It’s Christmas morning in Southern Arizona. A family slowly stirs as mom and dad, still tucked deep into their Airstream bedroom, wrestle with a desire to sleep just a few more minutes and the sound of young children beginning to stir in the front of the big silver trailer.
At twelve, nearly three and just over one years in ages, the three boys are in various stages of excitement. One is too young to understand the concept of Santa or Jesus or anything else. He’s simply excited that his older brothers are so anxious to get the day going. The next youngest wonders if jolly ol’ St. Nick got his letter clarifying where the family would be parked for Christmas Eve. You see, they’re a full-time traveling bunch and he was concerned something awful that the pot bellied Yuletimey benefactor might think they were still back in Las Cruces.
The oldest son is looking as forward to Christmas breakfast–scrambled eggs with red and green peppers, smothered in syrup; a combination do absurd his parents only allow it once a year–as he is to opening gifts. He’s been on the road for years and knows that there won’t be a ton of gifts, but what is underneath the tree this year will be well worth it.
Speaking of the tree, there perhaps isn’t one technically. At least not in the traditional Blue Spruce and star on top way. Having pulled in only a few days prior, the family on wheels set up camp at this little RV park in the middle of a forest of Saguaros, the big cacti with the outstretched, skyward pointing arms that everyone imagines cowboys sleeping against. They proceeded to string one nearest their Airstream with lights, the festive blue and green and red and purple ones that they’ve dubbed Mexican Fiesta Christmas lights. It now sits, warm in the desert morning sun, with seven packages underneath. One for each member of this family without a home except wherever they may roam.
Aside from the three boys and their parents, grandma is along for the ride. She and their chocolate lab of a dog sleep in the van, their tow vehicle.
After mom makes a pot of coffee and grandma and dad add a little Bailey’s to there cups, the whole crew heads outside to rally round the needle laden homage to a traditional Christmas. It’s early enough for the sky to still have some lingering sunrise color mixed in. The wind has taken the holiday off and aside from a chirping that could belong as easily to a bird as a cricket, silence is in the air.
The kids burst through the door. Grandma turns on Pandora, setting it to Bon Jovi holiday. It skips a little given the shoddy AT&T connection, but the general mood is set.
Mom lays out a blanket for all three boys and her to sit on. Dad takes hi place by the tree.
“Jam,” he calls the two-going-on-three year old by his family nickname, “can you help me pass out the gifts?”
Space is limited in an Airstream, in any truly mobile home in fact. So it is by necessity that the gifts are limited to one.
But an amazing thing happened when the family first realized this, in their earliest years on the road about a half-decade ago. The less gifts a child gets, the more he truly enjoys that gift. And the more sincere each gift is.
If you can only get one gift for someone, you’re forced to really think about what that one gift would be. Likewise, if a kid gets a Lego set and a video game and an iPod and a bunch of Matchbox cars and this, that an the other, he doesn’t seem to truly enjoy any of them. One by one they get tossed aside as he discovers what they were intended to do an then is eager to move on to the next.
But when a child receives one gift, they have the opportunity to truly indulge in that gift. To stretch their imagination to the possibilities of what can be done with that present. To master it.
Dad handed one grocery bag and hemp and ribbon wrapped gift to Jam after another.
“Okay that’s grandmas, so take it to her.” The desire to open it himself was gushing through his eyeballs, but instead he walked it to her. Then to his mom, then his brothers, and finally taking his own gift in hand.
He opened first. A ukulele. He’d been playing his dad’s guitar for nearly his whole life, too big for his britches of course. He beamed as he was able to lift the miniature strong device. A few strings plucked, he sung out his toddler tune as his little brother tore into his own package, a small box of handmade wooden blocks, each with a picture of something he like painted on one side.
The eldest boy was next. A real bow and arrow. There would be safety lessons, parental supervision required. But perhaps he would be a professional archer someday. The thought of syrupy eggs faded from his mind as he imagined some horsebacked future where he could shoot a penny off a bobbing roosters head.
Three books strung together for Grandma. A necklace for mom. A new pair of boots for dad.
Grandma disappears into the Airstream, the smell of omelets soon emanating through the screen door. Mom and baby stack blocks in the desert sand, incorporating colorful purple rocks and using desert flowers as the people living inside the castle / maintenance garage they’d schemed up. Dad shows Jam how to play a few chords on the uke. The little boy is a natural and the roles will be reversed before too many years can go by. The eldest puts his quiver together, tried on his arm guard.
By the afternoon, bellies still full of eggs, they’d spent all morning together. Finally Dad and the up and coming archer finish Safety 101 and head out for some target practice. The boy’s first shot misses wide. His second just inches from the bullseye.
There will be no piles of discarded plastic, no trips to any mall to return unwanted clothing or toys. No broken toy helicopters to cry over and no amassed debt to pay off next year. The younger boys run their evening out running around shooting imaginary arrows from equally imagined bows, emulating their big brother. Grandma reads by the fire into sunset. Dad does his best to play a few rounds of Christmas tunes, the family sings along what words they know as they fade in and out of varying interest in the matter. Night falls and the stars seem to one by one appear and twinkle into the night. Tomorrow there is a mountain to climb and maybe the next day a highway to follow, headed toward Lake Havasu and maybe a pontoon rental or a float down a river.
There will be no post-holiday lag. No buyer’s remorse. Just a late night before the New Year and a little more life on the road as usual.