It was bright, sparkly and fun-filled as I looked out my window over the weekend. Colored lights and reindeer and marching bands and teary-eyed adults were everywhere to be found.
I was lucky enough and speedy enough to get out of town for the weekend, leaving Rio Blanco County at roughly noon on Friday and returning soon enough to watch the second half of the Bronco victory on Sunday afternoon.
It was a crazy busy time, starting Friday with trying to get to downtown Denver at rush hour in time to get dinner and find a place to watch the Denver Parade of Lights.
I really enjoy parades, but I would have, in no way, driven all the way to Denver to stand in the windy cold air to watch any parade on earth.
I had a real reason for going to the Front Range, where I grew up and where I absolutely hate to drive. I didn’t mind driving as a teenager because most of my travels were in my home town of Boulder. But I hate to drive in Denver so much I can say I have never driven in the Denver Metropolitan Area with the exception of Interstate 25 going north or south to some other destination.
But the real reason for going was worth the effort—and I was fortunate enough to find my destination because I had been a passenger in downtown Denver many times— as it was my (much older) sister Sheila’s 70th birthday.
Sheila lives in Fort Collins and had been playing host for two weeks to my oldest living sibling, Maureen, 71, who lives with her husband, Richard, in England. Sheila wanted to see the Parade of Lights in Denver, so Sheila, Richard, Maureen and Sheila’s daughter, Jen, and her husband, Peter, were set to go to dinner at the Terrace Grille, a great restaurant across from the Brown Palace, which is one block from the parade route.
Sheila, who had begged my wife, Cris, and me to come down for Thanksgiving—to no avail—did not know Cris or I or my two other surviving brothers were going to make it.
Jim, the middle child of the seven us, had been in and out of the Mayo Clinic for about the last 18 months battling kidney failure, which required a transplant and gobs of checkups, including twice when they had to revive him. Anyway, with the doctors’ blessing and a lot of God’s help, he was there.
And Kevin, the brother closest to my age (I am the baby) had been long self-estranged from the family for the most part of 25 years. We’d hear from him on rare occasions, like my father’s funeral about eight years ago. Sheila didn’t know that either one of them was going to be there.
After about 30 minutes, we saw Sheila walk into the restaurant. She had to walk through the long, narrow bar area with the barstools on one side and one row of tables on the other side.
We decided to just sit at the table and see if she noticed us.
She walked into the bar right where we were sitting and stopped. She looked right at me, then at Jim, then at Cris and then at Kevin. Then she looked away and peered farther down the bar. Suddenly it hit her.
She whipped her head around and said, “Holy (expletive).” Then she melted, almost hysterically. After the eventual hugs and kisses, Sheila just kind of slinked off on her own and cried for about the next 20 minutes before she would join us at the dinner table. She was pretty much a blubbering mess for the first 30 minutes.
So, to make a very long story short, we ate dinner, walked the block to the parade route right at 8 p.m., when the parade was supposed to start. It came late, but we enjoyed it, despite the cold, light wind and that it only lasted maybe 30 to 40 minutes.
After it was over, we all drove the 90 minutes back to Fort Collins. Once there, the talking continued until the wee hours of the morning before we were all tucked into our beds.
We knew, but Sheila didn’t have a clue, that Saturday would be the cause of an equally long cry session and that the best was yet to come.
About two months ago, we received a postcard from Sheila’s daughter, Jen. The postcard said she had sent out 70 postcards to 70 of Sheila’s favorite friends and to the siblings in the family that there would be a surprise party—a secret one— for Sheila on the evening of Dec. 5 even though her birthday is Dec. 8.
Trying to make the story short as possible, we all dragged Sheila to Estes Park for the day, drove all around the mountains and arrived back at Sheila’s home just in time to get ready to go to dinner at Austen’s, a nice place in Fort Collins, by 5:15, which is very early for any of the McMahon clan. But we had to be at the reception hall by about 7, and all of the invited friends would be there before we got there.
After dinner, Maureen mentioned that she saw in the paper that there was a wine tasting going on across town, starting at 7 p.m.
Immediately Sheila said, “I’m exhausted after last night and driving up in the mountains today and then with a big dinner tonight. I want to go home and play poker.” Poker is a huge McMahon pastime and it turns out this was probably the first sibling gathering in 30 years when poker wasn’t played.
Maureen took issue with us going home so early and said that because they don’t have these wine tastings in the small towns of England that she really would like to go, even for a short time.
Sheila finally gave in, saying repeatedly, “OK—as long as we don’t stay very long.” Maureen assured her that was fine, that we would only be there for a short period.
The event was held at a neighborhood clubhouse (where Jennifer lives), and when we got there, there was a large number of cars, so there was no suspicion.
As we got closer, the small reception room was well lit, but it was quite obvious that the meeting room was either very poorly decorated or that the lights were out.
Maureen made some kind of deflecting comment, then the bright lights came on and every one of folks there screamed “happy birthday.”
Of the 70 invitations Jen had sent out, about 45 of those recipients were present, including Sheila’s high school boyfriend, several of her life-long girlfriends, many of the people she had worked with over the years, etc.
Sheila almost collapsed again, for the second night in a row. She had been totally surprised on Friday and Saturday nights.
Sheila’s daughter, Jen, did a truly remarkable job with all the plans, all the invitations, all our family’s sleeping arrangements, made reservations for everyone else, did all the snacks and hors d’oeuvres, bought the wine and beer all between having a 3-year-old male child and her being a district manager for a large restaurant chain on the Front Range.
Needless to say, Sheila won’t forget this birthday. She started crying hard on Friday night, cried even harder on Saturday night, and I know she was going to cry hard again as she and Maureen took Jim, probably her closest sibling, to DIA to fly back to Minneapolis.
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So, in the past week I was fortunate to catch two well-lighted parades and a really very-well lighted city.
On Wednesday of last week, while there were only 13 entries in the Meeker Parade of Lights, the several hundred spectators seemed to enjoy the effort put into the parade and its entries and floats.
Thanks go out to those who had the holiday spirit and interest and decided to put in the work to enter those floats and entries. Some of those in the Meeker parade were pretty intense and required a lot of volunteer hours.
Then there was the Denver Parade of Lights on Friday, which was impressive for what was in it but not very impressive for the number of people and businesses in the Denver Metro Area.
The marching bands were good, the lighted floats were really quite impressive and the large tethered floating animal balloons were most enjoyable. Lasting far less than an hour, the quality was good but the quantity was sadly lacking.
Lastly regarding my Front Range journey, I must applaud the residents of Fort Collins. Never have I seen one city so well decorated for the holidays.
There were many residences, in particular, that had hundreds and even thousands of lights adorning the home and surrounding yard, but almost as striking was the sheer number of homes with at least some decorations.
A lot of neighborhoods joined together to create huge, mind-boggling displays of four or five or even more homes in a row. But what really stood out to me was that it seemed like every house—even those in obviously low-income areas—had some kind of lighting, ranging from a lighted wreath on the door, one lighted moving metal deer to one string of lights strung across the top of the outside house trim, to maybe one tree in the yard being lighted. Nearly without exception, there was something holiday-related in the yard or attached to the house.
But it really was impressive that you could drive for two or three blocks and maybe only one or two homes didn’t sport some decoration of some kind.
The effort, no matter how large or small, was appreciated by all adults (nine) in the vehicle.