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TITLE: Family Time
By Jeff Lambert

A short story on the purpose and value of families spending time together
I’m thankful for my family. There were seven of us, including Dad and Mom, and whenever we get together someone is bound to bring up a funny story or a warm memory from our past, and there are definitely plenty to go around!

Take Dad for example. He loved music but didn’t always get the words right. One time we were all in the family station wagon and Dad was humming a song. Suddenly he stopped, turned to Mom and asked “How does that line go? ‘Like a bridge over muddy water’?” He was thinking of the Simon and Garfunkel song “Bridge over troubled water!”

It wasn’t only music though. Our family was watching a movie one night and there was a couple in a pool, with the man running his hands through her wet hair. Dad sat up on the edge of his seat, stared at the screen and said to Mom, “Mary Lou; what is that? Is that a muskrat?” Oh, Dad!

Another memory of Dad which all of us kids share is of him coming home from work. We would race to the door and argue over who got to take off Dad’s boots. Whoever received that honor would also be rewarded with a whisker rub! That ritual having been accomplished we would all go to the dining room, sit down at the table and have dinner together. Conversation flowed freely about Dad’s work day, how school went for us kids, what Mom did that day and other family rich talk.

Sunday night was a special time in our home, because that was when the Walt Disney show was on. Mom would make a big batch of oatmeal and a huge stack of toast for the occasion, and then we would all settle in to the living room to watch “My Side of The Mountain”, “Old Yeller” or some other family friendly film. Funny how all five of us kids remember this exactly the same.

I remember attending midnight mass at Saint Edwards’s church. Mom always dressed us kids up and even Dad would go with. It was a mystical experience as the priest intoned with Latin phrases, the smell of incense and all with nothing but candle light.

Afterward we went to Grandpa and Grandma’s where Santa Claus would make his grand appearance. One time, for reasons we kids did not understand, the adults seemed very angry when Santa showed up. Turns out it was Uncle Robert’s turn to act as Santa and he was quite intoxicated!

Of course Christmas day was a big event and we kids would be up at an indecent hour like four thirty or five waiting for Mom and Dad to get up. Usually after us “checking on them” ten or twelve times they would give up and get out of bed. One year I got a special sled, a Ski Daddler it was called, with four separate runners and two individual seats. I spent hours on it that Christmas day, sledding down the big hill on our home property.

However, a few days after Christmas my little sister, Chris, wanted to learn how to drive our snowmobile. I volunteered to show her how.

The throttle, I told her, is here on the right and the brake is on the left. You squeeze the throttle to go and the harder you squeeze the faster you go. To slow down, let off the throttle and squeeze the brake. Just make sure you don’t use them both at the same time or you could get in trouble.

It was simple enough and she seemed to “get it” so we took off around the trail. She was doing well accelerating and slowing down, speeding up again then turning. Everything was going good until she got to the straightaway that led to the house.

I told her to slow down, she squeezed the throttle. The other hand I told her, she squeezed the throttle again. “Hit the brake!” I yelled. She squeezed the throttle even harder! We were heading directly for the corner of the house and in our path was my new sled. I jumped off and looked up just in time to see her drive over my Ski Daddler and smash into the house!

I ran to check out the damage. It was a total loss. While I was at it, I thought I might as well check on my sister too. She was fine, crying a lot (like little sisters do) but otherwise fine. The snowmobile had a large crack in the hood and the house had a big chunk of wood missing, but my Ski Daddler was history.

My only consolation was in knowing that when Dad got home he was going to kill my sister! I let her know this over and over and over. Dad came home from work and I went straight to him and, while taking off his boots, told him whole story. But instead of yelling at her, spanking her and grounding her he just laughed, asked her if she was okay and told her not to worry about it. I was crushed…again!

A year after I graduated from high school, I left home and joined the Navy to see the world. I had never been away from home for Christmas and suddenly I found myself on Christmas Eve seven thousand miles from home on the Persian Gulf.

Missing my family so badly that it literally hurt I crawled in my bunk to get some sleep. My dreams were of home; Dad and Mom getting ready to go to church, the home I had grown up in with all the pleasant smells, lights and decorations. It made being where I was, a long way from home, a little bit easier to endure.

Not all the memories of family time are as warm or funny.

One December night we were having supper together and Kay, a friend of my sister Chris, was with us, waiting for her to get home from work. This friend was telling us about a car fire she had seen on the way to our house, how intense the flames were and about the emergency vehicles she had seen. Just then the phone rang and Mom answered it.

We could hear only her end of the conversation but her comments were “Oh no, is she okay?”, “How bad is it?” and “Where did they take her?” When she thanked the other party, said good bye and hung up the phone we knew it was bad news. She explained that Chris had been struck by another vehicle and that her car had exploded in flames. The accident Kay had seen and described to us was Chris.

My sister survived the accident but was badly burned and was several years in recovery. One memory, however, that stands out is how our family came together in that time of crisis. We had never experienced any type of major trauma to this point, but instead of fracturing our family it brought us together.

Many years later, at a time when I was living in another state, I got a phone call from my sister Kathi. She told me that “Dad was on his way home last night and was in a head on collision, and he died.” I remember what seemed to be a black curtain falling as the shock of what she had told me began to work its way in to my mind and heart.

The travel arrangements I made and the trip back home are just a blur now. But when I got home, with my family to support and encourage me, I knew it would be alright. We grieved Dad’s passing together, we laughed as we told funny stories about things he had done and said; we cried as we realized there would be no more of those times.

Some twenty years later I was on my way home from a business trip and received a phone call from Mom. My brother, Joe, had passed away in his sleep the night before. He was only forty four years old. The family gathered together again, with stories of Joe, pictures, more laughter and more tears. I can’t imagine walking through the loss of Dad and Joe without my family.

It’s a kind of enigma that a catastrophic event, such as the death of a family member can be so devastating yet make that same family so much stronger.

I often think about the profound impact the family I grew up in has on who I am today. The reason, I believe, is because God is the creator of the family. Ephesians 3:15 confirms that from the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, every family in heaven and earth is named. Earthly families are meant to reflect the Father heart of God and what it means to belong to Him.

Our family spent time together. We worked together, shared meals together; my brother and I even shared a bed until we were teen agers. Unbeknownst to us, this was God’s way of revealing Himself to us. Isn’t that God’s way; to teach us about Himself in the everyday circumstances of our lives?

Today I look around and see so many families in turmoil. They barely know each other, spend little time together and family time? Well, it is almost non-existent. Could it be that all they really need is to slow down and make time to be together? Sharing meals, talking about their lives, getting away together? It seems to me that family time is more important now than ever.

I’m thankful for my family and I resolve to pass on the heritage that God has given me to my children and to encourage them to pass it on to their family as well!
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