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Who flies somewhere for a New Year’s Party?  Not just us, apparently.

Minneapolis / St. Paul are two cities separated by nothing at all; just a bunch of happy, friendly Americans who happen to be on two sides of a river that snakes through this middle American town.

We were here on our trip to visit and party with our friend Laura, whose own trek back half-East to see her family for Christmas was short but sweet.

The Masons have an annual party that brings almost 100—or at least 80 (depends who you ask)—folks from all over the city and beyond, to eat cheeses and shrimp balls and candy canes, and drink beer and beer and wine and beer.

The party is a mix of extended-family social gathering and friends-of-all-ages, and runs from about 8 p.m. until all the wee hours.

The house, an open-layout, basement walk-out on the edge of Little Joanna Lake, looks like an idyllic place to raise a family; it sits on a cul-de-sac amid a herd of trees which in the winter make a wooden-rebar forest of leafless trunks. The snow on either side of the driveway is so tall that you can’t even consider taking a shortcut through the yard from the car to the front door: enforced politeness.

The culmination of the party happens at 12:00:25 a.m., when last year’s Christmas tree gets tossed on the bonfire around which everyone has gathered. The tree ignites at 12:00:28, burns as brightly and quickly as a burlap sack of sparklers, and is an ember-generating husk by the time the last notes of Auld Lang Syne finish ringing across the lake.

Susie and Laura and I and a gaggle of other folks finished the Old Year by watching the re-imagined Star Trek on DVD, sardined on the couch and alternatively mocking and dozing as the night faded.

Many years at the party, I am told, there is also ice skating on the frozen lake at the end of Laura’s yard; this year, the wind was so strong and cold that just imagining being out on the ice made my fingers ache, and the warm temperatures in the previous days also made it unwise—imagine falling through in that weather and you’d freeze like the creatures in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

We flew in earlier, on the 30th. The night before, we had dinner and got to meet Laura’s parents over burritos (carne from a crock pot); and the night after, on the 1st, it was Laura’s birthday dinner, which was a fondue treat with them plus Joel, Chris and Ali.

In addition to a sweet hodge podge of gifts, there was also a touching moment, initiated by L’s pop, Al, where those around the table could offer blessings and hopes for the coming year.  It was a wonderful idea, and one I think I’ll clone and use at other birthday gatherings; what a wonderful balance to the giving of gifts: the giving of hope.

There are some of my close friends whose childhood home I have seen, and there are others whose family, home town, and roots remain a mystery to me.  Seeing Laura in the nest from which she flew, gives me such a better sense of who she is, and whether the person I know now is the person she was then.

As for Minneapolis itself, I can say that my impression of it matches Susie’s earlier impression (she’d visited once before with her mother on the way to knitting camp).

One: Minneapolis seemed eerily deserted, with empty highways and streets and restaurants and stores. Even a place I’d assume would be packed—a luxury grocery store called Byerly’s on New Year’s Eve—was moderately populated with wide aisles and plenty of checkout clerks.

Two: It was as COLD and icy as any place I’ve been in recent memory. When most people in Vancouver freak out over an inch of snow and other people laugh at them—these are the people laughing.

It was the kind of cold that pierces your forehead and makes you wish your eyebrows were bushier.

It was the kind of cold that gives metal a fragile feeling in your hands, and makes plastic into glass.

It was the kind of cold that makes compressed snow underfoot and on your clothes behave like cotton candy, becoming denser but still completely dry when crushed, until you step into a warm foyer or entrance.

It was the kind of cold that put frost on car windows in long arcs and small starbursts and shimmery asymmetrical fractals that catch street light and turn it into the sparkling of ice jewelry.

Into this cold, we ventured forth reluctantly. A trip to Jimmy John’s sandwiches (local franchise), fresh cold cuts served on soft white bread that Europeans would marvel at (made so fast you’ll freak, and in fact I did).

Another trip to a yarn store—no trip with Susie can be yarnless, even if only to be touched and not bought; and a final trip to go bowling near Laura’s old house, where Joel and Chris and I battled for “Most Macho,” only to be beaten by Laura’s skill and competitive nature.

It was a short visit, but a nice one. A glimpse of a family that has formed a community, and built good lives out of rich raw ingredients. And a look at a place whose climate reminds me of my own childhood. Good times.

Overheard

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”

...who said it?

“Almost every American I know does trade large portions of his life for entertainment, hour by weeknight hour, binge by Saturday binge, Facebook check by Facebook check. I’m one of them. In the course of writing this I’ve watched all 13 episodes of House of Cards and who knows how many more West Wing episodes, and I’ve spent any number of blurred hours falling down internet rabbit holes. All instead of reading, or writing, or working, or spending real time with people I love.”

...who said it?

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

...who said it?

“I play with variables constantly.”

...who said it?

“Only the person who has learned Continual Love coming from a heart of Gratitude/Worship can effectively deal with the problem of loneliness.”

...who said it?

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