The best Christmas gift ever

Susan Manzke
It's been months, but thanks to a pre-holiday quarantine. Susan Manzke enjoyed an in-person holiday with family from left, Eli, 11, Susan, Rachel, Wyatt, 7, and Arianna, 11.

As everyone knows, this year has been a disaster. For our family, losing Bob was the worst part of the year. After hitting bottom in January when that special man left us, the COVID-19 virus took control of our lives like it did everyone else.

Summer and fall weren’t too bad, at least company could come. My family took different weekends and we stayed outside, visiting at a distance. Rachel, Dave, and the kids camped out a couple of times. Russell changed parts on my cart while he and his family visited. Rebecca and Andy brought a big bag of flour plus other supplies, too. Rob and his mob cut grass and chopped weeds. It was a productive season.

When cold weather arrived, everything changed. Because of work and school, visits were curtailed. When supplies were brought, Rebecca and I exchanged goodies (I sent her home with eggs) while wearing masks and staying at a distance. No, it wasn’t as fun as summer, but precautions were/are necessary to keep me and everyone virus-free.

During Rachel and Dave’s last visit we remembered how they stayed into the new year in 2018 and 2019. Dave had taken Eli out with him to our woods trying to bag an antlerless deer—no luck, but their efforts were fun and Bob loved watching them head down the lane on their hunting adventure.

We wondered if this two-year-old tradition could continue in 2020. Renting a camper was considered, but that would limit fun with family as we would still be separated, me in the house and their family in the camper. It didn’t look good for our end of year holiday/hunting event.

For months, members of the Manzke family contented themselves with playing online games. This holiday season brought the fun right to Susan's table.

I resigned myself to spending time with family over the internet. We started to Zoom on Friday evenings playing Yahtzee—Rebecca set up a spreadsheet so we could easily keep score. But sadly, no one can reach out and hug over Zoom.

Rachel came up with an idea, which she took to Dave. Since they both worked from home, going to their jobs via the computer, and two of their three children were in a virtual school, couldn’t they officially quarantine for ten days? Wyatt would have to be taken out of his in-person school for a few days, which his teacher said would be okay. All in-store shopping would cease. Their family would remain in quarantine at home for ten days. Could they do it?

When they decided on this volunteer quarantine action, they came to me and asked if I would want their company. My answer, “YES!”

So things were set in place. I stocked up, quarantining myself, too. We were going to do this right.

The weekend before Christmas, Rebecca played Porch Elf, traveling around Wisconsin picking up and dropping off gifts—all accomplished while wearing masks and staying at a distance. No contact, only boxes, and bags exchanged. Our large family connected on Zoom on Christmas Eve to open gifts.

Rachel and her family arrived late Christmas afternoon. They filled two cars with supplies, goodies, clothes, two dogs, and of course hunting gear. For the first time in months, I got an arms-wrapped-around-me hug—the best Christmas present ever.

As with any in-person visit, it was chaos. My cats were quarantined upstairs as they and the visiting dogs would cause problems. They weren’t happy about this confinement, but this soon will pass.

Dave and Eli heading out for the hunt.

Dave and Eli prepared for their hunt. Even my old cart cooperated and started, though they didn’t use it at first, packing in all their gear on their backs. 

This family visit was the best Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten. It took ten days to accomplish but the benefits (hugs and laughter) will last and last.

Too soon this time together ended. Zoom Yahtzee games will have to suffice as our family gathering for the time being. Spring is coming and even if everyone can’t get a vaccine right away, outside visits will return. Eventually, we will be an in-person family again and I can’t wait.

Susan and daughter Rachel raise a toast to a better year ahead and being an "in-person" family again.

Happy New Year! Bring on 2021.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;;