One of the best things my mother ever did for me was put me on an airplane to visit my grandfather in California when I was 8 years old. My grandfather had moved from Michigan to Palm Desert, Calif., a land of better weather and economic opportunities, and he was missing me. He asked my mother to send me along for a vacation–something I surely would not have done for my own children, as I’m too anxious and overprotective. But the experience was life changing for me and I will be forever grateful that I got to experience another world that summer and many more summers to follow.
Palm Desert is a land of manicured golf courses and wealthy snowbirds, a place perfectly suited to Grandpa’s business model of condo caretaking. When I wasn’t splashing in his backyard pool or curiously inspecting his eco-friendly rock “lawn” dotted with palm trees, I’d go along with him to inspect the homes of vacationers who’d left their desert dwellings to escape the summer heat. On rare occasion, I’d be introduced to one of these migratory species, people from places like San Francisco, Oregon, Washington and Canada. They wore wild sunglasses, sipped cocktails, collected art and kept golf carts in their garages. And they seemed to love Grandpa almost as much as I did.
For lunch, Grandpa and I would often stop at a restaurant for burgers with my Uncle Cory–Grandpa’s youngest of three sons. Cory followed Grandpa to Palm Desert in the 1980s along with his young bride, all of them evolving into “desert rats” whose winter wardrobes devolved to a few pair of long pants and light jackets. I envied them. How they got to live in eternal sunshine, where an ice rink inside a shopping mall was considered an entertainment oddity. But mostly, I enjoyed their company. These men were constants in my life. Always glad to see me. Always sad to see me go. I loved them, their stories and their smiles.
Grandpa and Uncle Cory have since passed on from their desert paradise to a heavenly paradise. Grandpa in 2008. Cory this past February. Grandpa thought he’d lived too long. Cory surely didn’t get to live long enough. But then, life is never a constant. We are touched and changed by people. And we try to pass along some of the joy we’ve encountered from others.
I introduced the hubs to Palm Desert over 20 years ago. We’ve regularly visited all of our married life. Our kiddos get to see the same mountains, fruit stands, country clubs and palm trees of my youth. I tell them stories about their great Grandpa and their great Uncle Cory.
Once, when our children were little and we’d exited the airport after landing in CA, one our children peered up at the unusual landscape and asked, “Are those vacation trees?”
We laughed. Ah, yes. Palm trees will forever be known as vacation trees in our family.
This Palm Sunday, we’ll go to church and wave palm fronds in worship, remembering the humble yet triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem shortly before his arrest and crucifixion. We will proclaim, “Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest.”
I will wave my palm frond toward heaven and say a prayer of thanks for two men who introduced me to vacation trees. Palm fronds will from now on be to me, a symbol of a little bit of paradise found on earth and its fullness yet to come.