!

Deck the Halls, yeah right!

Xmas tree

I had to cut back on decorations this year.  Our house was beginning to look like Christmas had vomited on us.  It was just too, dag-gone, much!

We were moving along fine in our preparations for the holidays – agreed upon what to leave in the attic, outside and mantle all dolled up, the stockings hung by the chimney with, well, care, I guess.  And then, then as the Justin Bieber Christmas CD played its last song, I opened our box of lights for the tree.

I am convinced that Ebenezer Scrooge’s descendents own the factory that manufactures Christmas tree lights.  Him or possibly the Grinch – or perhaps some  unbeliever who likes to see Christians use our savior’s name in an unbecoming manner.  These translucent strands of beauty bring out the ugly in me indeed.

I simply don’t understand.  How can you run a business by making something that has a 50% chance of working?  What if I did that at the Y?  I’m sorry ma’am, only half of the treadmills are working today – you can kick the broken ones, perhaps shake them; here is a fuse, see if you can replace it, maybe that’s the problem.  Good luck!

It would not work!  I couldn’t get away with it!

And to make it worse, there is no rhyme or reason as to when and if they will work.  On strand A, every other light works.  Strand B?  The first 50 are beaming, the next 50 are dark.  Strand C?  All work!  Strand D?  None.

AHHH.

The one I currently hold in my hand works if I hold the right side above my head.  I guess I’ll start it at the top of the tree.  Had one a minute ago that worked if I jiggled (not me, the lights!)

And yet, I would not be surprised if my personal jiggling might somehow flicker them off or on!  Drink orange juice, all come on.  Lick a sucker, they’re out again.  What, what random source is controlling these ornery minions?  Is it Gru?  Vector??  Who is doing this to us?

I finally, finally got them all on, every light was glowing.  We hung our 6,000 ornaments and sat down to admire.  As I smiled, proud of what we’d accomplished, I noticed, that right smack dab in the middle of my Frazier Fir two rows of lights sans light.

Next year, I’m going with Little House on the Prairie: waxing candles to the limbs.  It has to be easier than this.

Sunday Post 145: Scrooge

For those of you who have seen Ira David Wood’s A Christmas Carol, you might most remember the hilarity of the show.  He is a very funny man, and his Scrooge is like no other.

When I first joined the cast, my assumption was that our primary focus would be on humor, and that is clearly important.  However, what means the most to me and perhaps to most who see the show is the very serious message that is played out in the last scene.

As a cast we are reminded countless times that the play is about helping folks discover or rediscover the true Christmas spirit.

Each year, when we first run the finale, it knocks me in the gut.  The lump hits my throat and the ba-humbug I may have brought into the theater is quickly subdued.

So what is Christmas really about?

For me, I think it’s become less about what I get and more about the joy of those around me.  It is those spiritual moments I experience when the church choir sings while the trumpets blare.  It’s the quiet of the candlelight service on Christmas Eve.  It’s watching mean old Scrooge break down in tears as he struggles to sing the words to The First Noel.

It’s the memory of Christmases of years gone by – my grandmother’s seven layer chocolate cake, acting out the Christmas story with my parents and brother when we were oh so young, Lisa’s affection for pig ornaments, and the first year without her –  Jesse served whiskey after the girls went to bed, a thoughtful gesture on a very tough night.

I pray that we can all find that inner peace – ignoring the annoyances, focusing on the beauty of the season.

Purchase Danny’s Book:  Laughter, Tears and Braids or at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh

Merry Christmas

xmas card 2012, Tanners

We wish you all a very Merry Christmas!  Savor every minute with your family.

A son at last

Many years ago I was on a staff retreat in the mountains. The topic of the retreat had to do with developing your personal mission statement. For one of the activities, we were required to find a place and sit, in total silence, alone for an hour. All we could do was think.

For an extrovert and someone who is a bit hyperactive, that was quite a challenge.

I went out on the front porch of this old inn where we were staying and plopped myself in a most comfortable rocking chair. I do like to rock – sort of puts me in a trance. As I looked out toward the enormous purple mountain in front of me, thoughts seemed to easily swim in and out of my head.

At one point, I had a fairly vivid vision – it was that I would have a son.

My vision must have been a bit too many brussel sprouts ’cause it did not come true……until last week.

When we returned to the car after our first fitting for costumes in A Christmas Carol, Stephanie was snickering and Michelle was pouting.

“I didn’t get a long cape this year nor did I get a top hat. Quite disappointing.  I’m the bobby.”

“Yeah dad, but you get to carry the night stick! That’s pretty cool.”

“You’re right about that, plus I have a badge on my helmet! Did you guys like your costumes?”

Stephanie quickly chirped in, “I looove mine! Michelle, tell dad about your costume…”

“You just love it don’t you?” Michelle replied. “I’m a boy. A stinkin’ boy. All they do is burp and fart.” Her voice was getting louder, like Ralph Kramden in the Honeymooners, “What do I know about being a boy?”

DSC_1573

Me with my daughters and son.

“Just embrace it Michelle. The mark of a true actor is being able to play any part, especially one of the opposite sex.”

My argument wasn’t helping.

Two days later I made a huge mistake.

Michelle came down to breakfast about to jump out of her skin.

“Why are you so excited?”

“Today is the day we find out who gets to play Mary in the Christmas pageant at school! I mean, I don’t really care if I get it or not, I just want to know.”

“Ahh, I’m a little worried honey.”

“About what dad?”

“Well, I’m afraid Mr. Farmer may have found out about the part you’re playing in A Christmas Carol. I think he might cast you as Joseph.”

As Stephanie nearly choked on her cereal in laughter, Michelle reared her fist back and smacked me in the stomach.

“How’s that for a boy?”

The punch was delivered in jest – well, sort of – it had some gass. But I guess I deserved it.

Michelle has actually accepted her new role. One of her good friends is also a boy so they’ve created a secret boy handshake, and they hit each other in the shoulder and stuff.

I will say when the photographer took her picture for the play poster, he found me after the shooting. “You may want to toughen that boy up a bit! He sits just like a girl!”

I think I have my work cut out for me.

Sunday Post 100: Danny, Jesus’ grandpa

Great news in the Tanner household:  Guess who’s Jesus’ granddad this year in the annual Christmas pageant?  That’s me!

Well, actually, I’m not in the pageant.  But Michelle will be Mary and consequently, that makes me Jesus’ grandpa.

St. Timothy’s School has held a Christmas pageant for something like 40 years, and it’s a really big deal.  The first graders are the angels and shepherds.  The second graders are children around the world.  The thirds make up the chorus and the fourth graders are readers, bell players and fill all the parts.

There are only two female singing parts, Mary and the Angel.  Many of the girls tried out for both, but Miss Priss wanted to be Mary.  She said it wasn’t that big of a deal if she didn’t get it but that the angel had too many lines.  I think there are three.  I believe she just wanted to hold the baby Jesus.

In my opinion, the pageant is the most special extracurricular activity at the school all year-long.  It has real significance for me.

Lisa worked at the school and always helped coordinate the 4th grade readers in the pageant.  It was important to her to ensure that they knew their parts and spoke clearly in the microphoneless chapel at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.

In 2009, Stephanie played Mary in the pageant.  It actually fell the week Lisa had surgery to remove the tumor from her colon.  So the week before, the school planned a special dress rehearsal just for Lisa.  We were escorted in and sat on the front row where we had a clear view of our beautiful daughter.

The Christmas Carols that the kids sing are beautiful and moving in the small traditional sanctuary.  The sound bounces off the walls and encircles you.  It was a beautiful service and Stephanie was amazing.

As all of the angels and shepherds departed from the room, I put my arm around Lisa.  She was crying – I’m sure emotionally drained from all she had and was about to face.

When Lisa left school that afternoon, she told her mother, “They all think I’m going to die.”

“Well you’re not,” her mother assured her.

That was the last day Lisa stepped foot on St. Timothy’s campus, and they were right.

I think it was very fitting that Lisa got to see the Christmas pageant on her last day at a school she’d given so much to.

I’ve seen the pageant nine times.  I’ve seen DJ grow from a tiny blonde curly-headed angel to a 4th grade bell-ringer.  Stephanie wore the family costume Aunt Sallie brought back from South Africa for her 2nd grade debut as a “child around the world.”  She’s aged out now.

And this is it for Michelle – and she’s going out with a bang.

It’s time.  Lisa is gone, and the kids have aged out.  And I must let go.

Tree Traditions

For the past decade, our family has gone to the mountains Thanksgiving weekend to cut down our Christmas tree.  It’s a pretty big deal.

We get two, and I’m sort of picky.  Most years Lisa and the girls would end up in the car as I meticulously combed through each tree on the lot.  I mean seriously, how can you choose one until you’ve reviewed them all?  You gotta browse, test drive, measure, envision – it’s a very important decision.

I’ve been known to lay on the ground in front of the tree to ensure that it is wide enough for the space in our den – six feet works well.  We have A LOT of ornaments, plus I like big stuff.  I  don’t want a petite tree.  I want a hunkin’ manly one – I want to yell TTTTiiiiimmmber as it falls to the ground.  You don’t get to say that often.

One year I overshot the height, and we had to cut off about a third of the tree.  It looked odd.  But it was big.

Since Lisa died, I sort of count the day at the tree farm as a passage – I ‘m a little bit further down the road.

The first year after she died, Uncle Jesse went with us to cut down the tree.  It was really nice to have him there although the two country men running the farm determined that we were a gay couple.  They were snickering behind the barn as we coerced another hand to take our family Christmas card photo.  It sort of ticked me off – I thought maybe we were beyond giggling about that.  Plus, if I was gay, I wouldn’t pick him!  He’s just not that good-looking, and he really isn’t very good around the house.

Before we left, I introduced them to my brother-in-law and let them know my wife had recently died of colon cancer – the giggles dissipated.

Last year we stayed in a sort of seedy motel.  The kids thought the television was a microwave –

“Where’s the door dad?”

“The door to what?”

“The door to the microwave.”

“That’s not a microwave, it’s a TV!”

“But it has brown paneling.”

My kids are so dang privileged.

We went to a nearly empty restaurant with a one man band.  The girls and I danced under the mirror ball.

I thought this year was going to go off like a charm.  I was quicker than usual and actually managed to choose two trees from the $5 off lot.  Both were small enough to load onto the top of Uncle Matt’s car.  But after I’d made my choices and gotten the kids’ approval, they disappeared.  When I finally found them, they had planted themselves around a tiny tree that had been lost among the tall ones.

“Dad, we want this tree.”

“Look Charlie Brown, we have two, don’t need another, let’s go.”

And clearly in a rehearsed voice, all three said, “We’re not leaving without him!”

Yes, much like the Hostess employees, they had a minivan walkout.  The union had spoken, and there was no room for negotiation.

When I discovered it too was on the $5 off lot and would cost me a mere Lincoln, I was swayed.  Some things just aren’t worth the trouble.

When Lisa died one of her “House Rules” was:  Gang up on dad when he won’t do something that you know I’d approve of.

These chickens are taking her at her word.  It’s a hard argument for a tired old man.

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