Wonderful Life

As I have been madly crocheting this holiday season in preparation for gift-giving, I have watched all manner of Christmas movies. I have seen Miracle on 34th Street (the newer version), White Christmas (in which Rosemary Clooney makes being distraught an art form), Love, Actually (yes, yet again), A Christmas Story (which is now and will be forever more be my favorite Christmas movie), Holiday (in which Jack Black is an odd love interest for Kate Winslet), Last Holiday (there’s probably not another Christmas movie that leaves me feeling happier than this), and Holiday Inn (I could watch Fred Astaire’s Fourth of July solo dance a million times).

And Sunday, when I decided I couldn’t stomach watching the Broncos not have an offense any longer, I watched It’s a Wonderful Life. Shockingly, it was the first time I had ever seen this movie.

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Whaaaaaat?

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I have seen bits and pieces of the movie throughout my life. Really, how could I not have ever seen the ending where Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are embracing and all of the people are dumping cashola on the table to save his butt and the bell rings, indicating that Clarence had finally gotten his wings? I feel comfortable not having indicated SPOILER ALERT because I’m pretty sure I’m the only living person of reading age who hadn’t seen the movie.

But I had never sat down and watched the entire film from beginning to end. I had never, in fact, seen the beginning of the movie, which of course sets the stage for the whole point of the film – that George Bailey had wanted and planned on a much more exciting life than the one he ended up having. That’s pretty important context to have known about for the ending to make any sense. But Christmas movies really don’t need to make sense. Is there any universe in which Jack Black would be a love interest for Kate Winslet except in a Christmas movie?

However, it’s true that hardly anyone’s life turns out exactly as planned, mostly because as of yet, we aren’t able to see into the future. What’s that old Yiddish adage? Man plans and God laughs. Ain’t it the truth? It’s interesting to think about how I would have imagined my life in 50 years if asked to predict when I was 10 years old. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that I would live in Denver, Colorado and have a second house in Mesa, Arizona. Since at that point I hadn’t been any further than Omaha, I undoubtedly wouldn’t have guessed that I would have been on two transatlantic cruises and seen such things as the Parthenon in Greece, the pyramids in Egypt, climbed to the top of St. Peter’s in Vatican City, and sat on the grass at the base of the Eiffel Tower.

In fact, I would have been expecting and frankly, wanting, a life just like the life of ol’ George Bailey.

We all get caught up in the preparations for Christmas. I have awakened at 3:45 a.m. on a couple of recent mornings unable to go back to sleep because I’m mentally counting the gifts I have purchased so that I don’t make that fateful mistake of having one more present for one grandchild than I have for the rest. Did I remember to set aside enough cookies to share with the neighbors who faithfully keep an eye on our house while we’re in AZ? Will Bill’s gift arrive in time?

STOP! It’s Advent. The time for quiet reflection and preparation, not for the gifts that we are going to give or receive, but for the birth of the one who is sent to save us. Advent gets lost in the sea of Christmas frenzy. Like George Bailey, we need to remember to be grateful for what we have and for those who make our lives special.

The one thing that all of those Christmas movies have in common is that life is full of surprises, and it’s not what happens to us, but who we share our lives with and how we accept our life as it has played out.

Holidome

HolidomeWhenever we drive between Denver and Mesa, we always make it a two-day trip, staying overnight in Albuquerque. That way we only have to drive around seven hours each day, making the trip bearable. That’s one of the advantages of being retired.

For the past couple of years, we have always stayed at an Albuquerque hotel called Clubhouse Inn and Suites. It’s affordable and rather nice. They have a happy hour each night, so we can enjoy a beer or a gin-and-tonic after driving for seven hours.

The Clubhouse also has a rather nice pool in a lovely ourdoor courtyard. Interestingly, in all the previous times we’ve made the trip, we’ve never been able to sit by the pool. It’s either been too cold or it’s been raining. No big deal, really, because we are just there for a quick overnight stay.

This past time that we were traveling back to Denver, however, it was a nice warm evening and the pool was open. So Bill and I took our Kris at Clubhouse Inn 2015adult beverages outside and sat by the pool. There were a couple of groups of people out there with us. One was a group of adults who were clearly traveling together and having a wonderful time. The other was a family with several kids, all of whom were joyfully splashing in the swimming pool on that particularly nice evening.

Flashback alert!

Do you remember Holidomes? They were very popular in the 1970s. Holidomes were large Holiday Inns featuring an indoor pool area. The pool was surrounded by numerous chairs and tables. Often there were games to play, mostly things such as ping pong, pinball, or shuffleboard. Perhaps one of the early rudimentary video games. But the focus was on the swimming pool.

As I sat out by the pool that evening, I began to recall all of the times we had spent at a Holidome. More specifically, two specific Holidomes – one in North Platte and one on West Colfax in Denver.

After moving to Colorado, my family would occasionally arrange to meet my Uncle Dale and Aunt Venie and their two kids at the Holidome in North Platte, Nebraska. We would drive from Colorado and they would drive from Columbus, Nebraska, where they lived. None of us at that point were kids. Jen and Dave were both in high school and junior high. Still, we had a lot of fun. Lots of laughter and, of course, food. Jen recalls that one time Mom brought along a corned beef in her crock pot as it was St. Patrick’s Day. As Jen says, our mom was a gamer.

My favorite memories, however, are when our kids were small and the Colorado family would meet at the Holidome on West Colfax in Denver. Jen and her family would come from Fort Collins. Court’s dad and I would bring Court from our home in southeast Denver. Mom and Dad would come from Dillon. The kids would play games and swim, swim, swim. The grownups would eat cheese and crackers, Mom’s homemade pate, and maybe order a couple of pizzas to be delivered to the pool area of the hotel. I am being perfectly honest when I tell you that I can still close my eyes and remember the smell of the hotel as we sat by the pool. Chlorine and pizza sauce.  And I can also hear the sounds of our kids splashing in the pool. So much laughter. Such fun.

Holidomes, at least as far as I know, are no longer in existence. I’m sure Holiday Inn has a solid financial reason for closing them down. People in this day and age are looking for something different I expect. But the memories of our times at Holiday Inn sure did come racing back to me that day sitting by the pool in Albuquerque.

And let me tell you, those kids were having some kind of fun. Maybe Holiday Inn should reconsider.