Sonoran Desert Snyder Family Letter | 21

Wubba lubba dub dub!

This year the holiday letter is going to be nothing but GOOD NEWS! Last year’s letter was such a drag. It was such a bummer. If we wanted to hear a bunch of bad news, we’d watch the evening news, Charlie!

Okay, I will oblige you. No medical updates. No bad news. Nothing but happy, happy, good news.

Rocky got hit by a car.

Dad!!!

My kids say that a lot. I can hear them say, “Dad!!!” even when they aren’t around. My conscience, my inner voice, is voiced by my daughters. What would Gina do? What would Carli say? That doesn’t mean that I do or say what my conscience tells me. But they are always in my ear to guide me a bit.

Rocky is fine. The car barely grazed him.

DAD!!!

Okay, I’m probably making this up. Rocky didn’t get hit by a car. He is fine. He now owns a sweater. We decided that at 14 years and 7 months to get him a sweater. It’s a turtleneck. Makes him look gay.

DDDAAAAAAADDDDDD-Dah!!!!!!!!!!

Sometimes it’s fun getting a rise out of them.

I love gay dogs and people.

And Nikola Jokic. The MVP.

Okay, let’s wind it back. The year that was, 2021, the good news edition.

Christmas lights in the front yard at Hill Farm. This reminds me of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.

Dear Family and Friends:

Well, first things first, I didn’t say that the turtleneck made Rocky look gay. I would never say that. Gina said that and she’s queer.

Okay, now let’s start. I was watching the last few minutes of this documentary, The Real Jesus of Nazareth: The Final Days, on the Smithsonian Channel. It was interesting. They visited tombs from the 1st Century, and I’ll be damned if there wasn’t a rolling stone up in there. Apparently, large round stones were standard issue for your basic tomb back then. Anyways, they were talking about the events following the crucifixion and I had a thought: what if Gen Z kids lived in Jerusalem and were friends of Jesus?

It might go a little something like this …

I have seen him.

Who?

The master.

You guys … Jesus is, like, risen.

Wait, what?

Jesus is, like, literally, risen.

Literally?

Like, literally.

Are you sure you don’t mean figuratively, asks Doubting Thomas.

Nope, he’s risen, brah.

Yaaaaassssssss Queen!!!!!

Let’s GOOOOOOOOOO!!!

Yeah, let’s celebrate. Do we have any White Claws left?

Yeah, remember when we used to drink boring cans of seltzer?

Jesus is so dope.

And scene.

***

In February, I announced that I was going to bike a century on the Loop, the trail that USA Today readers voted as the ‘Best Recreational Trail’ in America. Still haven’t biked that century, but I did raise $2,500 for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.

This little cutie is a male Vermilion Flycatcher. They eat flying insects.

In the spring, Rose and I found a Vermilion Flycatcher bird nest in a big tree next to the pool. Using cheap, little binoculars, I could see the nest fine, but I couldn’t locate the birds. I just saw a couple notches of wood. I was zoomed in close when the momma bird landed in the nest and the two notches of wood turned into two baby birds with mouths open. Mom dropped some food and was off. It all happened in a blink of an eye.

Same day, we walked around the lake to another VF nest, built in a sheltered, crook of two limbs. By now the sun was close to setting and I spotted the mother sitting on her babies looking out over the lake bathed in the warmth of the golden hour. I wish I had photos of all that.

Fun Fact: When male Vermilion Flycatchers court females, they bring gifts: often a butterfly or other flashy insect.

Back of Gina’s head.

Gina got her hair colored while visiting friends in the Pacific Northwest.

Gina introduced me to a couple cool places this year: Crooked Tooth Brewing, where we visited with artist Gina Beca and I had a stout beer float with chocolate whiskey ice cream; and the Royal Room, where Rose, Sam, Gina, and I had so much fun playing gin. The hipster Snyder’s. Gina and Rose coach swimming together for the La Paloma Swim Team. Rose is Gina’s assistant.

***

After years on the beach in California for volleyball, I’ve always wanted to go back and bike along the Strand, so this spring Rose and I hopped in the car and drove to Los Angeles. We had to drive through the middle of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area in the Yuma Desert. It was freaky. Giant mounds of sand right next to the highway. Weirdly, it looked familiar. I thought of Star Wars and, lo and behold, I found out that a scene from “Return of the Jedi” was shot there … the scene featuring Jabba the Hutt’s Sail Barge and the Sarlacc Pit.

On the Manhattan Beach Pier. And if you were wondering if I grew a COVID beard, well, here’s your answer. Isn’t it glorious?

When we arrived in Manhattan Beach, we hurried to the pier and the ocean. Might have been the best moment of the year. We were so excited to be there. We rented bikes and cycled up the Strand, parallel to the beach and ocean. Beautiful views. I want to do that again. The trail goes for miles and miles; we just rode for miles. Rose got bogged down in sand and crashed. She tipped over, slow motion style. Fortunately she fell in six inches of sand. No injuries were sustained.

Painting at the Museum of the American West.

We got to see the Thomas Moran’s epic 1885 painting, “Mountain of the Holy Cross,” at the Autry Museum of the American West. My friend Blake “Coldbeer” Milteer gave a lecture about that painting when he was applying to become a curator at the Fine Arts Center. Dr. William Bell, a railroad man and founder of Manitou Springs, owned the painting and sold tickets for tourists to see it in his home, Briarhurst Manor. The painting was unfortunately used to promote the concept of Manifest Destiny, but it was cool to see it in person.

We went to San Diego and stayed in a cool, old hotel next to Balboa Park. I was happy we were able catch up with Rose McPherson over dinner in Little Italy. She was one of my favorite people at volleyball. Rose (my Rose) and I had great meals and walked on suspension bridges over canyons. We went to a coffee place that only serve coffee in glass bottles that you keep and bring back. No dishes, which I thought was smart.

***

Jeff Dimond, who was my boss at swimming, and his wife Sarah moved to Tucson. I hadn’t talked to him in over 30 years. We went out to dinner, and he told me that he was proud of me. That was unexpected and nice to hear.

***

The monsoon season this summer was extra special. All that rain turned our bone-dry washes into raging rivers. I’d never seen anything like it. In some places the muck and the mire overflowed and some remnants can still be seen on fences along the Loop up to six-feet high! One interesting side effect … seemingly overnight, we were inundated with frogs. Frogs over here, frogs over there. Croaking. Croaking Croaking.

***

The University of Florida and Mary Howard remembered me in a nice way this year. They sent me the official gift to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the women’s athletics department, thanking me for the tiny role that I played. That made me so proud. Go Gators!

At Florida, I worked with the swim and volleyball teams and later served as a press officer for the swimming and volleyball teams at the Olympic Games. I think that’s pretty cool, and I’ll always think that’s pretty cool because it is pretty cool. I will always be grateful for Mary Howard and Toni Waters Woods Rock Paper Scissors.

Sadly, Michael Norman, the head of the Journalism department at UW-River Falls and member of the faculty for over 30 years, passed away this August. He and I kept in touch over the years. His passion was the theatre, and he wrote several collections of ghost stories, i.e., “Haunted Wisconsin” and “Historic Haunted America.” Mr. Norman introduced me to Marvin J. Levy, Steven Spielberg’s marketing person. Levy worked on E.T., Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and more. He was my main source for my senior paper on “Publicity in Film” and he walked me through the marketing campaign for Back to the Future. He called me in my dorm room. That wouldn’t have happened without Mr. Norman.

Sam and I at the Christmas tree place.

Sam and I watched every episode of Adult Swim’s cartoon “Rick and Morty” this year. That’s the funniest show ever that features a portal-building, space-traveling, belching, genius grandpa going on sci-fi adventures with his grandson. Rick’s catchphrase is “Wubba lubba dub dub.” I enjoyed spending that time with my boy. Sam took a class at Pima Community College on music production and will be taking a class on writing for film and television. He watches movies daily. Sam picked out the Christmas tree this year.

Rose and Rocky walking on the Loop.

Rose continues to walk around the neighborhood and on the Loop nearly every day and takes Rocky on his daily jaunts. (Note the sweater.)

In August, Rose and I went to Brooklyn, where she continued her work with Poly Prep, a country day school. Our friend Audrius Barzdukas is the headmaster. We saw Audrius several times and even had dinner with his daughter Mila, which was a treat. (Sorry that we missed Rose Barzdukas. We’ll see you next time.)

At a park in Montclair, N.J.

We started the trip visiting Carli and Jon in the lovely town of Montclair, N.J. We got an Airbnb just up the road from their apartment. It was comforting to see in person the life that they’ve created for themselves. It was fun to see their town with the adorable bakery and Jamaican brewery. We also got to meet Jon’s family. Sheryl, Jon’s mom, hosted us for breakfast. We had massive bagels in her beautiful backyard in Parsippany.

The High Line in NYC.

We went into the city a couple of times. Carli and I walked on The High Line; an elevated trail built on the former New York Central Railroad on the west side of Manhattan. That was one highlight of many … home-cooked meals by Jon and Carli, walking on the Brooklyn Bridge, and going to the Whitney and MoMA. Van Gogh’s Starry Night was in a new location at MoMA. Carli and I both noticed that they changed the frame since we last saw it.

Jon and I at MoMA in front of a giant Rothko.

After MoMA, we ate a snack near Rockefeller Plaza and then took the subway to The Grey Dog, a bar near the Flatiron Building. Carli knows the subway system like the back of her hand. I love following her around. It was fun to be in the city getting drinks.

It was also fun to hang out at the Montclair Brewery. Jon’s family is from Jamaica — he’s the first in his family to be born in the U.S. – and, as luck would have it, the brewery is run by a husband-and-wife team; the wife is from Jamaica. We brought in pizza and sampled the tap list.

Car-Car.

In December, Carli passed her orals with distinction. She had four committee members quiz her on the content and concepts of 160 books worth of information for two hours. She is now a PhD candidate. Next up is her dissertation. She’s taught seven semesters of history at Brooklyn College and Baruch College in New York City. Plus, she recently got a membership at Costco. (She still sends me things she’s written to proof.)

Jon teaches high school history including courses like African American studies and Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and he is very fond of his Roomba, which he has named McSuck or something.

Carli and Jon bonded over the Holocaust, isn’t that romantic?

My new favorite cup.

Ana Pumarejo picks out the staff gifts for the College of Fine Arts. This year she selected different coffee mugs created by a local School of Art alumna. Just for me, she picked a mug with a bike on the Loop with cactus and mountains. That made me feel good.

***

Rose and I walked to the top of the road in Sabino Canyon AND back down. Anyone can hike to the top. Not bragging or anything, but it’s eight miles round trip. The sun was setting as we finished. Beautiful canyon and vistas.

Later at the Hop Shop, I revealed to Rose over beers that I feel now more than ever at some point in our future we’re going to have to flee.

What do you mean, she asks?

I just I think at some point with the way this world seems to be going that we’re going to have to flee. Rose suggests that we just ‘Jonestown’ it.

Much laughter ensues. I text the kids.

Rose wants to know specifics that would cause us to flee. I tell her it’s just a feeling based on a thousand possible scenarios all depicted in science fiction literature and film, which traditionally have accurately predicted the future.

I’m talking about burying supplies at certain intervals in the wash because you don’t want to be caught with your pants down when it’s time to flee. Meanwhile, Rose is sitting there mimicking blowing her brains out. Why bother, she says.

She’s picturing zombies, the Walking Dead and the futility of life on the run.

Well, if you’re wondering how we ‘keep it fresh’ in our 29-year-old marriage, there you have it.

Yes, there you have it. I tried to make it all the way to the end of the holiday letter with nothing but good news. Ending the letter with a goofy conversation Rose and I had over beers.

But then in late December a Denver Post headline blared “thousands had to flee” from the Marshall Fire near Boulder. Our friends Matt and Suzanne Finnigan, their three kids and pets were part of that mass exodus.

Twenty-four years ago at their wedding in Boulder, I told Suzanne that I hoped Carli would grow up to be … like Suzanne. So, not good news.

Thankfully, their home was spared. Many did not share that fortune.

***

Now it’s January, and I’m looking for a new way to end the letter, so …

When I dropped my kids off at school when they were young, I reminded them to focus on four things:

Have fun.
Make new friends.
Listen to your teacher.
And learn something.

I didn’t make them ‘repeat after me,’ or anything, but years later, they all remember the four things, which also might have been ordered …

Listen to your teacher.
Make new friends.
Have fun.
And learn something.

Or possibly …

Listen to your teacher.
Make new friends.
Learn something.
And have fun.

There’s some dispute about the order. Plus, I really only remember saying it as they were leaving the car. But Rose says that can’t be true because they always walked to school. Gina remembers me saying the four things as they were leaving the house. But Sam’s got my back and remembers hearing it in the car. Carli, usually the final word, says that I said it in the Jeep, I said it at the house, I said it in my sleep, I said it to a mouse.

It’s a little scary being a parent, especially a dad, because if you’ve watched any movies or read any books or talked to any person, you know it’s the idiot dad who says the wrong thing at the wrong time that screws a kid up forever.

I don’t have a moment like that with my dad; I hope my kids don’t either. My dad didn’t give me any cutesy ‘four things’ bullshit. He was more of a lead-by-example father.

I do remember one thing that he said when I was a kid and it was the funniest thing he ever said to me. We were out bowling. I was complaining about my knee. My knee hurt. My dad said, “You say, your knee hurts?” I say yeah.

“You know what they call that?”

I think he’s going to say tendinitis or something.

“They call that … excuses.”

A solid takedown offered mano a mano, bowler a bowler.

***

This week my kids brought up another thing they are remember me saying all the time. A snippet of a song from 1986. We all remember just a few short lines from that song. But they didn’t remember the source material. Sam thought I made up the words.

I was proud to tell them that the song was “Proud to be Black” by Run-D.M.C.

Here’s wishing you all a happy, healthy, and wonderful new year.

Happy New Year!
Charlie | Rose | Carli | Gina | Sam | #BLM | Rocky
© Snyder Family Holiday Letter 2022

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