What follows is another yearly installment in our family’s complete history told via the 1997 Flanders Family Christmas Update. To see a full listing, see Our Christmas Letters. For tips on writing your own family history in this fashion, follow this link. In the meantime, enjoy!
The Flanders Family Update: 1997
January 1997 Happenings
What a year of change 1997 has been for us! It brought a new job in a new town, a new house, a new church, a new son, new friends, new neighbors, and will soon yield a new niece or nephew, as Jennifer’s sister and brother-in-law are expecting their first baby any day now.
We put our house in Mesquite up for sale by owner the first of January and sold it 16 days later, but not without a steady stream of prospective buyers first passing through our doors. We met some very interesting characters during the course of those two weeks. The most unforgettable was a 60-year old bleached-blonde who wore huge false eyelashes, drove a car like Cruella de Ville’s, and came to see our house despite the fact she was violently ill at the time.
We made it as far as our dining room before she lost her cookies, spewing them all over our walls, cabinets and floors. It was incredible! Despite our best disinfecting efforts, our entire family was wrenching from the same virus within the week. Before it hit, we showed the house to a newlywed couple who returned two hours later with a contract in hand. They loved the house, but were willing to wait until July to close, which meant we only had to move once. What a provision from the Lord!
February 1997 Happenings
Our illness lingered into February, slowing us down long enough to complete Samuel’s potty training, which we’d somehow neglected in the press of our normal routine.
The boys were still sick when time came for the mother/daughter Valentine brunch that Jennifer and Bethany hostess annually. Rather than have us expose our guests to so contagious a bug, Jennifer’s mother suggested we use her house for the party this year. It went so well, she’s already planning to have us back next year, so the tradition needn’t die after our move.
It’s always such a delight to have so many little girls gathered together, and to watch how quietly they visit and how carefully they eat — in stark contrast to the brood of active boys that surrounds us the rest of the year!
March 1997 Happenings
Our five-year old David has matured so much in recent months, it’s hard to believe he is the same child who in March used Mommy’s razor to shave off his bangs, then cemented his eyelashes together with bubble gum. We weren’t sure whether this was some desperate cry for attention or merely a re-enactment of a Sunday school lesson on Samson, but to play it safe, we promptly scheduled some “together time” for him and Dad. The two of them flew to Corpus Christi on Palm Sunday to visit Doug’s grandmother. David’s coming along seemed to revive Nanny’s failing memory, as he is the spitting image of his father at that age….
Mesquite’s Bank One was held up this month by a group of armed robbers who led the police on a merry chase before abandoning their get-away car fifty yards behind our house. Police choppers and news services swarmed above our roof and squad cars zipped down our alley for days on end as they attempted to track down the fugitives. Our boys begged to go out and help hunt for the criminals, but we kept them inside all week with the doors and windows locked, instead.
April 1997 Happenings
Doug turned thirty in April. He made his radio debut this month, filling in for Jennifer one week on “Schooling with Software”. Cyber-line moved to WBAP NEWS/TALK 820 this year, so we can now be heard live in 38 states every Sunday night at 7:45. We still get tons of free educational software for doing this weekly review; consequently, the kids keep our computers running almost non-stop. David and Samuel have been known to get up as early as 3 a.m. to have first shot at a new program.
May 1997 Happenings
Jonathan and Jennifer made a small claim to fame in May when their home school research project on chain letters was published in Scholastic’s national magazine, Dynamath. I’m sure this periodical has a terribly limited readership, but that didn’t keep our heads from swelling when the editors called from New York to request photographs and an interview, which they published with the article.
Doug received a flattering request himself this month when Osler Institute phoned about 10 p.m. one night and asked if he would teach part of an anesthesia review course the following morning! It seems that three of their guest lecturers had cancelled at the last minute, and one of Doug’s professors from Southwestern recommended him to fill in. Doug tried to decline, but was eventually persuaded to drive to DFW in the wee hours of the morning and review the material himself before conducting a three-hour question and answer session on it….
We closed on our new home in Tyler the end of the month. We’d noticed a sale sign in the yard last November, but the house was taken off the market before we could get a look at the interior. Providentially, our realtor knew the owners, so after we’d searched for six months without finding anything, she managed to get us an appointment to see this house which had first caught our eye. It’s about 30 years old and suits our family perfectly — a large, shaded, corner lot with plenty of space for the children to play, a wonderful floor plan with all four bedrooms on the same end of the house, three full baths, a newly remodeled kitchen, and lots of great storage.
Our sweet friends from Believers Chapel gave us a lovely going away party before our move and presented us with a beautiful handmade tablecloth which is to be signed by everyone who visits us in our new home. The few signatures we’ve accumulated thus far look sort of lonesome, so we hope you’ll make plans to come see us soon and add your name to the collection.
June 1997 Happenings
Doug finished his residency in June with a cardiac rotation at the VA. He was supposed to have three-day weekends all month, which we’d planned to spend in Tyler, but that didn’t pan out. Jennifer and the children ended up spending several days a week in Tyler without him. We repainted three bedrooms, eight closets, a storage room, and the garage before having new carpet laid at the end of the month. We’d never have finished were it not for the gracious help of our dear neighbor, Valerie Comer, who rolled walls until her arms were numb, and of Jennifer’s dad, who added extra shelves and rods to all our closets, then prepped and painted the entire garage floor by himself.
When Doug finally did get a long weekend, we decided to spend it in Arkansas. (This gave Jennifer a break from the paint fumes and reassured the children that their stressed-out mother hadn’t turned into a total crab).
It was a very relaxing trip, although we had a difficult time extricating our luggage after being rear-ended at a red light in Hot Springs. The photos Jennifer took at the scene to document the damage came in handy when the girl’s insurance company balked at paying for our repairs. What really got the adjuster’s attention, though, was Doug’s response to her question whether we had any witnesses.
“As a matter of fact, we did,” he told her calmly. “We had myself, my pregnant wife, our five young children, and their two elderly grandparents, all of whom were sitting in our new Suburban when this teenage girl plowed into us.” The company cut us a check the same day.
June 27th was the date of our big move. The packers spent 12 hours loading all our worldly goods onto their truck, drove to Tyler, then spent four more unloading. Everyone was exhausted when the last box came off the trailer at 3 a.m.
There was still a lot of work to be done, but Doug was so excited to have this much behind us that he went straight out the next morning and invited some of our new neighbors over for a barbecue dinner that same afternoon! Thankfully, they were gracious guests and pretended not to notice the fact that we had boxes stacked to our eyeballs in every room of the house and that Jennifer couldn’t locate the silverware in a single one of them.
July 1997 Happenings
Doug brought home a documentary on the life of Evil Kineval in July. (If you’ve ever wondered who in their right mind would check out all those obscure titles at Blockbuster, now you know). He never stopped to ponder the effect such a film would have on these boys of ours.
Sure enough, Jonathan was up at the crack of dawn the following day, constructing bicycle ramps out of scrap lumber and trying to persuade his little brothers to lie down between them while he jumped over! We quickly established some basic ground rules (like “No ramping over people”), and then let them have their fun.
These things became a magnet for the neighborhood children, and the boys made several new friends as a result, including three Tyler police officers who happened upon the ramps while on bike patrol and decided to give them a try. When they realized we were in our yard at the time and had been watching them, they grinned sheepishly, explained that they were “still kids at heart”, and commended Jonathan on the fine job he’d done building the ramps.
While the boys were outside on their bikes, Bethany was inside with her books: she read over two dozen “Mandie Mysteries” this summer, often finishing a book a night. She doesn’t limit herself to just reading fiction, but will absorb anything she can get her hands on. This habit turns a simple chore like putting away groceries into a long, drawn-out ordeal, as she feels compelled to peruse the label on every purchase before placing it on the shelf.
August 1997 Happenings
Inspired by the art of Mary Englebreit, Jennifer worked several months on a colored pencil drawing to enter in the State Fair this year. She finished it in August and took it to Dallas to be judged. The attendants took one look at the picture — that of a rested father holding a quiet toddler on his knee and reading aloud to his smiling wife and a roomful of attentive children — and insisted it belonged in a different category. They re-classified it as fantasy! Isn’t that a sad commentary on home life in the nineties?
Even so, the drawing took first place in its class, which pleased Jennifer greatly. She tackled a couple of other big projects this month, as well. She sponge painted the walls and put up a bird dog border in Jonathan’s room, repainted and lined the insides of the kitchen cabinets, and put up new wallpaper in the kitchen and breakfast room. Jennifer has never had edema through six pregnancies, but her feet were so swollen after that job that she could barely fit into her sandals!
September 1997 Happenings
We spent an unbearably hot Labor Day at Six Flags in Arlington with Jennifer’s parents. We dressed all the kids in matching, bright yellow T-shirts to make them easier to corral, but we should’ve put one on Papa, because he’s the one who kept disappearing into the crowds. Nana said she was grateful we had “to keep up with five children and only one grandfather, instead of five grandfathers and only one child!”
As if counting heads were not enough responsibility, we were also trying to keep track of several bags of paraphernalia, as Doug insisted we pack an umbilical cord clamp, his Swiss army knife, and a stack of bath towels “just in case”. When Jennifer’s contractions began as we were leaving the park and grew stronger as we traveled, we thought we might actually need to use those items; however, we ended up making it home before she delivered (with ten days to spare).
Our little 9 lb. 7 oz. Joseph Tyler arrived promptly on his due date, September 11. Jennifer’s labor began at four, we got to the hospital at five, had the baby at six, and Doug reported for surgery at seven — just like clockwork! Doug finished the one case that had been scheduled that morning, then took the next five days off.
Joseph has the prettiest blue eyes, which as yet show no sign of changing color, and the longest little fingers, which he laces together whenever he nurses, as if he were saying his prayers. Bethany first saw him do this when he was but hours old. “Look!” she called to her brothers, “Joseph’s saying ‘Thank you, God, for giving me such a sweet and loving family.'” But Papa contends he was really asking God to protect him from this mob of siblings who were all clamoring to hold him at once!
Believe it or not, Joseph was not the first baby to join our family this month. That distinction goes to an 8-week old puppy whom the children named “Lucky” (as in, she was “lucky” it was their push-over father who’d taken the kids shopping that day, and not their pragmatic mother).
Doug was told at the pet store that she’s an Australian heeler and will grow to be a mid-size dog. Naturally, he took their word on this, never mind the fact she looks just like a German shepherd and had outgrown our Lhasa apso by the end of the month.
Jennifer was concerned that Lucky might overwhelm our youngest ones with all her playful advances, but the children soon proved they could hold their own against the dog. When Lucky was tormenting Benjamin one morning by repeatedly licking his face and relentlessly tugging at his clothes, Ben finally got fed up and bit the dog square on the back. Lucky thought twice before approaching him again…and since the second bite, she’s left him alone completely!
October 1997 Happenings
Samuel turned four in October. Still an early riser, he springs out of bed every morning at the first hint of dawn and bounces down the hall chirping, “De sun is up, ev’ryone! Y’all need to det up, tuz de sun is up!” (indeed, it’s impossible for anyone to sleep another minute once this son is up).
Samuel is also quite a Daddy’s boy. We swam almost daily this summer, and Sam insisted on staying in the deep end with Doug every time we went to the pool. He didn’t have to see too many of the gainers and double flips his dad was doing off the board before he was ready to try that himself. A new life jacket boosted his confidence, and within a week he had learned to do a perfect back flip and a fairly good front….
Our gentle Ben celebrated his second birthday this month. Our pediatrician told us if Benjamin hadn’t at least a three-word vocabulary by 18 months, we ought to be concerned. Not to worry, he knew four by then!
I don’t know whether the quietest children get into the greatest mischief or if they just get blamed for the largest share of it, but when all our sinks, tubs, and toilets started backing up this fall, the plumbers had to flush out our pipes every afternoon for a week before we discovered someone had been cramming the clean-outs full of sticks and stones every morning. We assume it was Ben, as no one else will admit to it, but one of these days he is going to learn to talk and may set the record straight on this and a great many other matters.
November 1997 Happenings
We took a short trip to Houston in November. We spent one day in the museums and another at Astro World.
We also squeezed in a little ice-skating, which was the highlight of our vacation as far as the kids were concerned. I loved watching our older children help the younger ones make their way cautiously around the rink-would that they were always so protective and supportive of their siblings! We were back in Tyler for Thanksgiving. On call, Doug spent the entire day at the hospital, although he did get an hour to come home for dinner. We broke with tradition and served homemade fajitas, with all the trimmings.
December 1997 Happenings
We’d planned to spend Christmas in Oklahoma this year, but that changed when Jennifer’s grandmother died quite unexpectedly last month. A dear believer, Mema will spend Christmas at the feet of her Savior, focused on the TRUE meaning of this season in a way those of us she left behind can only imagine.
To think that the Son of God would leave heaven and be born a man for the very purpose of dying for sinners-what greater reason could we have to rejoice? How empty and meaningless Christmas must be for those who do not know Jesus personally.
As always, all of you are in our thoughts this time of year. For those of you who already know Christ, we pray His richest blessings in the New Year; for those of you who do not, we pray you might open your hearts this Christmas to receive the greatest gift of all-salvation by grace through faith. May God keep you all in His tender care.
Doug, Jennifer, Jonathan, Bethany, David, Samuel, Benjamin, and Joseph
Do you prefer to do your reading offline? You’ll find more of our family’s embarrassing moments, hard learned lessons, and hilarious antics all in Glad Tidings, a compilation of the first 25 years of Flanders Family Christmas letters. It also includes a few favorite recipes, seasonal quotes, time-saving tips, and fun family traditions. Volume 1 is on sale now. We’re hoping to release Volume 2 in the year 2037.