Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Perhaps You Can Go Home Again

Thomas Wolfe once wrote, "And at the end of it [self-appraisal] he knew, and with the knowledge came the definite sense of new direction toward which he had long been groping, that the dark ancestral cave, the womb from which mankind emerged into the light, forever pulls one back--but that you can't go home again. . . . You can't go back to your family, back home to your childhood . . . ." For years, I suspect some part of me thought that was true, as I neglected or perhaps avoided returning home to where most of my family still lives.

Now, having returned from a Christmas visit to the Seattle area to see family, I think perhaps I can go home again, at least to visit. My first visit in eight years went in many ways much better than I expected. Aside from a few awkward silences with my sister, I felt comfortable and welcome amongst these people to whom I had once been so close and from whom I had drifted so far away.

There were times when I felt a bit of a stranger in a strange land, especially when I saw all of the children who had grown up in my absence and who now had children of their own. But there were many more times when I felt as if almost no time had passed since my last visit; the conversation and the laughter flowed easily.

I suppose there were a few minor disappointments. Circumstances and logistics did not allow for much in-depth or heartfelt conversation; there were just too many people to see and too little time in which to see them. On the other hand, I found new areas of common ground where I did not know it existed.

In the end, I think perhaps a new foundation was laid and connections hopefully renewed. I once again have family. Not that they ever doubted it. And I did go home again.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Prodigal Son

In the morning, the family and I will get in the car to begin the long journey to Western Washington for Christmas. It is a journey both of distance and of time. That is true not only in the most obvious sense of the hours spent in the car and the distance traveled. It is true on a number of other levels as well.

This will be our first visit back as a family in more than half a decade. In some ways, it seems as if no time at all has passed. In other ways, it seems as if a lifetime has gone by since I last saw some of my family.

Cousins and nephews and nieces who were children or teenagers when last I saw them are now adults, some of them with children of their own. Where did the years go?

To be honest, I'm a little nervous about the trip, simply because it has been so long. It should be a little easier because I have seen an aunt and an uncle, been reintroduced to them in a sense, in recent months. But because so much time has passed, I admit to feeling a little like a stranger in a strange land, unsure of how to act, how to fit in.

Still, I am looking forward to the trip. My therapist calls it a chance to reconnect, to reclaim my roots, something I may have unknowingly spent years running from, just as I was running from the demons of my past.

For years, I was never sure I belonged anywhere. I never seemed to fit. Now I know I don't have to. I just have to be me and let people take me as they will.

I'm sure some of the conversations will slip into familiar topics, but I hope we learn a little something about each other that maybe we didn't know before. Regardless of how it unfolds, I am looking forward to the journey back to my childhood home. Simply put, it's time.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas has always been one of my favorite times of the year. Even growing up in a single-parent family with a very limited income, I always looked forward to Christmas.

Sure, I liked the thought of receiving presents; I still do. More than that, though, I looked forward to Christmas dinner with the family: grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a human menagerie if you will.

This year, I come full circle in this respect as I bring my own family, wife and son, back to have Christmas dinner with my family for the first time. Teresa and I made the pilgrimage back for Christmas dinner once, in 1995. We took our son back for a visit between Thanksgiving and Christmas the following year, when he was just six months old. It was the only time his grandmother, my mother, would ever see her grandson. Now, we make the journey as a family.

I'm a little nervous because it has been seven and a half years since I have been back. But I'm looking forward to the trip as well. Because Christmas really is about family. The holiday itself evolved out of a very special birth in a very special family, so it makes perfect sense that family would be at the heart of this holiday more than any other.

With that in mind, I wrote a little something to mark the holiday, something I hope captures part of the essence of Christmas. Consider it my way of wishing all of my friends and family, near and far, a very Merry Christmas.

I'm Wishing You a Merry Christmas

Though many miles may lie between us
One thing still rings true
My wish that Christmas brings
A special joy to each of you

Hold fast to the spirit
And the promise this day holds
See it in the children's faces
As each gift unfolds

I'm wishing you a Merry Christmas
One filled with laughter and good cheer
May your heart reflect the joy
Of every girl and boy
And keep you smiling into the new year

I wish for you that special feeling
That comes from family and good friends
On this very special day
I hope good things come your way
And bring a feeling I hope never ends

Beneath the mistletoe
In the Christmas lights aglow
This season brings a joy
I hope that each of you will know
And may the memory of this season
Last throughout the year
To warm your heart each time
You gather loved ones near

And so, I hope this special season
Is filled with joy and laughter, too
On this very special day
There's just one thing left to say
Merry Christmas -
Merry Christmas -
Merry Christmas to you

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Search . . . . is over

On Monday, a deal for what could possibly have been our first fifth wheel trailer fell through. On Friday, we looked at another candidate, another 1998 model, a 35-foot Excel. The brand was a quality brand when it was around, and this trailer looked great on the inside. The outside, however, had a few too many problems for our liking and for the price being asked. So we decided to pass again.

Saturday, my birthday. A new day and yet another trailer to look at. This one was a little older, a 1995 model Kit Cordova. Because of the age, I didn't hold out a lot of hope, but I figured it was worth a look. After all, the price was right and we didn't have anything else planned.

We arrived at the dealer (a different one from the one we had been talking to before) and the salesman took us out to look at the trailer. Right from the start, we were pleasantly surprised. From the outside, it certainly did not look like a 14-year old trailer. We took a look inside. All of the cabinet doors were solid when they closed and none of them were coming loose. The couch, chair, and carpet looked to be in good shape. The stove looked almost new, and the refrigerator actually looked in great shape.

In the bedroom, the mattress looked new. There was plenty of interior storage. The shower enclosure might need some repair, but it looked usable. For an older unit, there also appeared to be a good deal of exterior storage, and there was a good amount of cargo carrying capacity. The roof also looked better than several other trailers we had looked at.

There was a little rust underneath but less than many newer units we looked at. Teresa and I talked about it and probably filtered our discussion through the many other units we had looked at and passed on. And, when it was all said and done, we decided to buy it.

So we now have a 33-foot fifth wheel, and we can't wait to start using it. We pick it up Friday and will probably have a shakedown cruise, as it were, that weekend. Then we'll be ready to do some four-season camping. I can't wait.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Search

No, it's not the search for truth, the search for love, the search for knowledge, the search for fulfillment, or even the search for God. This search is for the perfect RV or at least perfect for us within our price range.

Since buying our tent trailer three-plus years ago, we have talked about one day moving up the RV food chain. At first, we thought that next RV might be a travel trailer and perhaps one day a fifth wheel trailer. Later, we thought we would skip the middle steps and move directly to a motorhome one day.

Our beagle Oliver has made us realize that a tent trailer is a little too small for a family of four (he is, after all, a member of the family). As a result, one day has become a lot sooner than we first envisioned. After our vacation to Utah, we thought perhaps in a couple of years. A few more camping trips later, the time frame became more like a couple of months.

The search for the perfect for us at this stage of our lives and current budget RV started in earnest about six weeks ago. We initially focused on finding a used motorhome, then decided the layouts of the motorhomes we could afford were not what we thought we wanted or needed.

After looking at a few motorhomes, we returned to the idea of a fifth wheel trailer. we had always liked the kitchen layouts of the fifth wheels we had seen, and since I like to cook when we are camping, the kitchen was in some ways the most important consideration of any RV layout.

Now that we had decided what type of RV to pursue, we needed a truck. We didn't want anything too big, but we knew we needed something big enough to pull a loaded fifth wheel. Because we wanted a particular type of truck without four-wheel drive (I wasn't sure they were sold in Idaho), we still were sure it would be several months before we decided on a unit and were ready to make a purchase.

But the search for the truck actually turned out to be the easiest part of this process as we found a 2006 Ford F-350 dual real wheels with Power Stroke diesel and without four-wheel drive. Once we signed the papers on the truck, the search for a fifth wheel seemed to become more serious.

We found one we really liked for a price we really liked only to find cracking in the fiberglass and some dents in one side. Then we found another one we liked at an even better price. We looked at it several times before we noticed the stress crack below the slide out. We looked at one where the bedroom seemed designed for midgets, another that seemed to have been made mostly of plastic, wood veneer, and glue, easy on the glue since trim was pulling apart everywhere.

We looked at several that seemed as if they had been parked in the ocean and others that we might one day aspire to before finding what we thought might be the one. It was a 1998 Alpenlite, 29-feet long. It was a little beat up on the inside and had originally been way overpriced before the dealer knocked several thousand dollars off the price. We had a few reservations but felt if we could get the right price, this would be worth buying.

The salesman kept playing games with us ("I have to talk to my manager" and "Someone is coming to look at it tomorrow and might buy it"). The more they did such things, the more inclined we were to dig in our heels and not budge on what we were willing to pay for the unit.

In the end, it turns out someone else did buy the unit for what the dealer was asking. (At least that's what the salesman says.) I hope they enjoy it, and I hope everything on the unit works. We never were sure.

It could have turned out to be a great trailer at a good price, but we'll never know. And I'm okay with that. Our dealings with the dealer (Camping World of Boise) and the salesman always left us a bit uneasy about the trailer and about what might be wrong with it.

We've always been convinced we would know the right unit for us when we saw it. We still believe that. In addition, we now know where we probably won't be buying it.