It’s Christmas Eve on a raw, chilly day in Portland. Since our arrival a few days ago, we’ve gotten acquainted with two-and-half month old Theron. We’re enjoying being with him and his big brother Eliot. Reliving the glow of parenting without the daily responsibilities of nourishing and disciplining is arguably the most joyous state in grand-parenting. In its place is the freedom to play, to laugh, to act silly and romp like a child. With the nearly four-year old Eliot, we’ve been having grand conversations, marveling at his advanced vocabulary, listening to his stories, admiring his skill in the matching game and simply being childlike with him in the games he likes to play. This morning we took a walk wth him, his papa and little brother as he rode his balance bike. Ah! Cuddling with Theron is a heavenly gift.
What bountiful joy there is in his smile and wide eyes as he listens intently to Melanie and me, especially when we speak French. We enjoy hearing his contented gurgling. There’s music to his soft cries, but that opinion may not be shared by his sleep-deprived parents. On the floor, he swims in place, legs flailing wildly. By the time we see him again in the summer, those legs will be pushing him across the floor.
As I write this, Eliot and his Mamie are making Christmas ornaments for the tree. He enjoys learning new things. Inquisitive and quick to learn, he was fascinated by Melanie’s reading to him from a Heifer International magazine about milk other than cow’s — yak, goat, sheep, water buffalo, camel. And, like many kids his age, he loves to draw. His artistry is on display on the corner walls of the dining room. And, like his Mamie, he loves books, especially those about trucks. This afternoon we will decorate the Christmas tree, and later, like many others across the globe, we’ll retire for the evening in anticipation of St. Nick’s arrival and, for Christians, the heralding of the newborn, Jesus.
At the children’s Christmas Eve Mass, the priest asked the kids what gift would they like to give the world. The first child to respond, said”peace;”another shouted “love,” and the last gleefully chimed “hope.” Hope captures the true meaning of Christmas that is manifested in the unadulterated innocence of children. Our special Christmas gift is the sharing of love with Eliot and Theron.
Christmas morning as expected was full of excitement! Too early for Theron, but Eliot’s joy in unwrapping gifts was contagious. The simplest of gifts elicited squeals of pleasure! Stickers were as equally appreciated as the Lego car. In addition to the gifts around the tree was the treasure hunt for hidden presents, the clues of discovery embedded in several rhymed verses of Melanie’s imagination. It’s a decades old Smith family tradition begun by her father. And what may well become another Smith tradition is the Christmas dinner of Thai food created by Chef Ethan. Earlier today, as we exchanged Christmas greetings with the Guillaume Family in D. C., we learned of another non-traditional meal, red beans and rice with roast, prepared by Chef Alfred that may as well become another tradition.
The day after Christmas festivities, Melanie and I gave Ethan and Nicole a respite from parenting. In the early afternoon, Melanie and I took the kids for a long walk with stops at the library, where I spent considerable time in the children’s corner reading to Eliot, and at Jack-in-the Box for a french fry treat. During our walk Eliot stopped several times to examine more closely a leaf, a stone or some other object with his magnifying glass. Each time he marveled at a new discovery.
Our brief visit ends tomorrow with a return to the bitter cold that awaits us in South Bend. Our next travel adventure is in January to D.C. to meet our new grand-daughter, Juliette, and her big sister, Michelle.
“Oh what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh!” Yes, such as it is, we were caroling in the desert last night. Just several days ago, we flew over the snow-covered region of Northern Indiana and landed in parched and barren Nevada — the desert’s winter chill, a welcomed respite from the arctic cold. We’re here in sunny Las Vegas to celebrate our son, Paul’s, second masters, this time in special education from the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
His first, an MFA in photography, a couple of years ago, was from the School 0f the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. It’s there where he met our lovely daughter-in-law, Katie, also an MFA in photography. Needless to say, we are bursting with pride. Paul came to Las Vegas initially as a high school teacher for Teach for America. Having completed his two year obligation with Teach for America, he’s now enjoying teaching in a Title I high school that is largely Latino.
As part of this celebratory graduation week, we dined at the iconic Top of the World restaurant and had a panoramic view of the neon-lit city and its famed mile-long strip. As the restaurant turned slowly on its axis, we saw in the distance, the bright glow of the Trump Tower, looming large with no edifice near it matching its height or showiness. Though duly forewarned by our waiter not to be alarmed, we were startled by the bungee jumper whizzing by just outside our window. As the saying goes, “Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” and here there are many surprises! But this is not an adventure, I’ll ever want to experience.
And those carols? Paul and Katie invited us to a piano bar, the Classic Jewel, for Opera on Tap. Ugly Christmas sweaters were encouraged but not required. The superb operatic singing made for a pleasant evening!
Singers from the Sin City Opera thrilled the patrons with a sundry of Christmas carols, traditional and pop, in beautiful tenor and soprano voices. There were choruses, duets, and solo performances and an audience sing-a-long of favorite carols. The evening ended with a rousing chorus from La Traviata. We met several of Paul and Katie’s friends, including one of Paul’s colleagues who sang a beautiful aria. Katie and Paul earned the second place prize for the most imaginative sweaters. Sporting a Santa Claus hat and beard, Paul adorned his sweater with pre-tied package bows. We enjoyed chatting with the singers learning about their interest in opera, how they came to this city and what keeps them here. The climate, of course, was a big attraction, but we also learned that there is an active arts scene. Admittedly, as one of the singers commented, it’s hidden and you have to look for it.
Another fun thing we did was drive one evening through the Nascar Speedway transformed into fields of glittering Christmas lights. Quite a panoramic display that rivaled the glimmer of the Strip!
Our son and daughter-in-law, artists themselves are beginning to discover Las Vegas’ charms. We’ve been having engaging conversations with them learning more about their teaching and listening to them explain how they create art. We’ve observed their pace of life and how they live. They are a good couple together and their different personalities mesh well. Although they are adjusting to living here, we learned that they won’t make Las Vegas their permanent home but will stay a few years longer before moving, perhaps back to Boston where they feel there is more opportunity for them as artists.
I’m not a big Las Vegas fan either, but each visit increases my tolerance for this city of ostentatious glitter. I’ve never been a gambling aficionado! It seems such a waste! Consider me a scrooge! The closest I’ve come to gambling is an occasional lottery ticket and the church bingo. To me it’s disturbing to stroll through a casino of transfixed faces and mechanized arms in front of a slot machine, including the equally intense, immobile gazes at the blackjack and poker tables. I fear that many are addicted gamblers who do not have sufficient financial capital for these idle pleasures. But in the words of Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?”
After a pleasant afternoon at the theater to watch the Star Wars prequel, Rogue One, the kids are preparing a festive meal of salmon with grilled vegetables. Earlier I browsed through dozens of slides from my early adulthood that Paul commandeered sometime ago. This photographic journey brought back many memories of my Vietnam year, including my R &R in Hong Kong, my travels as a Fulbright teaching assistant in France and NEH scholar in West Africa. I was struck by the quality of the images captured by my untrained eye. (Even Paul mentioned once that he liked the composition of some of my images.) The pictures of Vietnam and West Africa were arresting in their depiction of the rhythms of daily life; those in France were of monuments and buildings. Vietnam was a significant marker in my life. I was amazed by the numerous slides of inebriated merriment of me and my fellow soldiers. Their faces I remembered, but few of their names.
Together they gave a powerful message of social justice to which we need to commit and make real. The congregation itself was the most diverse we’ve ever experienced. We noticed at least ten different ethic groups and nationalities among the packed congregation.
Today we leave for Portland, OR to visit our newest grandson, Theron. And another chapter in our Christmas travels begins.