Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Archive for December 2017

Shocking Transition

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From this:

To this:

It was a 92° swing in a matter of a few hours.

Ouch. There is a reason they refer to below-zero temperatures as “biting cold.”

I can report that our pets were exceptionally well cared for while we were away. The horses were snuggled in the barn when we arrived after dark last night. Both Delilah and Pequenita were very excited to see us and offered a full dose of canine and feline affection, respectively. The chickens are hunkered down in their coop, which is what we will also do for much of today, by the fireplace in our house.

It was a great family vacation, and  it is great to be back home again.

Being away certainly helps me to better appreciate how much I love the place we call home. There is no place I’d rather live, even when the air outside is ridiculously, bitterly cold.

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Written by johnwhays

December 31, 2017 at 10:33 am

Going Tropical

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From the series of previous posts reviewing my history with Cyndie and her family, I hoped to provide a more complete background for what led to this year’s adventure to the Dominican Republic over Christmas.

After years of growing families, the Friswold Christmas spectacle of the classic gift exchange had expanded almost to the point we couldn’t fit all the gifts in one room. This was despite an effort long ago to rein things in by drawing individual names for the adults giving gifts.

I witnessed Cyndie and her brothers making an effort to encourage moderation, but it’s hard to restrain the love of giving. It was difficult to detect much evidence of change.

They were also putting energy and imagination toward devising ways to reduce the (mostly self-imposed) burden on Marie of hosting to the nines for hours on end, three or four days in a row. That effort was also producing mixed results.

Then, along came the year 2017, which just happened to include several significant milestones for Fred and Marie. They both celebrated 80th birthdays, certainly a benchmark for which they deserve the reasonable courtesy of reduced stress and aggravation in their days.

Equally noteworthy is this year’s marking of their 60th wedding anniversary. With these special events dealt to their hands, the two cunning card players set about making the big play.

Obviously, they had been counting cards all along, because they knew what was going to be dealt in advance. We found out a full year ago that Fred and Marie wanted to bring the whole clan to the Dominican Republic for Christmas this year.

No names will be drawn, no food needs to be planned or prepared, no setting up of tables and chairs, no world-class flower arrangements will need to be flown from Boston by Carlos, no dishes will need to be done for hours on end.

We will have the gift of a full week of each other’s company in the warmth of sun, sand, palm trees, and ocean breezes.

The whole clan, together again like a decade ago on Hilton Head Island.

I have no concept of what they could possibly dream up that could top this ten years from now, in celebration of their 70th anniversary.

What a family.

To Fred and Marie:

You have done the world a great service, raising these four amazing individuals with so much love.

You’ve given me an amazing opportunity to be included as family. You have blessed all your grandchildren with bountiful and limitless love.

Here’s hoping your dreams for this tropical Christmas were fulfilled, and that you enjoy many more days as stress-free as this week hopefully was for you both.

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What About

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What about the Hays family Christmases? How could we fly off to the tropics for a week over this holiday!? Well, it’s not for lack of love to my birth clan, that’s for sure. Here’s a shout out my siblings and their families.

I see the difference between Cyndie’s and my family as an asset. Basically, it starts with the difference in age of our parents. Ralph and Betty were nearing the end of their high school years when Fred and Marie were born. I was the fifth of six kids, while Cyndie was the first of five. Our combined perspectives are broader than they would be, each on our own.

Now my parents have moved on to the world of spirits and my siblings are all grandparents. They are the matriarchs and patriarchs of their own respective families. My siblings and I haven’t maintained a specific Hays tradition of celebrating Christmas together.

However, the memories of our glorious past endure and I’m sure have directly shaped the new traditions of our kids and grandkids.

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Just three years ago, Cyndie and I had the pleasure of hosting a gathering of Hays families at Christmastime and I wrote about it here on Relative Something. Here is an excerpt from December 2014’s “Sibling Revelry.”

Despite a sloppy wintry mix of precipitation doing its best to dampen our spirits (sorry ’bout the pun), the gathering of Hays relatives was a joy and a half. As always happens to me at family gatherings of limited duration, the riches of access to siblings I grew up with is enticing, but the reality of our usual chaos leaves me wishing there was more time. It is hard to finish a story, and sometimes a single sentence, without interruption. My attention is too often wrenched away from the person I was listening to, and time flies by so fast, the hour of departure comes up way too soon.

Regardless, every moment was precious. Reconnecting after long periods of separation, with siblings who share so many tendencies and characteristics, is refreshing and invigorating. I tend to feel a kind of validation of who I am, discovering the brothers and sisters that I grew up with remain so similar in behavior and perspectives. I am among my people again.

DSC03401eCHI’m lucky that, as a family, we all get along. These are the people who inhabited Intervale Ranch with me from the day I was born until 9 years later, when our family moved out and the property was razed for development into an industrial park.

With technical assistance from my son, Julian, I was able to display a digitized version of a slide show I put together close to 30 years ago, which featured that old farm property. It provided an opportunity to exercise our memories, as we analyzed some of the images and compared recollections.

Meanwhile, there was non-stop food to be consumed, youngsters to get reacquainted with and entertained by, and horses to visit…

Love you, Hays relations! Hope you all had fabulous Christmas celebrations at home while we were away!

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Written by johnwhays

December 29, 2017 at 7:00 am

Fiftieth Anniversary

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The big five-oh. It is a milestone that deserved the biggest family trip yet. To celebrate 50 years of marriage, Fred and Marie found a way to include all of their children and grandchildren into one awesome week of vacation. They rented a mansion that could house all of us on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

Spending a week at Hilton Head together was so much more than just a vacation to the beach. We weren’t staying in hotel rooms. We had an entire house. Granted, it was a mansion large enough that we could retreat to our own rooms, just as if it were a hotel.

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A significant difference was that family prepared the meals right there in the kitchen. Cousins had some extended quality time to develop greater bonds. Kids all got a dose of supervision and play from aunts and uncles that gave parents occasional breaks and expanded everyone’s understanding of the rest of their family.

Staying together in one house was the big key that set this trip apart from all the others. It was like a week at Wildwood, except on the ocean with an expansive sandy beach.

And, well, it was extravagantly luxurious, too. It felt like a dose of what being rich and famous might be like.

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Those stairs. So big, it was hard to capture in a picture. Walking up them inspired feelings of royalty.

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It’s comical, really, that part of the regal impression was created by the simple fact you could choose to walk to the left or right. They both lead to the very same place.

Having a pool right outside the back door was rather plush, given the Pacific Ocean was just a stone’s throw beyond.

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We played games beside the pool, we made castles in the sand.

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It was an absolutely grand time. I believe it set the stage for what might be possible a decade later.

When it came time to celebrate a sixtieth anniversary, how would they ever top that week at Hilton Head?

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Written by johnwhays

December 28, 2017 at 7:00 am

Different Destinations

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You see, the thing is, I have a much stronger inclination to stay home than I do to travel, unlike the family I married into. More than one person has told me I was crazy to pass up the chance to travel to Italy’s Amalfi coast with Cyndie, her parents, Barry and Carlos.

I’m okay identifying with a percentage of crazy.

But, I’m not stupid. As our kids grew older, the opportunities to expand their world with travel made total sense to me.

While we had indoctrinated them to the three-hour drive to Wildwood starting from the first weeks of their lives, other destinations soon beckoned.

Disney in Florida was a no-brainer. It would have been just fine with the four of us and Cyndie’s parents, but having her brothers, Steve and Barry figure out a way to include themselves pushed it up to that next level of greatness.

The plan wavered a couple of times, such that a room reservation for them was canceled, but when they were able to make it work at the last-minute, it meant that Fred and Marie would get to cut their space in half to share a Disney Resort room with two of their grown sons.

The daily Disney parade had life-size green army men from “Toy Story.” The Tower of Terror was a real scream. It was Disney-erific!

Cancun, Mexico was a perfect next step. Part artificial environment of the tourist hotel, part historic Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza.

We swam with dolphins and played volleyball on the beach. It was a great vacation for us and our kids.

I had an opportunity to venture out on my mono-lingual own in search of a souvenir soccer jersey from a local shopping mall. It was interesting because I had no idea what team I was choosing and I needed to rely on the clerks guessing what I was after through gestures and facial expressions.

¡Go, Pumas!

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Written by johnwhays

December 27, 2017 at 7:00 am

Winter Olympics

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Among the too-many-to-count moments of my life thus far when I have found myself in the midst of something that my wildest dreams never imagined possible, attending the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, was off the charts.

That Fred & Marie were able to consider this a viable option for a family vacation, and then pull it off with such incredible results, is enough to leave me at a loss for words to adequately describe.

I love sports. Olympic competitions are some of the best. Winter is my favorite. A trip to Lillehammer, Norway? A bonus on top of a bonus and a bonus, and another bonus.

This trip was spectacular! To be able to do this with family was wonderful (although we left our young children at home with a nanny). The other family (Friswold friends) traveling with us were precious. The authentic accommodations were priceless. Obviously, the Winter Games were world-class. And Norway did a fantastic job as host country.

We were able to stay in the home of a farm family. The boys gave up their rooms and slept somewhere else, but they still had to come home to do chores, so we saw them at breakfast.

Through the Friswold connections, we ended up attending a black-tie dinner event heavily themed with Norwegian culture. We had an opportunity to do some nordic skiing in a gorgeous mountain forested landscape blanketed with deep snow. We attended a hockey game, a downhill skiing event, saw the luge up close –nothing like it with the roar of speeding blades grinding against ice as sleds rocketed past our heads– and watched moguls freestyle skiing.

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This trip was so much fun that the experience lingered for a long, long time as one of the best things I had ever done.

Other than the week Cyndie and I spent learning winter survival skills from Will Steger at his homestead property in Ely, Minnesota, and the lodge-to-lodge dogsledding adventure vacation we took our kids on with Sue and Paul Schurke, the trip to Norway for the Winter Olympic Games fulfilled my snow-season passions better than I thought possible.

The success of this family trip went a long way toward showing me how much fun was possible, traveling with this clan.

Even if the next excursions weren’t likely to be headed to a cold weather climate zone, it was pretty easy to talk me into going along with whatever wild idea the family was plotting next.

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Written by johnwhays

December 26, 2017 at 7:00 am

Happy Christmas

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But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

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Written by johnwhays

December 25, 2017 at 7:00 am

Club Wildwood

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Becoming a member of the Friswold family also made me an instant member of their vacation home association, Wildwood Lodge Club. It is an awesome amplification of everything precious about the Friswolds. It’s as if the things that make them a special family is taken to the 7th degree by six amazing other like-minded families that join together with a common zest for loving life and other people.

Located in the beautiful northern Wisconsin woods, spending time at Wildwood is inherently enthralling. There is always something to do, even if it is simply sitting quietly and soaking up what nature has to offer. But that doesn’t hold a candle to the energy and love shared among the people who truly make Wildwood what it is.

In a way, traveling the roughly 3-hour drive from home to be at WWLC was the first version of Friswold family trips. That is why I am featuring it near the beginning of this little series highlighting our travels with Cyndie’s family.

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There are often community games spontaneously forming –basketball, soccer, boot hockey, tennis, card games, night games– and shared meals are a common occurrence. For some years, there was a progressive dinner to each family’s “cabin” on New Year’s Eve.

There are often themes devised for Wildwood events, such as “paint your own t-shirt” for Independence day (seen above) or “make your own holiday hat” (below).

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Wildwood Lodge Club could be seen as my gateway into the next level of travel adventures I would continue to experience after becoming a member of the Friswold Family.

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Written by johnwhays

December 24, 2017 at 7:00 am

Getting Married

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After six years of off-again, on-again navigating our growing relationship, Cyndie and I committed to cementing our connection in marriage. During a summer break when she was home from a graduate program at San Diego State University, we decided to begin the process.

I remember pausing on a bench in the 50th & France shops area where we asked each other, once and for all, if we were prepared to make this commitment. Then, we walked into a store to talk to a jeweler about making a ring that we designed ourselves.

We didn’t specifically speak about it again until I made a formal proposal in the form of a Christmas present I gave her at a Hays family gift exchange in December, 1980.

During the intervening months, I worked on a wax model of the ring, delivered it to the jeweler for casting, and asked for the blessings of our parents.

I’m pretty sure I surprised my parents by even asking. My father’s reaction was to say that I didn’t need his approval. Happily, Mom and Dad both offered their support.

Asking Cyndie’s parents, Fred and Marie, was a lot more nerve-wracking. All these years later, the thing we laugh about is that Marie was in the middle of untangling Christmas lights when I finally summoned the courage to utter the request for their daughter’s hand in marriage.

“You’re asking me now? In the middle of this tangle of lights!?”

Caught them by surprise, too.

I was incredibly relieved to find they were able to maintain their composure and avoided grilling me too hard about what the future might hold. Despite my worries, they accepted me as I am and gave me permission to marry their oldest child.

To this day, I have difficulty comprehending how they were able to process the reality of the events I had set in motion that day.

Marie was sworn to secrecy from that moment until I “officially” popped the question, but she didn’t know exactly when that would be. It was a wonderfully joyful night when we finally were able to share the news with Cyndie’s whole family.

I’m the fifth of six siblings, and my getting married was not incredibly dramatic in the grand scheme of other Hays family significant events. Cyndie is a first-born, their oldest daughter, and the first child to be married. I knew this was a big deal.

Beyond the amazing bond being put in place for Cyndie and me, the next biggest impact was that I was becoming a member of the Friswold family. That brought benefits and responsibilities that stretched the limits of my ability to grasp.

It is inextricably linked with the soul-connection Cyndie and I share. It is an honor of epic proportions that I am humbled to be able to claim.

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Written by johnwhays

December 23, 2017 at 7:00 am

The Note

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In the fall of 1974, a group formed to attend an October session of Bill Gothard’s Basic Youth Conflicts Seminar at the Civic Center in downtown St. Paul. Cyndie was not only in the group, she offered to drive. It would be my second opportunity to spend time in her proximity and she was a powerful blip on my radar.

On the second to last night, after we pulled out of the parking ramp, a 3-ring binder that someone left on the roof of the car slid off, hit the road and burst into a cloud of pages. What a disaster.

Without wasting a second, Cyndie choreographed a controlled response where we pulled over safely, everyone jumped out (probably dangerously) and chased down pages. Shrieking and laughing, we saved every last page and made it back into the car without further incident.

We drove on as if nothing had happened.

It was such a combination of out-of-control chaos, yet at the same time, calm, controlled recovery, that I struggled to comprehend what I had just experienced. Cyndie didn’t show any sign of stress over the situation. I was captivated by the mastery of her response to the calamity.

I ended up in the passenger seat directly behind the driver in a station wagon packed with bodies. Suddenly, Cyndie’s arm swung around and the huge parcel she carried as a purse landed in my lap.

“Hold this while I drive.” I was instructed.

I’m not sure how I managed it in that car full of rowdy teenagers, but with little light and less space, I decided to write her a note to express how taken I was by her impressive handling of the event and the screaming car-full of panicked kids.

It was a little scrap of paper that I slid into that huge bag, wondering if it would ever be found.

Wanting to convey that I was falling madly in love with her, but not knowing her well enough to justify it, I remember ending it with the precautionary qualification.

“Too mushy?”

The following day, the last one of the seminar, I learned Cyndie did indeed find the note. She handed me an envelope filled with multiple handwritten pages in response.

We were sensing a similar vibe.

Sometime after that, we went on our first date. My mom dropped me off at Cyndie’s house and Cyndie drove us to the Southdale shopping mall. I was fifteen years old, she was sixteen.

Cyndie saved that note I slipped into her purse. Last time she pulled it out again to show me, I had a hard time reading it. I don’t know exactly what that was about. I’m probably just too old now to deal with the fifteen-year-old version of myself.

I’m so grateful that she was able to accurately interpret what I was trying to say that crazy night in the seat behind her in the car.

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Written by johnwhays

December 22, 2017 at 7:00 am