A Texas Christmas (Early) and Other Thoughts

We flew home for a quick holiday visit to South Texas this past weekend. As always, it was great to see my family, wear sandals and shorts in December, and enjoy my mom’s awesome cooking.

Mom made 12 pies at last count, and I think I ate 10 of them. We’re talking pecan, peach, lemon icebox, lemon black-bottom … mmmmm. We had her famous chili and beans for our “Christmas” lunch, along with homemade tamales. She also made all of her traditional cookies, and Dad barbecued my favorite sausage for me. It was all delicious, and I’m pretty sure I gained 10 pounds in three days, as evidenced by my jeans getting tighter and tighter each day. Ask me if I care!

The best quote from my son since we’ve been back was: “It sure is hard to come back here after eating at Grams’ house.” Which did not go over well, as he said it while eating a dinner my husband had cooked.

During the Texas Christmas gathering, we also enjoyed another rousing singing competition we call “Harris Idol.” My favorite moment was when the whole kid gang (minus my nephew who preferred to go deer hunting instead) sang Feliz Navidad as a finale, with all their hearts, even the parts they mumbled. It was priceless.

I don’t care who you are. This is funny.

There was the usual craziness in Texas, too, of course: We played our traditional Christmas Lights Game and some Unnamed People cheated badly. There was a strange Santa Claus toilet seat cover involved, dating back to the 1960s. My parents’ dog hid behind the couch a lot. I encouraged my kid to write “Wash Me” on my sister’s dirty prized Cadillac, which in hindsight might’ve been a mistake. We opened presents one at a time (to make the fun last longer) and there was disagreement as usual over whose turn it was. My son got a youth-size power drill. (And I’m totally on board with it. After all, he asked Santa for wood.) The usual country music CDs and knives and handheld spotlights were given and received. There were a few disagreements here and there, some harsh words may or may not have been spoken at one point. I was enjoying Hazelnut Martinis, so I’m not the best judge.

My son wants his own goats.

My son, by the way, loves Texas even more than I do. He cried for a long time at the airport — so much so that I truly think some people assumed I was abducting him. The only way I could get him to stop was to talk about all the things he’d do once he moved to Texas, which he plans to do as soon as he graduates from high school (as long as I come with him). He says he will attend Texas A&M (good boy), build his own log cabin on my family’s land, dig three water wells so he won’t run out of water, and drill one oil well so he won’t run out of money. He wants 10 dogs, three goats, three milk cows, five beef cows, one rooster, some chickens for eggs, and a pig. Also he will have three horses, and I get to ride one of them. The other two are his. And he plans on having several tractors because they are always breaking down. He’s got it all planned out — has even sketched out how he will design his log cabin. When I was his age, I’m pretty sure all I cared about was my Lite Brite and Raggedy Ann doll.

On a much sadder note, Newtown happened while we were home, too. Like so many people, there were entire moments when I couldn’t breathe when I heard the news. Could. Not. Breathe. But I couldn’t let myself get too vocal about all that I was feeling while I was home — I didn’t want to ruin Christmas with my family, a lot of whom are supporters of the NRA and who believe guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

Just typing that old cliché upsets me, actually. To me, that’s like saying (and I’m stealing this from a Twitter feed) chickens don’t lay eggs. People with chickens lay eggs.

But here’s the thing. We as a nation have to do something. Something is terribly wrong in our society. The easy availability of assault weapons — weapons designed and manufactured to kill — is part of the problem. I believe that with every ounce of my being. It’s not the only thing wrong, but it’s a large piece of the puzzle.

So I say this: Please, please, let’s have some rational discussions about assault weapons. Let’s demand a plan of action from our leaders.


For the sake of every little soul who was killed, for every parent who waited at that firehouse for their baby … who never came, for the children and adults who lived through the massacre and now have to go on with those images and emotions forever embedded in their brains and hearts, for our own children.

And to all those who say it won’t help to ban assault weapons, I say this: Maybe it will. It’s a start. And what if it COULD help? What if it could save one child’s life? It’s worth a try. Slippery slopes, be damned. Can you look a parent in the eye whose child was shot 11 times and say you are worried about losing your right to own a hobby gun?

That’s all I want for Christmas. For us, as a nation, to act on this.

In the meantime, I wish all of you, no matter where you stand on gun control issues, a warm holiday with your families. Tell everyone you love that you think they are pretty great. Make sure that every friend and family member knows that if they are ever feeling so completely hopeless that they want to take their life or others’ lives, that you are there and you will help them. Tell them that killing is never the answer. And to every family who lost someone to a mass shooting this year, I pray for your hearts to heal. And I’m not even the praying kind.

Sending love and peace to all.


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Processing What Happened in Colorado This Week

My heart and head are still reeling from this week’s mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora. My husband went to high school in Aurora. My mother- and father-in-law live just a few miles from the theater. My husband goes to just about every comic-book film premiere, usually the midnight showings. He wasn’t there this time, thankfully.

Friends and family keep asking how my five-year-old son is processing what happened. More than 70 people shot; 12 dead at last count; some still barely holding on. The youngest victim … 3 months old. The youngest to die … six years old.

The truth is, he’s not processing it. Because he doesn’t know about it. We’ve kept the TV and radio off. We live in the secluded high mountains, so no one has mentioned it around him.

I hope we’re doing the right thing. We just think he’s too young to have to deal with the overwhelming sense of insecurity this brings, even to adults. He’s too young to feel that the world truly isn’t safe out there.

Frankly, will I ever sit in a movie theater again and not look at that brightly green-lit Exit sign above the door by the big screen? That’s where the shooter entered. Kicked in that door.

I posted to my Facebook page, “Why why why?” One of my friends replied that some people are broken. I understand that; mental illness can make a person commit horrific crimes. I think I read that the shooter told police he was the Joker, from the Batman series.

But my response is this: People have always been broken. Why do they now turn to these mass shootings that so violently change lives in mere seconds? Because of the easy availability of automatic assault weapons? Because of how violent TV shows, movies and video games have desensitized those who are broken?

And why has it happened twice in this place I call home now, and that I love dearly? Colorado is one of the most beautiful places on earth. And peaceful, at least in the mountains. And the people here, I’ve found to be caring and warm and beautiful inside, too. But is there some major problem that I don’t see? The Columbine massacre was blamed on bullying. But kids have been bullied forever. Heck, I was bullied, and pretty badly until I learned not to care.

Is there less of a sense of community and helping here than other places? In my experience, I do find that people here keep to themselves more than those back home in Texas. Which I find refreshing, and it fits my personality. But that does mean that there are fewer people to call when you’ve had a bad day. I experienced this firsthand during some crises of our own in the past few years. During those times, I missed my Texas friends beyond words. Because my Texas friends would have been over here, forcing help on me, whether I asked for it or not. That “up in your business” philosophy that can be suffocating at times to introverts like me can also be exactly the thing you need when you’ve hit rock bottom. My friends here cared, but kept their distance, waiting for me to ask for help.

Is it because there are very few people in Colorado who were born and raised here? So there are fewer roots to ground people, especially youth? The Denver metro area, definitely, is home to many, many people who are from somewhere else, and who land here without support systems in place.

Is the mental healthcare system here more troubled than in other areas? Is there too little funding? A philosophy of looking the other way?

I don’t have the answer. (Though if I had my way, there would never be another assault weapon sold, ever. As Anne Lamott put in a post this week, talking to gun control opponents … we don’t want to take all of your guns away. Just the ones designed to kill hundreds of people in 60 seconds. I’m paraphrasing, by the way.)

So, where do we go from here? I wish I knew. Mom says I should move back to Texas, where things like this don’t happen. But then I remember Luby’s. Still one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history, with more than 20 people killed in a Central Texas restaurant.

If there’s a God, I hope He can give strength and someday peace to those affected by mass shootings. If there is a Hell and there is no diagnosis of severe mental illness in this guy, I hope he has a special place reserved for him there.

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