This Christmas was almost forever lost! It started with Fall, the season I normally begin shopping and planning for the Christmas season. With six kids, an early start is a must. The thing is, I also turned 50 this year. A milestone. One I wanted to celebrate with as many people as possible.
Since I grew up in California for much of my life, I flew out there (Birthday!) for my birthday in September. The airlines are not keen on transporting extra suitcase filled with presents, at least not for free. September shopping, planning and cleaning was lost. Donated to my Big Birthday. A move I do not regret. I had an amazing Fall and time with my mom, sister and friends is more precious than any gift.
October first was a huge day for us. I was in the states. Dave was officially retired from the Army. A new chapter in our lives. A big, scary, unknown chapter. Dave held down the fort, I finished my birthday travels, and we started to feel our way in our new life. The plan is to stay in Germany, transition to a civilian job, and let Tessa finish high school.
Dave had been applying to civilian jobs for months. Hundreds of applications (only a slight exaggeration) and 3 interviews later, he finally got a tentative offer in November. In Germany. At the base closer to our home. Relief flooded through us, but it was only one step closer to our goal. He wasn’t hired yet. He didn’t have a job yet. He no longer had permission to be in Germany more than 90 days.
Right after his 50th birthday, Dave got on a plane to the states. To our big boys. To his parents. To our family. I held down the fort, shuffling kids around, transitioning all our paperwork, cars, bills to the German system. We were now Germans for all intents and purposes. It was not easy. It was even harder without Dave here. I missed Dave.
50 minutes after Dave boarded the plane, the job offer came in. It was official. He had a job! There were, there are, still a million steps to complete the process, but this was a real job. With a real start date. With the official seal of approval for Dave to come back and work in Germany. After a little back and forth, his start date was set at January 02. Perfect.
Dave finally flew home this week. The airline, customs, immigration carefully checking his days, me more than a little nervous, would they let him in? He still has 30+ days allowed on his 90 day tourist visa (aka the Schengen Agreement). He flew from the boys in Columbus to Minneapolis to Amsterdam to… STOP! Flight canceled.
Dave was stuck at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. So close and still so far. Exhausted and tired after 24+ hours of travel. Finally, late in the day, he got a flight to Stuttgart. In the middle of a snow storm I drove to the airport to pick him up. I stood in Terminal 3, watching traveler after traveler greeted by loved ones. Blue + white Schiphol bags dangling from carts and arms. But no Dave. I tried calling. No Dave. My heart raced.
Suddenly a man that could’ve been Dave appeared. But he had just a backpack. I knew Dave had three suitcase, filled with all our Christmas presents from grandparents, brothers/sons, aunts & uncles. A man that had a ginger and grey beard, my Dave has dark brown hair.I looked past him to see if my Dave was coming. But this man, this lone man, with no suitcase, and a scruffy calico beard, was the last. Suddenly that man smiled and waved. It was my Dave! With a beard!
Soldiers don’t have beards. Dave had been a soldier his entire adult life. He has never grown a beard, but now, no longer a soldier, he grew one. Enough of one that I almost didn’t recognize my husband. I happily skipped over and gave him a hug and a kiss, trying out the feel of scruff on my face. It was surprisingly soft and not as scratchy as I imagined. I was so happy to have him home!
And he was home. Sadly without his suitcase, all three, lost by the airline. He had paperwork. Tags I could scan and track. We soon discovered one en route to Mexico City, one en route to Springfield, IL and one UNKNOWN. Our hearts sank. My happiness took a hit. It’s not that stuff matters so much, but this was stuff chosen with love and wrapped by our family. Our family a million miles away, across an ocean, on the other side of a planet. There are many wonderful things about living in Germany, being without family is not one of them. To lose the small, tangible, connection was a blow.
I spent the next days refreshing the Delta AP, tracking our bags and calling the airport. My spirits were low, my heart dejected. The bright light was the flurry of texts from the boys and family commiserating, and sad their gifts had been lost in transition.
Dave & I finally pulled ourselves out of our funk, took a little money out of our meager savings, and went on a shopping date to save Christmas. We had saved to prepare for no job after retirement. Retirement pay is enough to support me & Dave, in a smaller house, without 3-4 kids to support. But we have half of our kids still at home, with Nicholas soon coming this way. We do still have a bigger home to house us all. We’ve been planning, and saving, but it means a very tight budget. Still, no Christmas was not the answer. Shopping we went. Date night!
We made the best of it. Held hands, drank hot Glühwein and bought thoughtful, useful gifts for the kids (read: socks for Cole, make-up for Tess, cards for Dane). We giggled & laughed & reconnected after months apart. I even revisited the selfie feature on my phone (Flying to Columbus), with marginally better success than before. Christmas is what you make it, and we were determined to have a good Christmas.
And then, the phone rang. The bags had been found. Christmas was saved!