2003 Holiday Letter (by Matt Churchill)

Dear Friends and Family,

We began our year by temporarily moving into a tiny two bedroom house to begin a “not so big” renovation of our true home.  It’s amazing how a kitchen renovation can run amuck into tearing out ¼ of your house and rebuilding a new kitchen, bathroom, and  master bedroom suite (and let’s not even get into the furniture shopping), but I testify that it can happen.

Our architects and contractors were great.  They had creative ideas, a great sense of space, skillful techniques, and a willingness to work long, hard hours in snow, rain (and eventually late spring heat) to get us back in our house by Memorial Day.  There was only one problem.  The contractors were a bit too young and good looking for my taste.

I’d come home from a tough day at work and Suzanne would be standing with our neighbor, Charlotte (both with glazed looks in their eyes), and Suzanne would mumble, “You should’ve seen what they did on the house today, Matt.”  And Charlotte would stammer, “Yeah, they took their shirts off!”

I know it’s hot on that roof with the sun beating down as you nail down shingle after shingle, but do you really have to strip down to shorts and hang those big metal hammers off the front of your tool belt?!

The only advantage was that our front yard suddenly became a gathering place for the more attractive stay-at-home mom’s in town (who arrived early to pick up their kids from the elementary school down the road).  But did they take their shirts off!?  No sirree.  Well, not in my presence anyway.

The house turned out great, and we now have plenty of room for visitors.  So please take us up on our offer and come cook us dinner in our new kitchen!  In fact, our neighbor liked the contractors so much (and maybe even some of the work that they did) that she hired them to work through the rest of the hot, humid summer on her house.

We spent the rest of the year competing to be the first member of the family to put the longest and deepest scratch in the new kitchen floors (a close competition, but I think Zac and his firetruck grabbed a narrow victory) and to break the first appliance (Suzanne triumphed by sending a pebble down the disposal but to her credit fixed it herself after I’d resigned myself to calling the plumber).

We also drove to Maine (via Washington D.C.) and all over the Northeast for a relaxing two-week vacation with family.  The highlight of the trip?  27-1/2 hours of Harry Potter book V on tape.  And in one of the larger successes of our year, we finished the last tape just three miles from home on our return trip.  (Of course, I would’ve driven to Charleston, South Carolina at that point to make sure  we finished the story before the end of our vacation.)

Another highlight of the trip was the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.  What’s better than climbing through model ductwork and learning about all of the body’s orifices in which a spy could hide secret messages?  Luke and Thomas were set on careers with the C.I.A. until they found out that spies were often executed in the electric chair or the gas chamber.  Now they’ve decided to be mechanical engineers so that they can make warships, fighter jets, and Hummers.  Oh boy!

Speaking of the lads, Thomas loves school, soccer, jumping on his parents bed early on Saturday mornings, and eating dinner with his hands.  Proud to be the smallest kid in his class, he’s a pretty happy go-lucky guy, although he is subject to a few mood swings.  One minute he’ll be gushing with praise over his frozen waffle and cinnamon sugar toast  (“You cook the best (and healthiest) breakfasts, Dad!”) and the next minute he’ll say something like, “You know what the worst part of my day was, Dad?  ALL OF IT!”

Thomas still has a mind for animal and geographic factoids.  Our neighbor, Shelley, once made the mistake of complaining on our front porch that her family had to take “the longest car ride in the world” from Davidson to Cincinnati.  Thomas glanced up from his book and said, “I don’t think that’s the longest car ride in the world!”   “You’re right,” shot back Shelley, “If we drove from the coast of France to the far reaches of Siberia, that would be the longest car ride in the world.”  Thomas dove back into his book for a few minutes and then perked up, “You know, I’ll bet that if you drove from the tip of South America to the Arctic Circle, that would be longer!”

So who was right?  Get out a string and measure it on a globe yourself!  [Hint:  would I include this in my Christmas letter if Thomas was wrong?]

When he’s not zooming around the neighborhood on a scooter, fighting spies or racing about with his brothers, Luke has his nose parked in a book.  I recently saw one of Luke’s books lying open on the living room coffee table and thought to myself, “I wonder what Luke’s reading these days?”  I glanced at the cover and realized, with pride, that it was a Newbery Honor Book.  Then I read the back cover.  “These days, everyone seems to be getting on Jamal’s case.  Now Crazy Mack wants Jamal to take over as leader of the Scorpions and run crack.  Jamal doesn’t want anything to do with the gang, but he doesn’t have a choice – it’s the only was to get the money for Randy’s appeal.”   SUZANNE!!!!!!  (In her defense, this was one of several young adult books that she planned to put away for more mature (i.e. older than 7) readers, but for some reason got busy with other things.  And besides, it gave me a chance to mention crack cocaine in our Christmas letter – a subject rarely covered in the holiday greetings we receive.)

Zac has a developed a strong attachment to an old, pink, satin nightgown of Suzanne’s (he’s just a chip off the old block), and he drags “silky” on rides about the neighborhood on his little plastic tricycle and firetruck.  He and his honorary twin, Mathilde, who share our beloved nanny, Brenda, are extremely verbal two year olds.  They putter around the house like an old married couple talking about current events [“Oh my gosh, Tillie, we’re going to the park today!”   “No Zac, we’re going to play with my dolls.”  “O.K.”].  Zac also has a strange fascination with religious music and motor vehicles which he combines in songs like, “Jesus Loves the Little Dumptruck.”  I’m sure he does.

Zac has a mostly endearing habit of latching on to one fact situation and questioning it repeatedly, as his Nana found out recently when she mentioned a problem that his cousin, Noah, had run across.  “Noah lost his firetruck, Nana?!”   “Yes, Zac.”    “He lost it under the couch?”  “Yes, Zac.”   “Ohhh.”  [pause three seconds.]  “Noah lost his firetruck, Nana?!”  Repeat 100 times.  He also has a habit of talking loudly in church, theatrical performances, and movies.  We recently saw the movie “Elf” which features a scene in which the lead character drinks a two-liter bottle of Coke, belches long and loud, and says to his on-screen little brother, “Did you hear that?”  Zac nodded his head solemnly and loudly answered, “Yeah . . . I heard that!”

Aside from keeping up with our three boys, Suzanne and I continue to be extremely fortunate with our respective Davidson College and Charlotte law firm jobs.  We’d love to live closer to our extended family and have the opportunity to see far away friends more often, but we feel very lucky to be where we are.

We wish you all happiness and health in the New Year and hope that we’ll see many of you in 2004.

Lots of love,

Matt, Suzanne, Thomas, Luke and Zac

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