Bemidji, Minnesota, December, 2017
Hello? Everyone still out there? Everyone in one piece?? It’s certainly been a while! Sorry for the lack of news – we’ve been rather busy. The kids have thrust me into a survival situation by threatening to hide my chocolate if I didn’t crank out a Christmas letter this year so here we are, people.
The last time I sat down to write one of these, the Dow was below 20,000, 4-year private colleges were below 50,000 and our Democracy was not in mortal peril. To call 2017 traumatic would be to call Minnesota cold, but here we are, bruised, beaten, scarred, but still fighting, still pushing, still surviving for all that is good and decent in the world. No one I’d send a Christmas letter to would wish for any of this bullshit, but as Gandalf once said, that is not for us to decide. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” So, gather, organize, call, write, donate, volunteer, campaign and, if need be, RUN! By next year at this time, we will have more wrinkles, more gray hairs, and hopefully much more hope and promise. For this very moment, however, nothing is more important than keeping control of my chocolate stash. Here we go!
We have a handsome driving, skiing, violin-playing, college-bound senior in the house who has still not managed to land a B in High School. Loser. I do not know where these study habits come from. Neither Suzy, nor I have had to remind him to do homework in twelve straight years of school. The acceptance letters have been trickling in from the Colorado School of Mines, the University of Minnesota, and (get this) Kalamazoo College. Just a few days ago, however, Kalamazoo leaped to the top of the pack by, shall we say, making it very much worth his while to strongly consider attending. Holy cow! And I had been under the impression that a “Saxton” surname would lead to a doubling of tuition and an ankle bracelet. Tommy’s resumé has clearly made up for my past transgressions. His academic achievements make up for a lot of things. This morning, for example, after making him coffee and breakfast, he informed me that a) the Matrix was nearly out of gas, b) he had no money for gas, c) he would very much like to drive my car and let ME go get the gas, d) he couldn’t find his keys so could I please lend him mine, and e) he didn’t know what to pack for lunch.
He managed all this while holding his Kalamazoo scholarship over his ass like an armor shield, thus preventing my boot from inserting itself up to his god-damned esophagus. It worked.
Louis is 15, sings like a boss, plays the cello like a young Yo-Yo-Ma and, like his musical hero, has a staggeringly-long list of interests. Among the hobbies he has taken up and become disturbingly good at: Cooking, baking, ping-pong, knife-throwing, flag tossing, sword throwing, rifle spinning, dancing, singing, sneaking in and out of the room without you noticing, wild-edible harvesting, and botany. Yes, botany. In the past few months, no tropical fruit has come into our kitchen without being sliced open, having its seeds germinated, and grown into a full-sized plant in our basement under lights Louis purchased with his own money. He waters and spritzes them daily. One of them has taken up an entire room and has begun to move and sing and call me Seymour. I don’t go down there anymore. In terms of organized activities, Louis joined the High School competitive show choir (vocalmotive). They are very good. Show choir is the hockey of the arts world around here so Suzy and I are thrust back into parent meetings, volunteer days of sewing costumes, feeding performers, and travel. Yes, it is fun. Really. Truly. I’m serious. Okay, fine, it’s a pain in the ass, but we’re happy to see him happy and that’s what parents do, right? Fuck off.
Charlotte is bright, bold, and beautiful. She just turned 14. She’s had the lead in one community play, gets good grades, plays the violin and has plenty of friends. Remember that scream that could stun a water buffalo at 50 yards? She’s turned it to music. To say that Charlotte has a nice voice would be to say that Warren Buffett has a nice portfolio. She ran track last year, is on the TREK cross-country ski team, is taller than her mother, and is joining me at boxing class. Go ahead: make our day.
Suzy, now in her 20th year as a Family Physician, managed to open a window from the third floor of Sanford Health, tie a number of bed sheets together, climb down to the ground, and escape. To say that Sanford Health is an evil corporate conglomerate would be to say that Lord Voldemort is a meanie. Suzy is now one of three medical providers at the Bemidji Veteran’s Clinic. She has moved from wrinkled babies to wrinkled testicles and old men who write “Happy Thanksgiving” on their butt cheeks in preparation for prostate checks which utterly and absolutely makes up for the minor cut in salary. She has a few token women still and I expect that number to rise in the future.
I’m not going to bother telling you where we traveled and what we did this year because I can’t remember. Maybe Washington. Maybe New York. Sweden was in there somewhere. Croatia, I think. I don’t know. Leave me alone.
As for me, I’m still pecking away at writing projects, making maple syrup, ricing, feeding chickens, responding to emergency pages, driving kids (mine and plenty I can’t name) all over creation, and generally ensuring that everyone ELSE’S day goes smoothly. It’s been a year of reconnecting with old friend, especially from college and I can barely express how much joy that’s given me. Amazingly, after all the talking, visiting, researching of colleges, it was these personal connections which inspired Tommy to apply to Kalamazoo. I have no doubt that, if he attends, he will make equally beautiful and amazing friends for life.
I’ve got a few novels ready to roll but submitting and querying is a lesson in patience and thick skin. The mainstream publishing industry also happens to have about an eight-minute attention span. In the time since my last letter, I have missed the boat on the topics of transgender teens, dreamers, “Nevertheless, she persisted,” and #Metoo. By the time I hit “publish” on this letter and you get around to reading it, there will undoubtedly be four more. I recently accepted a 3-month French substitute position at Schoolcraft (our kids’ K-8 Charter School.) because they were desperate and sort of begged and I am a rescue guy at heart, so there you go. We have skated to school, and I have resumed both trying to get the attention of kindergartners and not getting punched in the crotch. I have so far failed at both. I also have a first-grade class of very bright kids with very short attention spans, so that I have all of ten seconds to explain anything or they will get bored and eat my liver with a nice chianti and fava beans. They would make very good agents and editors in the publishing industry.
Oh, I forgot: We have a puppy. His name is Henry. He is a Blue-Heeler/Sheppard mix. Henry has chewed up every present that has been delivered to our house in the past three weeks. He has killed three of my chickens. He carries every boot, shoe and bottle into the middle of the yard. He has shredded one (old) mattress, one quart of oil, and two pop cans. Henry can scratch a tear in panty hose in .08 seconds. Henry is an asshole. A very adorable asshole.
We still haven’t moved to Canada, though we get lobbied heavily by friends in Winnipeg and are sure as hell leaving that option on the table. At the beginning of 2017, we were planning on building our dream eco-home on some acreage north of Bemidji, but to say that building a home is expensive is to say that epi-pens are overpriced. Fast forward a few months, add a few twists and turns, and we have bought a home in town on Lake Boulevard. We will be moving in as soon as our current house sells. Any bets on the first thing I might get cited on by the local police? The new house is smaller, cuter, and located in the Bemidji Bullseye, a perfect walking distance from downtown and Diamond Point Park, as well as smack dab on the bike trail. Suzy is out of her mind excited and so is Charlotte. Louis is pumped to have a screen porch off his bedroom where he can sleep in the summer and gaze at the lake. Tommy will quite possibly not be aware that we have changed houses at all, but may notice that he is running out of gas less often. I will miss my chickens and I will miss peeing in the yard in the daytime, but those are the crosses I will have to bear. We still have the land north of town where I will continue to make syrup, hug trees, and harass the deer.
I hope this letter finds you well and you consider visiting. I still make a mean cappuccino.
Robert and family