Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Jan. 7, 2011

Travelin' Van

"When will it happen?" I asked.

"A little bit before Dubuque," husband Art answered. "I expect it will be near Dickeyville."

That "special event" started me thinking about how much we depend on our vehicles to make our plans become reality. And that is especially true at Christmas time.

When Art and I were first married, while the stores were already promoting Christmas in a big way by the time Thanksgiving approached, it didn't really seem as if the season began for me until after the fall semester was over at K-State. But once we began making the Swedish supper in Olsburg a tradition, it now seems as if the official beginning for my family is the first Saturday in December.

Olsburg is about 25 miles from our home and some years, all seven of our van's seats have been occupied by family or friends. If we didn't have the van, we'd probably still go, but some of the others might not attend, or if they did, might go at a different time. Since a big part of the holidays is getting together with those we are close to, the event would be slightly diminished without all of us being together at one time.

On Dec. 14 of this year, Art and began a much longer adventure. It started with a trip to see the Gold Orchestra - Manhattan's youth string group - play at the Midwest Clinic in McCormick Place in Chicago. But after it was over, we stayed behind in the Windy City to experience a bit of what it had to offer when it is all decked out for Christmas. I particularly liked the display windows of the old Marshall Field store that were decorated with scenes from the "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" tale. In front of the main entrance, there was a full Salvation Army band providing holiday music. A few blocks away, the Christkindlmarket had vendors with wares to delight Christmas shoppers brought from places from Ecuador to Canada and Germany to Mongolia. I'm afraid my blood isn't as thick as those hearty upper-Midwesterners, so I was happy there was a warming tent and a place where I could sit and drink Glühwein - a cinnamon-spiced wine - from a mug shaped like one of Santa's boots.

To complete our Chicago stay, we picked up our "adopted" German kids Nadja and Tim from the airport and brought them back with us to our home here in Kansas.

Then, two day before Christmas, a bunch of our family piled into the van and headed off to brother Dave's home in Salina.

Christmas Day was also travel time, but not for Art or me and not in the van. After lunch, daughter Mariya and partner Lacey took off for Wichita so they could celebrate part of the big day with Lacey's family.

But the biggest trip was yet to come! On Dec. 29, daughter Katie, Nadja, Tim, Art and I warmed up the van once more and pointed it toward Wisconsin. A little more than 700 miles and 12 hours later, we were settled into our motel rooms, ready to reconnect with Art's relatives, do some after-Christmas shopping and ready ourselves for a New Year's Eve get-together at Art's cousin's home.

But now that the holidays are over and we are once again settling into the routine of our lives, I think of how different our Christmas and New Year's time would have been if we hadn't had those vehicles to take us here and there. I suppose it's a bit like that old saying that "money cannot buy you happiness ... but it helps." Certainly we would have enjoyed ourselves if we would have stayed at home. Still, being able to see and enjoy time with loved ones was no small addition to the season.

And that "special event?" It happened just two miles farther toward home than Art had estimated. As we passed the exit for Kieler, Wisconsin, the van's odometer rolled to 200,000 - a number that when I was young, hardly any vehicles attained.

And I think passing such a special milestone earned it special mention. In 1961, Ricky Nelson had a song that reached number one and spoke to the pleasures of being able to visit widely separated places. It was called, "Travelin' man." With apologies to Rickey, here's a salute to our "Travelin' Van" and the many pleasures it has brought the family in the past 12 years.

Left, daughters Katie and Mariya with the van in 1998; right, the girls on their way to Wisconsin at Christmas in 2008.

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