A Warm January

Written by Marlin Detweiler

Depending on where you live, January is the dead of winter—the coldest month of the year. But not for us this year. My in-laws, Laurie’s parents, live in Bonita Springs, Florida. They gave us maybe the best Christmas present we’ve ever received—a month with them in Florida in January! I know what you’re thinking, “A month with the in-laws sounds like something very different than what I think of as my best Christmas gift.” Let me explain.


First, we didn’t stay with them. Not that we would have minded, but their two-bedroom home would not fit our brood of six. Secondly, they paid for everything. Only when we put our foot down did we even have the opportunity to pay for something, let alone return the favor.


So, at noon on Christmas day we left Pennsylvania and headed to Florida with a sedan, a van, two adults, four teenage boys, a border collie, more luggage than the Queen of Sheba brought to visit Solomon and, of course, golf clubs. Driving on Christmas is great—no one is on the roads.


Our five weeks in Florida seem like a blur as we look back. They were filled with golf, jet skis, air boat rides, airplanes and meeting some of the most interesting people imaginable. We knew this would be an enjoyable and much needed break for Laurie and me. What we didn’t anticipate was the real learning and discovery that would occur through the various blessings we were so graciously granted.


I feel a little like I’m asking you to watch my home video of our vacation and for that I apologize. But bear with me. All this self-indulgent testimonial talk will make a point in the end.


One of our main interests in spending an extended time in Florida was so Brandon, son #2, could play golf during the winter to prepare for the upcoming season. He is planning to attend Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., on a golf scholarship next fall, and this seemed a great way to begin preparations. He and I played five to six mornings a week, and as we expected, it was very good. None of the others play much golf, and golf is commonly played in foursomes. We did not anticipate the opportunity this created.


Every time we played we were put with some of the most interesting people. For those of you in Rhode Island, you might be interested to know we played with Patrick Little, the TV Sports Broadcaster. Probably the most interesting person we met was the 88-year-old World War II general. Tears came to his eyes as he related stories to us of his days as a fighter pilot. He’s putting together his memoirs. Maybe we’ll have them in the catalog someday.


I could go on and on, because there were literally dozens of folks, every one with a story, every one fascinating to listen to.


Parker, my youngest, made me proud. He’s had an interest in collecting Nike Air Jordan Basketball shoes and has a web business selling them. Through a whole host of aligned circumstances he found himself talking to Steve Francis, the Orlando Magic point guard. Steve ended up buying twelve pairs of shoes from him, had him as his guest at an NBA basketball game and bought him dinner afterward. Selling basketball shoes to a professional basketball player is a bit like selling ice makers to Eskimos.


Travis probably made me proudest. Late last year he expressed an interest in learning to fly. He researched flight schools, read up on the whole process and dove in. He had not spent one minute behind the yoke of an airplane when we arrived in Florida, but by the time we left he had flown solo. Flying solo means that he flew the plane by himself. The instructor and his parents were left on solid ground—praying. And he did all of this with his own money that he had earned and saved.


As a family we also spent considerable time exploring God’s creation. We visited Everglades City, a throwback fishing town with more airboat captains than school teachers (maybe a slight exaggeration, maybe not). We enjoyed shelling on the beach, visited Sanibel and Captiva, spotted numerous dolphins, manatees, alligators, eagles, osprey and wild boar. Speaking of bore I should probably stop. I’m sure you get the point—we had a blast as a family that will not likely be forgotten.


Now I told you I had a point in all this. Actually there are two.


First, I want to honor my in-laws, Dan and Dianne Killian. They have been wonderful grandparents, have raised up the best imaginable daughter and have always been a terrific pair of in-laws. Their generosity and helpfulness have been a model for my family, and by sharing a bit of this experience, I hope in some small way for yours, too.


Secondly, although each of the boys spent considerable time keeping up with their school work while we were gone, such was not the most effective aspect of their education during this brief period. We cannot expect to manufacture such experiences that last indefinitely, nor should we. Education is first and foremost the grind of working through a math text, wrestling down the sequence or doctrine of Scripture, reading the wonderful primary sources from the past or immersing yourself in the study of Latin or logic. Nevertheless, that is not all that is comprised in an education. A breadth of experiences drastically different than our norm is a good, and maybe necessary, ingredient to a truly liberally educated person. I am so grateful that we have had these kinds of experiences and trust that you will find great value in doing the same with your students and children.