So Grateful Tonight…

Yesterday morning we loaded the Suburban, picked up Bren’s girlfriend Olivia are 7:45 a.m. Central time, and headed to Bismarck to fetch our eldest from University of Mary. Olivia rode shotgun (five bucks who can explain why I decided to call her “Coach”) to the campus, and we played the letter game, the license plate game, talked, sang along to the iPod, and ate Hardee’s for lunch in Jamestown, N.D.

We reached UMary and Gabe and Olivia retrieved Bren from his dorm. He came out with a box, a backpack, a duffle bag, a cased guitar, an uncased mandolin, and his heavy Carhartt jacket. We had room for the duffle bag and the guitar–but we stuffed it in, crossed the river into Mandan, and headed south by southwest to the Dennis Ranch in Red Owl, S.D., for supper. Bren and Olivia held the guitar at bay with the backs of their heads. At dusk the deer were moving along the roads; darkness fell quickly, and fog rolled in, so we lost time peering in the the gray-black, watching for movement.
We finally rolled up to Robert and Cindy’s new log house around 6:30 Mountain Time. The whole clan was there, waiting, including Fr. Tyler, who escaped his parishes for a Thanksgiving with his folks, his brothers Tate and Chance, and their families. Cindy, Hope, and Cass finished dinner, wrangled kids, and entertained Jodi, Emma, Trevor, and Olivia, while Bren, Gabe, and I help Robert and his sons move in a massive plank table edged in natural bark just in time for Thanksgiving. We enjoyed burgers and hotdogs, chips and salads, carrot cake, and Emma’s best oatmeal caramel chewies, and good beer (90 Shilling , picked up in Mandan). 
We visited and laughed together until around 9:30 or so, while Lily and little ones explored every corner of the  then rearranged the gear in the Suburban and loaded up for the Venjohns. Gabe needed night driving hours, so he took the wheel, with me navigating. The fog was thick, cutting our speed in half at times, but we rolled into Black Hawk and the house on Suzie Lane at 11:30  or so.  The adults were asleep, but cousins, greeted us. (Such is life: these days the adults turn in early, and the kids stay up to greet the latecomers.)
I woke this morning at 3:30, then again around 5 or so. Dozed until a little after 6, then showered and came went upstairs. Grandma Venjohn was next up, then one by one the rest of the family rose: everyone here but Jason and Carmen, who were hosting her family in Sioux Falls. Carmel rolls and coffee (and a little orange juice) for breakfast. Chris and Tally ran a Turkey Trot in Rapid City. Grandma, Matt and Brenda, and Brad and NaCole worked on snacks and dinner and watched the parade on TV, while Grandpa and our crew headed to 9 a.m. Mass at Our Lady of the Black Hills.
Their regular priest, from Poland, was sick; the old priest who celebrated Mass looked familiar, and his deep baritone and easy humor called to me from the past. Finally, halfway through the Mass, Jodi whispered, “I think that’s Fr. Bob from Wall,” meaning the priest who was at the Catholic church in Wall, S.D., when we first met and she first lured me back to Mass. I knew as she said it she was right.
He’s on oxygen now, and didn’t stand for his homily. He reminded us we are a thanks-giving people, and that Eucharist means Thanksgiving–then he told the story of a Thanksgiving day in the service, spent in the shadow of an armored personnel carrier in the Mojave Desert, eating MREs. The men were hot, the food (pork and beans) was crummy, and guys were already scarfing it down when their leader asked Father is he would bless their meal. So he did–and it struck him that we expect to feast on Thanksgiving, and to give thanks for all we have, but some people don’t have. He ended the petitions the deacon led with “For all those who only have pork and beans today, we pray to the Lord” and then, “For those who wish they had pork and beans today…”
During the sign of peace, I never more sincerely wished peace to those around me–and I’ve never felt more blessed to receive the Eucharist. We spoke to Father afterward. He didn’t remember us, of course, but knew we knew him, and (I hope) felt the love we have for him.
We got home just in time to watch the Lions-Vikings game. Gabe, Emma, and Trev were wearing Honolulu blue and were heckled by the bulk of Jodi’s family, who are diehard Vikes fans. It was a good game; Lions won a bit before dinner, and we prayed together over the food.
Not pork and beans, but turkey, ham, potatoes, stuffing, rolls, and squash. We ate, we played games, visited more, and some of us dozed. When the girls finally decided it was time for pie, we called Brendan upstairs to sing to him–he turns 19 today. Five different pies (apple, pecan, cherry, pumpkin, and pumpkin cheesecake) and real whipped cream. Brendan got a fleece blanket in UMary colors, three books, a capo and electronic metronome for his guitar, cards, and money. Some of us took a walk, others played Shut the Box and other games. At one point I went downstairs to find Bren, Olivia, and Gabe starting a rosary, so I joined in. Such peace–and such joy that they do this by choice.
We ate a little more a little while ago. Now most of the family is playing cards: Phase 10 in the dining room; Texas Hold’Em in the kitchen. I’m surrounded by voices and laughter and love. Such joy. So grateful tonight.
And we’re here ’til Sunday.
Friends and family, I love you and am grateful for you. God bless you tonight and always.

Summer Vacation, Day 72: Gang’s All Here (Belated)

Been sleeping on the houseboat with the full moon for a night light. Jill and her kids (plus her boxer) came up to the lake, too, and the boys (minus Trevvy) went fishing. Lots of too-small walleye.

Then Brendan finally hooked something. The pole bent double. The drag whined as line was pulled out against the reel’s wishes Dziadzi was ready with the net, and Gabe and Kyle were cheering him on … and it spit the hook. Oof. We all felt terrible, and Dziadzi shouted something it’s best I don’t repeat here.

Brendan took it in stride. He imagines a massive fish and tells a good story. Dziadzi tells him his great-grandpa caught few fish, but always caught the biggest. He sees himself in that light.

Gabe suspects the fish was “Old Mocker” – the fish who’s been jumping on all sides of the houseboat this entire trip. Gabe imagines a wise and clever fish who, like Moby Dick, can show up in one place and then somewhere else entirely nearly simultaneously.

He called the fish “Old Mocker,” of course, because it continued to mock us each time we set out …

Summer Vacation, Day 70: Gone Fishing (Belated)

Spent the day at Hardy Dam, and the kids learned a bit more about fishing and camping – namely that, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, you never know what you’re gonna get. Bren, Gabe and I went fishing with Dziadzi early in the morning and caught seven or so small walleye (8 to 13 1/2 inches; minimum to keep ’em is 15). I caught a 22-inch pike (minimum is 24 inches). So, no keepers, and Bren didn’t catch any at all!

Jodi and Busia went to town for groceries (our family changes the entire feeding dynamic at the camp site) and the kids decided to read (Bren = The Silmarillion; Gabe = The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen) or nap through a good part of the afternoon, so Dad and I read (East of Eden continues to be a masterpiece; Dad is reading Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising). When the ladies returned, we took the kids to the beach, but a steady breeze had blown a thick layer of pea-soup muck into the swimming area. The kids played in the sand, instead, and I went with Dad to install two more bunks in the houseboat.

Afterward, all of us set out to go fishing, only to be blown in off the lake by a rapidly advancing storm. We barely got the houseboat docked again before the rain began – the cabin catches a lot of wind! So we went into my folks’ fifth-wheel to eat supper and watch the Olympics. Oh, and we learned that smallmouth bass are quite good to eat – cousin Kyle had left one behind. Not really what we planned, but it all worked out. Amen.