My immediate family (five brothers and sisters, their spouses, children and grandchildren) number about 55. With so many in the family and extended families to work out Thanksgiving and Christmas, we have, for the past 15 years had our Paxton Christmas the second Saturday in December at my brother’s church in Waterloo.

Since all of the family lives in Iowa, we likely average a 90 percent attendance, even after the passing of our father in 2016. He lived to enjoy one last Paxton Christmas, even though he had placed himself in hospice care. Our actual Christmas week was spent planning and holding his funeral.

So Christmas 2020 arrives and family members started coming down with COVID-19. Like a lot of families in Iowa. Fortunately, the illnesses went from mild to moderate in severity, but there were family members getting a little nervous. For those of us who had the virus in October and had fully recovered, a December Christmas gathering seemed good.

Except it became clear that finding a spot for 55 people to gather would be darn near impossible, since my brother’s church in COVID-stricken Black Hawk County had shut down their fellowship hall facilities.

So we punted, cancelled the main event and decided the five sibs and their spouses would meet at the Amana Colonies for a Dec. 13 dinner. We had to promise the restaurant that we would be okay dining at two tables and not pick food off each other’s plate. That is actually a Joe Biden whopper. We haven’t eaten off each other’s plates since the days when my mother would place the last piece of pie on either my plate or my brother’s, one of us would get to cut the piece in two and the other would get to choose.

Sometimes it would take 20 minutes to make the cut and decision, depending on how long it took to find a tape measure.

Anyway, Friday night arrived, my wife and I and our crew were at an Albia girls’ basketball game and I got a text from my brother. My youngest sister’s husband was running a fever and they would have to scratch, but she insisted we still gather. We woke up to three inches of snow on the ground Saturday and we’re ready to hop in the car to drive to the Amana Colonies when my brother called. Snow was too deep north and we didn’t want to meet without everybody there.

So we punted to Jan. 9.

The thing about COVID-19 is that it has greatly tested our patience. And I’m pretty sure a lot of that patience testing is completely unnecessary. There’s really no use in complaining, except that I do when talking to like-minded people who for the love of Mike can’t figure out the Iowa Department of Health and all of our county public health people’s rationale for quarantines of positive tests and people around positive tests.

I thought I was going crazy trying to figure out Albia’s boys basketball team’s quarantine, their not wearing masks on the bench and in warm-ups and how a couple of positive tests among the girls will affect the girls program who do wear masks in practice, warm-ups and on the bench. Opponents on Thursday, Friday and Saturday didn’t have their girls in masks on the bench. But I’m guessing those teams are no sicker or healthier than our team.

If you think about it too hard, along with wearing a mask, you get a headache.

Then I saw a clip on Fox and Friends about a young couple trying to get from Great Britain to the United States for Christmas and were thrown off their United Airlines flight because their two-year-old daughter refused to wear a mask. The mom had videoed the whole stupid episode. I would have been beating the steward as he was kicking me off the plane, but the couple was very calm as they walked off the plane, only to learn that all of their luggage was sent to New York City even though they asked it to be removed.

Thank you, Gov. Reynolds for recognizing that children two and under don’t need masks…because they don’t get sick.

So I remain vigilant in containing my frustration over COVID-19 and a whole lot of really unnecessary restrictions. I’m also thankful I attend a church that refuses to stop the need for people to worship together. Gallup did a poll that showed excellent mental health and church attendance is joined at the hip after eight months of COVID-19 lockdown (46 percent of Americans who attend church weekly rate their mental health as excellent compared to the 29 percent of those who never attend and say their mental health is excellent). For people who don’t go to church as a course of their lives and are finding the walls closing in on them, find a church that’s open for business and give it a try.

So Sunday our church held its youth Christmas program and it was wonderful, even though I only heard about every third word because the kids were speaking through a mask into a microphone. But it didn’t matter. You didn’t need perfect amplification to understand the puppet ministry’s take on the Christmas story. Joseph looked a little worse for wear, but it’s likely he was stored on his head after last year’s skit.

It was Christmas and our kids were great and we got to experience bright eyes, even if the wide smiles were covered by masks. We got to take off our masks to drink coffee and eat individually wrapped (COVID-19 approved) Christmas cookies and do fist bumps and elbow knocks. Being together lost nothing in translation.

And I remain thankful for where I live and who I live around. Thankful for getting to be around my kids and grandkids throughout this Corona virus mess. Thankful for a school district that is doing its absolute best in absolutely lousy circumstances. Thankful that the COVID-19 vaccines are coming at the same time we are celebrating the birth of the Christ child, that time of love and eternal hope.

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