In our ceaseless quest to continue delivering our trademark High Quality Christmas Letter Entertainment, we present for the 1998 season a new and daring innovation: ‘On the Road with the Paukert Christmas Letter.’ Yes, this year, your cherished volume originates over the course of too many weeks, from both the front seat of the Paukert Vacationmobile in northeastern Wyoming and a motel room in Plano, Texas. It is, perhaps, risky to take literary inspiration from these landscapes of snowdrifts, strip malls and countless squashed jackrabbits, but if you keep in mind my previous efforts, you can see how this actually could be an exciting improvement. Working as I travel is something of a necessity, you see, as it is now into January and the PCL is but a twinkle in my eye. Already I must apologize to Mrs. B.D. Porter, loyal subscriber of Poughkeepsie, NY, who, fraught with anxiety over not receiving her PCL by December 25th, collapsed and was carted off to the hypothermia ward at Poughkeepsie General after 3 days of nervously pacing back and forth in front of her mailbox. I do feel bad, but I remain at the whim and timing of the Christmas Inspiration FairyTM. At least my sin of tardiness is not as great as that of some – specifically certain among you who egregiously violated International Christmas Letter Treaty Protocol by having your cards arrive at our home as early as December 8th, (specific names and dates have been retained for possible civil action). Such unconscionable timeliness is something the readers of this, the 12th ANNUAL PAUKERT CHRISTMAS LETTER, will never have to worry over.
Many of you who placed substantial wagers that this yearly letter could not get any more boring will be disappointed, (and poorer), to learn that this year I took up a new hobby, Genealogy. (From the Latin: Genus and Ologus, meaning “the study of things no one else but you is remotely interested in“). My father has been researching the Paukert family name for a few years, but up until this summer my interest never went beyond a vague sense of surprise that most of what he was coming up with pointed toward an origin in the Czech-German border region rather than one of the moons of Saturn. Then, by an amazing coincidence, I happened this summer to visit a cemetery in Minnesota and stand at the grave of my great-great-grandfather EXACTLY 100 years to the day after his death. Now my exciting new hobby has me doing fascinating things like reading up on the history of Bohemia and playing around with computer family tree programs. So far enough interesting ancestors have emerged to make me reasonably sure I am adopted. These include a sodbusting family with 7 children on the Minnesota prairie, a California gold prospector and the first man to fly an airplane for any great distance in the state of Montana. So far no (convicted) mass-murderers.
With Katherine in school all day now, Barb finds more and more time to herself. She has risen to the exalted post of ‘Official Library Mom’ for Katherine’s grades 1&2 class. This is volunteer work at the school, and she also is involved there though ‘Mother’s Who Care,’ a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. She and other mothers get together on a weekly basis to pray for the school, the students and the teachers. She has made some very close friendships with the other mom’s from Katherine’s school. As Katherine grows into the ‘lesson’ years, she also gets more on-the-job chauffeur practice.
Katherine has left behind the halcyon days of Kindergarten for the grueling 6-hour daily rat race known as grade 1&2. At her school they teach the grade 1 and 2 kids together. Hopefully the criminal wiles of the 2nd-graders, hardened by an extra year of incarceration, will not rub off on my innocent angel. Life appears good in grade 1. Katherine loves her teacher, pays attention well and comes home every day with a smile on her face. (We’ve been warned not to expect more than 5 more years of this). Christmas Letter Penal Code, and my parole officers, forbids me from bragging about her academic achievements. Therefore I will confine myself to mentioning only the numerous Ivy League University academic scouts which have set up stake-outs on the street outside our home.
Now 12 and 11 years old, respectively, Kootenai and Toquima begin to show the signs of age, (a wicked smile appears on Barb’s face). Toquima has only gone gray in the face, but over the course of the year old Kootenai has decided that one retrieval of the ball is now sufficient, thank you. Getting up and lying down are much more involved procedures. But most significantly, over a span of months, Koot has gone almost completely deaf. This has not affected her level of obedience to my verbal commands whatsoever.
DREADED MULTIPLE HIDEOUS VACATION RECAP PARAGRAPHS: This year, ratcheting our vacation up to unheard of heights of exotic hedonism, we did what I know every one of you has dreamed of doing since you were first old enough to travel. That’s right…we circumnavigated the state of North Dakota. Eat your heart out, we drove all the way around the Peace Garden State for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation that we’ll talk about for decades, (seems like years already, doesn’t it?). We called this trip the Amazing Great Plains Mooching Tour of 1998. And mooch we did, shamelessly. It’s amazing how much free food and lodging you can squeeze out of friends, relatives, total strangers and even local jail facilities when you look as bedraggled as we often do on vacation. Our list of kind-hearted victims included Barb’s brother Irv & family and James & Gwen Smith in Manitoba, Phil & Glen Edin in Minnesota, my Brother Steve & family in Iowa, Kaye & Ted Haug in South Dakota. You wouldn’t think that leeches like us would have so many good friends.
But as much fun as it is annoying our friends and relatives, we had some things to do and see along the way as well. In Saskatchewan we visited Barb’s old Bible School and an oil well that Gary was drilling (eventually found some oil, but not as much as hoped). In northern Minnesota we stayed in a (smelly) cabin on a lake with loons and Katherine caught (and was completely terrified by) her first fish. Later that week we got to watch a somewhat-talented ballplayer by the name of Mark McGwire hit homeruns in the Metrodome in Minneapolis in the midst of his record-breaking year. We spent a couple of days in Gary’s ancestral homeland of Owatonna, MN, where Barb and Katherine followed Gary around as he waded hip-deep in nostalgia, (Hey Barb, here’s where Stinky Johnson lost 3 toes when his foot got caught in his bicycle spokes!). Things got much more interesting that night when tornadoes touched down all around the city and we huddled in a basement. Summertime entertainment in Minnesota remains unchanged after 30 years! Farther south into Iowa I finally found my Shangri-la. Nestled amongst the rolling prairie farms lies the restored and maintained baseball field where the movie Field of Dreams was filmed. Playing baseball on that lush, manicured diamond, surrounded by the cornfields of northeastern Iowa was the trip highlight for me. (Yes, we disappeared into the rows of corn in Centre Field). In South Dakota we visited the site of Katherine’s favourite book series, Little House on the Prairie, and Mount Rushmore was an appropriate place to be for the 4th of July. We finished up with a visit to Coors Field for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Denver.
With the regularity of bubonic plague outbreaks, locust infestations and vacation visits to your house by the Paukerts, some unexplained conjunction of forces in 1998 caused the price of oil to reach lows not seen since that red letter (and ink) year of 1986. Time once again to play ‘Dodge the Pink Slip,’ as energy companies lose money at unbelievable rates. While 1999 looks like a difficult year, I appear to be working for a fairly prudent company that may be able to avoid the excitement of massive layoffs. Early in the year I was still exploring in southeastern Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, wells there cost around $1,000,000 to drill and only find oil about one time in 10, so when profits fell, so did Crestar’s enthusiasm for such projects. That was actually good news for me, as the time finally arrived for the company to branch out internationally. As the year closed I was, after 3 years absence, finally back working South America with the company’s New Ventures/International team. My job right now is to help the company decide which properties in South America to buy. That has meant a bit of travel to places such as Texas and Spain, and will likely mean more of the same to South America in the new year. Just in time – I had almost forgotten how to ask for directions to the bathroom in Spanish.
We hope you had a wonderful Christmas….(and New Years, and Valentine’s Day and…), and that you will experience our living God working his miracles in your lives in the coming year. Plan your own Great Mooching Tour of ’99 through Alberta and return the favour.
Gary, Barb, Katherine, Kootenai and Toquima
P.S. This year’s why-didn’t-we-take-a-nice-photo-back-in-July Paukert Christmas Photo was taken at the Canmore Nordic Centre west of Calgary, where Katherine got to ski for the first time. No, no dogs this year. It’s always a pain in the neck trying to get their paws into the little ski boots