There are moments in your life that you know will last you until the end of your days. The holiday season this year was such a time for me. As 2018 drew to an end, Mark and I traveled to Santa Fe to meet up with some of my family; my dad and step mom, Judy, my brother, Dan, my sister, Ann, her husband, Roger, and their ten-year-old son, Xavier. It was one of those trips that had a lot of uncertainty about how it would play out. My dad, at 87 years old, is very frail of health. No trip is planned at this point in his life without the caveat that at the last minute he might not be able to make it. We also had the challenge that Judy had recently broken bones in both her feet. At six weeks into the healing process, she had gotten a green light from her doctor to travel, and to officially start weaning herself off of the boot. She was determined not to let health challenges get in the way of this family holiday, and I think my dad was as well.
Assuming the best case scenario for this family reunion, I’d made a bunch of soups, and had baked lots of bread and cookies. After some conversations with Ann about our dad’s current state of health, I’d concluded it would be prudent to have plenty of food on hand in the condo we’d rented in case going out for meals proved to be too difficult. On the Friday before Christmas, Mark and I loaded up the car. This included our grandson, Avery, who we needed to drop off at his parent’s house on our way out of town. He is now (just barely) old enough to have occasional sleep overs with us, and this is something which all three of us absolutely love. One of the sweetest times of the day is when he wakes up. We bring him into bed with us. As we all snuggle under the covers, we sing songs together to greet the day, never fully emerging from that warm cocoon until the stars wink out in the sky. Once Avery is fully up, he runs everywhere wanting to see everything; the dog, the fountains, the cuckoo clock,but most fascinating of all for him is the great outdoors, and in particular the red dirt that is everywhere here in Sedona. If we could have taken him with us to Santa Fe we would have, but his parents had too much work to do to take a holiday break, and none of them are ready for more than one night apart. So, we said our goodbyes to our kids and our grandson and then headed east on Highway 40, through the Navajo reservation, past the Hopi Mesas, through Gallup, New Mexico and Albuquerque, and past numerous New Mexican pueblos, until at last we arrived in Santa Fe.
Mark and I were the first to arrive in Santa Fe, rolling into town late Friday afternoon. Everyone else was scheduled to arrive on Saturday, so I held my breath Saturday morning until the texts starting coming in confirming that we had a Christmas miracle of our own in progress. Everyone was actually on road. It was a very happy reunion, and that first night my Dad even had the energy to try out a little pub Mark and I had discovered called Fire and Hops. The food there was incredibly good. It was fortunate that it was very close to the condo because when we came out of the restaurant, we found that the night had turned bitter cold. It sucked the breath right out of our lungs. We all huddled around my Dad to keep him warm and hurry him home. Xavier’s concern for my dad was particularly touching. He spends a lot of time with his grandpa, often keeping him company when Judy needs to run errands. The connection between the two of them is very apparent. Xavier watches out for his grandpa, and that night he wanted to be right at my dad’s side lending him a hand as we walked.
One of the highlights of the visit was our one and only outing with my dad. We went to Meow Wolf. For those of you who haven’t heard of this amazing place, I will do my best to describe it. Inside an abandoned bowling alley just on the outskirts of town, a group of artists came together to create an entirely new experience in storytelling. With the financial help of George R. R. Martin they built an entire victorian home inside the hollowed out bowling alley. They call this house and adventure in non-linear storytelling The House of Eternal Return. From the moment you enter the house, you are transported into a mystery. A family has gone missing, a family with unusual talents that are both magical and mystical. Some kind of accident has left the home pockmarked with portals into different manifestations of the multiverse. You might open the fridge and find a passage into another world, or tumble down the dryer to find yourself standing beside the tree of life. Immersed in numerous art mediums you travel in and out of our current reality, each room offering up more clues as to what happened, but also raising more questions.
It is easy to lose your party in this place. The best of intentions to stay together are soon sundered with too many intriguing discoveries and pathways luring you ever on. I lost and found family at multiple junctures. At one point, I ran into my brother. Suddenly, the experience took on a whole new dimension. For a short while, it felt like we’d passed through a portal not in space but in time. Dan and I are just barely a year apart. I turned 60 this past spring, and with the coming spring he will also turn 60. But in that house, the years just melted away. It was us again, two carefree kids excited by an adventure. Together we read the TechnoMage manifesto hanging on the wall in one of the children’s rooms; a document so mind blowing,TImothy Leary would have been proud. We traveled through disjointed pathways that eventually led us into the parents’ room where we found some kind of harmonic invention; potentially a part of what caused the rupture of the universe all around the house. As Dan was sitting at the desk, keying up various tones on the device, the closet door in front of us opened and a man stepped out. I couldn’t resist and said, “Look, he literally just came out of the closet.” Dan could hardly believe I’d said that out loud, and he laughed, but he was also quick to note the man did not seem pleased at all with my observation. On our way back from humiliating our fellow adventurer, we ran into Ann and Xavier and ended up plucking the ethereal strings of a huge laser harp together.Then,upon learning Xavier had yet to see the TechnoMage manifesto, I carted him back through a few alternate realities into the child’s bedroom so he could read it for himself.
You might wonder where my dad was in all this. Despite our inability to stay together, we did have a plan. We had discovered a comfy sofa inside of the base of the tree of life, which was located in a very central part of all these colliding realities. We all took turns returning to this center of the universe, sitting there with him on the sofa, directly underneath some kind of plasma brain. My dad was on that sofa for a couple of hours, long enough that people began to assume he was part of the immersive experience and started asking him questions. Perhaps they believed they’d found an ancient wise one within the heart of the tree. As far as I’m concerned, they weren’t too far wrong. He’s most certainly at the heart and center of my universe.
I could go on and on about Meow Wolf and this immersive story within the house, but instead I think I’ll just tell you to put this on your list of things to experience. You can find all kinds of information about it online. Also, there will be two more of these Meow Wolf projects opening up in the near future, one in Denver and the other in Las Vegas. East Coast friends, I’m sorry, you’ll have to travel west to partake of this adventure. I have no idea if these new projects will be new stories or a continuation of this one. I am so intrigued with this one, I hope it is the latter. I could see endless possibilities and plot lines for this story.
We hadn’t booked any restaurants before our visit, which is a must in Santa Fe at Christmas time; but because we couldn’t be sure of the size of our party we decided we’d make our own Christmas Eve dinner. Roger smoked pork on a grill outside the condo we had rented. The smell was so enticing that it had other guests in the development wishing our Christmas dinner could be theirs. The rest of us made our own contributions to dinner. I nearly abandoned plans to make latkes when I saw the flimsy hand held grater in the kitchen, but Mark, not willing to accept anything as boring as oven fries, took over the task of grating all the potatoes and the onion too! After a very yummy dinner, several of us went off to partake in a Santa Fe holiday tradition, the Farolito. It is a night time walk down Canyon Road, where lanterns and holiday lights light the way, art galleries stay open late, and hot chocolate and hot apple cider are liberally served up. It was cold, beautiful, and like everything in Santa Fe at Christmas time, very crowded. Judy walked around in wide-eyed wonder admiring the beautiful night, the galleries, the crowds. Between her still healing feet and the fact that we’d left Dad and Xavier holding down the fort, we didn’t walk too far into the canyon, but it was long enough to claim we’d been there and experienced one of the highlights of the Santa Fe holiday season.
It had been a perfect day except for one serious miscalculation. On one of our many runs to the grocery store, Ann and I decided to buy a 1 lb bar of Hershey’s with almonds for our dad — who has a long history with hershey’s chocolate; it was the first chocolate he’d ever tasted as a young boy. He’d been given a box of them for his birthday (if I remember the story right, I think it was his 5th). After getting a taste of it, he had immediately wandered off and finished the entire box in one sitting. From that point on, no chocolate, no matter how fine, could ever compare to Hershey’s. I think both Ann and I assumed that at 87 years old, Dad would not be inclined to eat a pound of chocolate too quickly. Turns out to have been an erroneous assumption. At one point during the day, I noticed it was nearly gone. I checked to see who might have been helping Dad out. Only two people admitted to eating a square or two. I wasn’t too alarmed at the time, but in the middle of the night, my Dad became violently ill. I have a feeling the chocolate bar on top of all the other holiday food that day probably tipped the scale in the wrong direction. Until that point, I’d never believed there was such a thing as too much chocolate, not in the Schlager family at least. After a horrible night, my dad spent Christmas day extremely weak and disoriented. It was pretty worrisome to see him so pale and fragile. We all hovered close by in case there was anything we could do for him. Xavier took his favorite fleece blanket and tucked it around Dad to keep him extra warm.
Dad was on all our minds, but he mostly needed to sleep, so, since it was Christmas morning, we did a little exchanging of gifts. Xavier made me a lovely pin, an art project from school. I felt very special because he has lots of women in his life he could have chosen to give it to, but somehow I was the lucky one. At one point while Dad was sleeping, Ann, Xavier and I walked into town for a little fresh air. We arrived at the Basilica just as the bells began peeling calling the parishioners to mass. Immediately, I smiled, realizing that I had just literally heard the bells on Christmas day. That is one of my favorite Christmas carols. By the time we got home, Dad was able to take some tea and a little toast. As I tucked him back into bed, he took my hand and told me I’d always been so good to him. It brought tears to my eyes because it felt a little like a good-bye, but by dinner time, Dad was feeling strong enough to join us for some Chinese food. The next morning, everyone headed home, leaving early to get ahead of an oncoming snow storm. Dad made the whole trip without any trouble. The Colorado gang managed to stay ahead of the snow all the way home. Dan wasn’t so lucky, heading south on the I-25, he had about an hour of blizzard conditions before finally breaking free.
As for Mark and me, in a suddenly very quiet condo, we watched a beautiful snowfall in Santa Fe, and felt warmed by our time with family. We were reminded how precious every moment is, and grateful for what we’d just had. Our original plan had been to stay until Friday, but David, Natalie and Avery had all been sick during the week. Avery was waking up early every day and feeling pretty cranky, so nobody was getting much sleep. They were hoping we’d take Avery for another sleepover so they could catch up on some much needed rest. So Thursday, we packed up our belongings and headed back to Arizona. The forecast was supposed to be mostly clear, but from Gallup to just past the Hopi Mesas snow was falling and Mark had to navigate through white-out conditions. Then, as suddenly as the weather had come upon us, the skies cleared illuminating the San Francisco peaks under a cloudy sky. We rolled safely into Flagstaff in time for dinner. We ended our holiday the way it had begun, singing “Good Morning Starshine” with Avery as the morning star rose in the sky.