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Christmas, 2001

Dear friends and family: Seasons greetings from the house of Eastburn where the dirty and unmatched sock supply exceeds the cat hair and upchucked fur ball coverage by a very slim margin.

Seriously, looking back over 2001, life has never been messier or more gloriously chaotic.

This year found us with three sons in high school and every parent's worst nightmare -- the "Mom, I'm getting a ride home with _____" telephone call, after dark, name unrecognizable. So far we've avoided the dreaded learner's permit, but come January we'll enter the ring. The boys laugh every time the subject comes up, remembering their sister's first time at the wheel. Turning into the driveway, returning from a spin around the block, she bashed the Jeep's front end into the side of our 100-year-old garage, moving the wall a good 18 inches. Her dad, calm and collected, delivered a swift tae-kwon-do kick to the displaced wall, moving it right back into place.

2001 was a year of profound transition for all of us. I watched and listened as my stubborn, determined father refused to die but finally did anyway. My sisters and I reunited in Tennessee at his bedside, amazed that while he could barely bend over to pull his socks on, he insisted on taking us to Kentucky for one last shot at the horse races. Watching him die, we saw specks of his determined cheerfulness in ourselves and marveled at his ability to ruffle our feathers, year after year. When the end came, he refused to say goodbye and simply turned his face away from life, admonishing his loved ones to "let him be." I hope his heaven is one big horse race, and he wins big on every bet. My only regret is that he couldn't have been around to teach his grandsons how to drive.

This was the year I decided to get in shape, to attempt a career change, to sell my house and to simplify my life -- all at once, and in the wake of my father's death. Needless to say, all did not work out exactly as planned. Stepping down from a steady job to freelance and entering the real estate market immediately prior to Sept. 11 was a little like stepping out of an airplane in midair with no parachute. Selling and buying a house has been an exercise in hair-pulling and hemorrhaging money, but we've finally settled into our new place, and Thanksgiving there was a triumph, artfully aided by the 40-year-old gas range we inherited from the house's former owners.

Like everyone, our hearts and minds have been dominated by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the unthinkable loss of life and terrifying unrest in a world that has never seemed threatening during the short lives of my beautiful sons. And while I have waged a desktop campaign for peace, my oldest son, with methodical focus and eyes wide open, has advanced his lifelong dream of a career in the military by enlisting in the Army reserves.

Yesterday, I joined my ex-husband, his wife, their baby, and my three sons for the eldest's swearing in at the Army recruiting office. In a week, it feels as if he has grown, older, taller, more self-assured. In a fog of pride and confusion, I shook hands with officer after officer, men in uniforms with bright badges and pins. My son, brought to the U.S. from Korea when he was seven months old, stood tall, his chest out, as he pledged allegiance to the country he loves. Days before, we sat down and talked with him in stern, serious tones, outlining worst-case scenarios, all of which he faced unflinchingly. I marvel at his courage. I tremble at the possibilities of what he may face. We all celebrate his determination to follow his dream, solidified in the face of adversity.

We have no doubt that he will succeed and excel.

We will end 2001 with family in Texas. This Saturday, we'll squeeze into the Subaru for the long drive and the annual road kill count across west Texas. Depending on which route we choose, we may get to see the 20-foot-tall molded fiberglass cheerleader, pom-poms and all, mounted next to an Auto Zone shop in a tiny hamlet where we like to stop for barbecue. This year I'll make the boys get out of the car and pose for pictures with her, though they have refused in years past. If 2001 has made me realize anything, it's this: You just can't put things off.

Years from now, my sons will thank me for the day I made them pose with the 20-foot-tall cheerleader, her shiny, blonde curls unmoving in the harsh December wind. Life, they will discover, is full of ordinary days, of unmatched socks and upchucked fur balls. But it is also full of wonder, never ending wonder.

May God bless us all!

Kathryn

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