Column: "The Sports Trail": It's Ho, Ho, Ho and away we go for another Christmas

Thursday, December 26, 2002

by David McNeal

We're hitting the trail, packing the bags, sacking the presents, and getting ready to travel ---- again ---- this Christmas.

Alice and I were married in college and took full advantage of the "going home" syndrome of students of that age. We didn't have any money, but gas was 17 cents a gallon and we could usually afford just enough to get to Alice's house or mine.

Then our first daughter, Kerrie, came along, of all things, on Thanksgiving Day. We traveled to the hospital on that holiday, but wouldn't have changed it for the world.

It was our first time to not be with family during a big holiday event and we vowed to not let it happen again.

That was more than 30 years ago, and since then we've loaded the kids and car in Arkansas, Louisiana, Colorado, and Texas to head for "home," especially at Christmas time.

It was a real adventure back when the kids were small, as we had to bring all their regular junk, trip junk, and holiday presents. We accomplished that in a 1955 Chevy, a Buick Opal, and finally a GMC Van after Amy, our youngest, was born.

That was the best. We'd put a big foam mattress in back, stack luggage all around, throw in sleeping bags and ice chests, and literally camp our way to Grandma's house.

When that machine died, we moved into a small, 2-door International Scout while in Colorado, and invented new ways to cram stuff in. I even built a platform for Amy to lie on that sat on top of the back seat edge and over our luggage.

After years of 17 hour drives from Colorado in that rig, we finally moved up to a Chevy Suburban and were in heaven with all that space.

Those years, we drove in from the Texas Panhandle for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Spring Break, Grandma's birthday in May, and for the Fourth of July celebration.

We would travel for days, making a giant loop to see Alice's Texas family, then up through south Arkansas and to the Ozarks, catching mine along the way. Then it was always the long drive home

As you can tell, holidays have always been big in our family. That hasn't changed. As you read this, we'll be in New Orleans with our new grandbaby, Connor, before heading to Texas to see Alice's family.

We're older now, but we still love those road trips. Course, they're a little different now. Let's see ---- take our regular junk, trip junk, and holiday presents.

Hummmm. Well, maybe it's not so different after all. Yes, there's just two of us, and now we can afford to stop for a bite to eat instead of carrying sandwiches and chips.

But the thrill of anticipation is still just as strong.

We're joining our two daughters in New Orleans, with Kerrie traveling in from North Carolina, so we can all be together at this special time of year.

We've made extraordinary efforts over the years to be together, with our own little family, and our bigger one. It's a lot of trouble and effort, but oh so worth it.

Alice and I are thrilled that our daughters are carrying on that tradition of gathering with family for holidays, and we hope your family can gather also.

The power of the holiday season is that it gives us all time to keep our family ties intact, if we just will.

Hope you have a great season, spent with those you love the most. We are.

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