Christmas vacation: Day 12

We played it low-key at my parents for New Year’s Eve Monday.

Dad and I spent most of the afternoon on the floor, picking through piles and books of old black and white photographs he inherited from my grandmother’s house, photographs of my great-grandparents and grandparents in their young adult lives. There were depictions of happy, simpler times during family gatherings at my great grandparents’ farm and my grandparents’ home. The pictures also brought to life more of the names that I’ve discovered during my research of our family tree. It was a great way to spend the afternoon.

We spent the final hours of the year watching “Enchanted” on TV and then New Year's Eve with Carson Daly. We could barely keep our eyes open long enough to see the ball drop, but we succeeded and called it a night very quickly after the hoopla died down in New York City – past midnight there but before the clock struck midnight in our time zone.

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Tuesday morning we watched the Rose Bowl Parade and then packed up for our next destination: Sheboygan for another Christmas family gathering, this time with Kates’ father’s side of the family.

Once again, the girls slept for most of the two-hour drive. And they were greeted with hugs and kisses and fanfare when we arrived. Like our other family gathering Sunday, it was the first time many of them met Faye.

The dining table was covered with snacks, and conversations filled the room. And when the eating died down, there was more gift-unwrapping. Clothes, games, DVDs and toys were exchanged once more. … This time, the gift of the moment was a Baby Sniffles Ernie doll given to Faye. The significance of this is that Phoebe, Faye and I each got Ernie dolls as babies, all of which we still possess.

The party died down and we were on the road shortly after 6 p.m., heading to Kates’ parents Milwaukee apartment for the night.

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The family gatherings complete, we reserved the remainder of our trip today and tomorrow for reuniting with old friends. Today’s destination: K-Town. We officially departed town 2 ½ years ago now, and it had been two Christmases since we last visited. We’ve seen some of our old friends from K-Town during meet-ups at different places, during other times. Only when we start to think about how young Phoebe was when we moved does it sink in that we’ve been away longer than what seems like a few months.

We met our good friends Laura and Kevin and Wes at their beautiful new house – that’s just across from one of the town’s Lake Michigan beaches. Laura texted me the address and we knew exactly where to find it (One of the great things about K-Town always has been that all of the streets are named by numbers, with streets running east-west and avenues running north-south. So when someone tells you to meet them in K-Town at, for example, 4303 Eighth Avenue, you immediately know, without having ever been to the place, that it’s located on the north side of town, eight blocks from the lake.). … After getting the tour of the house, we headed down the road for lunch at the Coffee Pot, a classic diner near the city’s downtown. I ordered a turkey melt, and it was arguably one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever tasted. … Over lunch, we caught up on each other’s lives, and Laura, who became a close newspaper buddy of mine, updated me on the continuing soap opera at the K-Town News. … Afterward, we headed back to their house, where Laura and Phoebe had fun making balloon animals. Laura made her a puppy, which Phoebe popped while playing with it in the car later – and it wasn’t a pretty sight.

Not just today, but throughout this trip, there has been memories, nostalgia and sentiments at nearly every turn, on nearly every road we travel. It was prevalent when we joined family in one of my old stomping grounds Sunday, and I noticed it again last night as we traveled the road between Sheboygan and Milwaukee, especially through the highway network that makes up the Marquette Interchange through downtown Milwaukee and past Miller Park, where our beloved Milwaukee Brewers play ball. My family traveled that route so many days and nights, and looking out the car windows as we passed the old County Stadium, marveling at the engineering of the old Marquette Interchange or smelling the yeast that permeated the city from all the breweries, always ranked among the highlights of the drive. And there I was last night, telling Phoebe to look out her window as we passed Miller Park.

As we drove around K-Town today, there were more memories around nearly every corner, fond memories we built over seven years there. The first apartment Kates and I shared. The family-owned diners and Italian bakeries we frequented, some of which have changed hands. The hospital where Phoebe was born. The parks we visited. The old-time stadium where I played baseball on Sunday afternoons, and Kates would walk over with Phoebe in the stroller to watch me play. And, back to my newspaper experiences, all the crime scenes I covered.

We drove by our old house and then made our way up 75th Street, to Noni’s house – the place we took Phoebe for daycare during the first two years of her life, and the neither of the daycares we’ve had Phoebe or Faye at since then can compare. There was plenty more nostalgia there as we walked to the front door, Noni’s teenage boys greeted us and the family’s little dogs barked as they swirled our feet. The boys led us to the lower level which serves as the base for the daycare, and Noni lovingly embraced Phoebe like she always used to. Some of Phoebe’s old playmates were still there, and her handprint was still on one of the walls, too. Phoebe immediately started pulling out some of the toys, and Faye naturally joined the other kids playing on the carpet.

We made our final stop in K-Town at a Panera Bread to meet old friends Raechel and Shaun. Just as we did with Laura and Kevin, we enjoyed catching up on each other’s lives and just being in each other’s company. … I established close friendships with both couples during our years in K-Town – we experienced newspaper adventures together, attended concerts together and they were among those lucky enough to hold Phoebe shortly after she was born. I miss them greatly.

Phoebe made fast friends today with all of the people we encountered in K-Town, whether she remembered them from her previous life or not. When we were ready to leave Panera, she took Raechel’s hand and made her walk to the car with us.

We said our goodbyes, buckled the girls into their car seats and were driving again. Both girls were zonked before we exited the city limits and they slept all the way back to their grandparents’ apartment.

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Now we’re watching “Horton Hears a Who” – a delightful little movie I never knew was made – and I can barely keep my eyes open.

We’ve made the rounds and we’re growing weary now, anxious to get back home – to The ‘Ville. To return to our normal routines and ways.

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