PART III – THE SEASONS OF MY LIFE
Many of the phenomena of Winter are suggestive of an inexpressible tenderness and fragile delicacy. We are accustomed to hear this king described as a rude and boisterous tyrant, but with the gentleness of a lover he adorns the tresses of summerHenry David Thoreau – Walden
.Christmas is virtually a season unto itself in my calendar which is why I have devoted so many essays to it. Below are some of the best words ever written about it that sum up some of my own feelings about it:
I have always through of Christmas time… apart from the veneration due its name… as a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable time: the only time I know in the long calendar of the year when men and women seem by one consent to open up their shut-up hearts freely… Scrooge’s nephew.
Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol
ALL HEARTS GO HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
“All hearts go home for Christmas for love is always there,” was written on a heart-shaped, clay ornament made by daughter Vicki as a present for me one year when she had no money for gifts.
One of the advantages of the human mind is that we can live simultaneously in three time zones. Starting with the turning of the leaves, Halloween, Thanksgiving and culminating in Christmas, I ender a blend of then and now, interspersed with anticipation of the future.
The Christmas season is when I come closest to seeing the whole of my life, starting with my childhood home, and continuing on through the middle years to present time. It is when I achieve a glimmer of the answers to the great, universal questions: “Who am I? Why am I? What does my life signify? Where is my True North? What gives me the greatest pleasure?”
Vicki believes that Christmas is more than commercialism; that, for example, people decorate their homes so early because Christmas carries them back to the happy times of their childhood. This season is when I’m most conscious of the child Rose Mary who dwells in the realm of memory. That Rose Mary sees and hears with her mind’s eye and ear the dear faces and voices of her family and the townspeople of Knightstown, her friends, their parents, and beloved teachers just as they were those many years ago.
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is about the epiphany and redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge. A home is an extension of those who live in it. Scrooge was rich, but went home to a bleak, cold, lonely house that matched his personality. No one called him friend. The Cratchits were poor in money, but rich in spirit, and their humble home was filled with love.
The home where one grew up brings nostalgia during the Christmas season. All I have to do is think about it to be transported to 304 N Franklin St. in Knightstown where my niece now lives.
Here I am, pasting together rings of red and green crepe paper to make chains that are strung from corner to corner. Our Christmas trees couldn’t compare with the gorgeous ones that Bill and I have. However, we thought they were beautiful, and went out onto the sidewalk to admire their lights through the window…
Here we are, opening the precious gifts given by the eight Jones kids who relied on ingenuity as they had so little money. Sometimes an adult had to beat a retreat to the bathroom to avoid laughing in front of them.
Niece Mary gave everyone pins that she concocted out of bubble gum prizes and bits of cloth. Mothers was a skillet with two fried eggs. John had the “perfect” gift for Mother who collected fancy china cups. It was a set of dolls dishes. Sharon gave me a statuette of a dog that she’d dropped and broken into three pieces. Wailing, she went to Christine who said, “Just glue it back together. She’ll never notice.” It sits with the sheep in the nativity scene that my parents gave me when I was twelve, along with a lamb that my brother, Earl, gave me when I was five years old. Every year I turn the crank of its little music box that tinkles “Silent Night” as my nephews and nieces delighted in doing.
“Now be very gentle…”
Home was more than just the house where I lived: It was my neighborhood and the town and its community life. Every year the Alhambra Movie Theater was filled with shrieking kids during a free afternoon of westerns. Afterwards, a skinny Santa handed out sacks of candy and nuts.
The school was another home to me. Little Knightstown was a homogenous society where political correctness regarding Christmas wasn’t even imagined. Miss McKinny’s art classes painted Christmas scenes on the classroom window, and she led the chorus caroling through the halls.
Memories of Christmas past are a blend of joy and longing. Everyone remembers the best gifts that they received when they were children. One of mine was a coat box full of books when I was ten years old, including a Nancy Drew. When I was in college I saw a red sweater at Mary Leisure’s Robin Lee dress shop for which I yearned. My mother was very poor, but one of my most poignant memories is of unwrapping that sweater.
CHRISTMAS: A MANY SPLENDORED THING
The Lord Mayor… gave orders to his fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayors household should; and even the little tailor, who he had fined five shillings on the previous Monday for being drunk in the streets, stirred up tomorrow’s pudding in his garret while his lean wife and baby sallied out to buy the beef.
Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol
Celebrating Christmas to the fullest gives us entrée for a short time to a magical land where everything remains young and fresh. As I prepare for Christmas, the times I had with my family those which I have been privileged to share with Bill and the Clarke’s are ever green, and I am filled with gratitude.
Ah, I remember well the negotiations that new couples must work through. We’d been married two months to the day before our first Christmas together, and we each secretly worried about Christmas. Would Bill buy a pretty tree? Would I decorate it nicely? Would he throw tinsel on the tree rather than hanging each strand separately? Would we open presents any old time? What a relief it was to discover that we both loved Christmas.
The biggie was at whose mother’s home we would spend Christmas; or would we have to go to both mothers’ homes and eat two dinners? Blessedly, our mothers never laid guilt trips on us. We went to my mother’s for Thanksgiving and spent Christmas with his. When Vicki knew what Christmas was, we stayed home so that we could build Christmas memories in our own home. Often our mothers spent Christmas with us.
Christmas for us is a very sentimental time. Lovingly, our home and the most beautiful tree we can find are decorated with an eclectic mix of ornaments that recall cherished people. How could we part with the lightbulb Santa that Vicki made in first grade, the toilet-roll angels made by the grandboys, the ornaments that belonged to Hazel (Jones) Dudley or the Anne of Green Gables doll from Jana? The mice in spun-glass slippers that I bought after lunch at Ayers tearoom so many years ago must be on
the tree as well as the charming blown-glass pear, strawberry, and stork that we bought nearly fifty years ago at the Catholic Salvage store that first Christmas. After spending a week in Paris with us, our beloved friend, Phyllis Otto, came for dinner and was ever so smug about her gift for us. It was a ball with scenes of the Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry that we saw at the Cluny.
I think about Bill’s mother when I iron the ribbons on the battered bells that she made. Above the mantel is a grapevine wreath made by Vicki, and on it are statuettes from Bill and Jean. Crafts made by Toots Jones Gard, my niece Barbara, Sarah, and other friends are displayed.
My manger scene is put on the organ. Nearby is my growing collection of Santons (little saints) from the south of France which I buy as mementos of our trips to France. They are little clay statues of peasants and gypsies who are bringing gifts such as a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, or a goose for the Christ Child. There is a shepherd with his cloak blowing in the wind, a donkey laden with faggots, three chickens. My favorite is a little old woman who is knitting a little sock for Him. One year Vicki made a Provincial farmhouse with attached stable, palm tree, windmill and well from Sculpy clay. I keep it out all year because I can’t bear to pack it away.
My parents celebrated Christmas well, but Bill’s father brought his English family’s customs along with him. The Clarke’s know how to throw a party, and they celebrate Christmas in the good old Dickensian way. Among the many joys of my life with Bill have been the wonderful traditions which have enriched out existence.
Last year I drove past our old home where we lived from the time Vicki was a toddler until she graduated. This was where Bill and I were young together. Those were years of magic when Vicki believed in Santa Clause… so long ago… Snapshots from my mental photograph album flashed before me.
Here’s a memorygraph: Bill’s mother and I drink endless cups of coffee and chain smoke while making cookies and chatting about everything under the sun… My mother loudly sings Christmas carols during Christmas Eve dinner to drown out the whimpers of the Christmas puppy hidden in the basement… Later Mother holds her candle high when we sing “Silent Night” during the candlelight ceremony at Irvington Methodist…
And, oh the glorious Christmas mornings! We’d hear Vicki chortling about the contents of her stocking which was one side of a woman’s pantyhose so that it held a lot. Bill’s family puts the children’s stockings in their bedrooms so that the parents can sleep a little longer. One time she refused to go to sleep, and Bill had to slither into her room on his belly to leave the stocking next to her bed. One night we didn’t get to bed until 2:00 A.M., and she woke us up at five o’clock.
Another memorygraph: At last, it’s Christmas, and eldest first, youngest last, we line up and proceed ever so slowly – “Daddy, will you please hurry up! – down the stairs through the festive, candle-lit house; first past the kitchen table that is laid for breakfast with Mother’s cranberry ware and Bill’s Stirling silver, on through the candle-lit dining room where the table is laden with a Dickensian assortment of delectables, and at last into the living room where the cherished ornaments on the big tree and the high stack of presents gleam from the glow cast by the fireplace…
Heaped up were… minced pies, plumb puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth cakes, and seething bowls of punch.
A Christmas Carol
Last comes the great, festive feast. Is there anything more delectable than Christmas food; and has any writer ever described it better than Dickens?
Many people complain about the effort that Christmas takes. Perhaps the bah-humbuggers should quit grumbling and let Christmas work its magic.
I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the past, the present and the future.
Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol
A LITTLE CHRISTMAS STORY
I’ll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
I’ll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams
Kim Gannon, Walter Kent, Buck Ram
There are many items in our home that remind me of those who have peopled my existence. On the mantle is a rather battered and unattractive little tree made of silver balls in a red pot that belonged to an old lady who was our neighbor. I display it so prominently because it serves as a bittersweet reminder.
Unlike my slapdash, disheveled old granny, “Mrs. Kent” was a tidy little widow who lived in a tidy little house that smelled of baking spices and lemon oil. She did lovely handiwork and gave three-year-old Vicki a beautifully crafted Raggedy Ann doll.
She prided herself on her mental, moral and physical vigor: “I am a Presbyterian, and American and a Republican in that order! My doctor say that I have the blood pressure of a twenty-year-old!” She was still bustling along at age eighty with her church activities, perpetual house cleaning, long walks and babysitting to make a little pin money. Then a relative – who knew best, of course – talked her into selling her home and joining forces to buy a large house where they’d all live happily ever after…
She watched, wringing her hands, while people picked through her possessions at a yard sale: her Havilland china, her silver, her linens… her books, her needlepoint love seat, her Majolica dishes “with just a few chips” … her broom and her rake … her threadbare, “but still good” oriental rugs, her Christmas ornaments, and her cookie sheets… She wouldn’t need those things anymore, they said. Unable to bear it, I took her away for a cup of tea.
Predictably, the new arrangement lasted only a few months. The next time I saw Mrs. Kent was in her hospital-like room at a nursing home. She said as I perched on one of the uncomfortable chairs, “Oh it’s you, my dear. I was dozing, I fear. I seem to be doing that so much these days.
Actually, I was dreaming about dear old Fort Recovery where I grew up. My, the times we had!”
“And you, are you ready for Christmas? My dear husband loved Christmas. Oh, the Christmases we had! Such lovely decorations and splendid food; I cooked for a month. I can almost taste the roast goose! And the services and the music! I do miss hearing a good sermon. They are kind here, but it just isn’t home.” She kept asking, “Do you hear footsteps? I’m expecting my family to come, but they’re awfully busy, you know.”
“Just the nurses,” I’d reply
“Oh, surely they’ll come – surely they’ll be here soon. It’s Christmas Eve.”
She clung to me as I left at dusk to return to my husband, my child and my beautifully decorated home that was redolent of baking spices and pine. That was the last time that I saw her before she died.
I like to imagine that on this, her last Christmas Eve, her family arrived with many gaily wrapped packages and delicious little treats and made plans to take her the next day to a wonderful Christmas dinner.
The merry cook bustles away in her spice-scented kitchen, singing along with Andy Williams: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year with the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer….”
Monday: Busy, busy, busy! Bake, clean kitchen, address cards. Bake clean kitchen. Answer telephone.
Tuesday: Knock a two-pound sack of powdered sugar off top of the fridge. Flies all over black fridge, counter tops and floor. Clean kitchen…clean kitchen…clean kitchen. Water tree. Christmas cards. Answer phone. Look at calendar – something every day.
“It’s the hap-happiest season of all…”
If I hear that damn song again, I’m going to barf in the cookie dough!
Out of nuts. Answer telephone. Go to grocery. Oh, oh, oh! Mailman delivered four copies of book when I wanted only one. Now I have to mail a package. I hate mailing packages.
Wednesday: Where’s the nutmeg? I must have nutmeg for these cookies…Where is the stupid nutmeg? Remove spice carrousel, knocking off tins of spices. Find nutmeg, bake, clean kitchen. Forget to set timer. throw away pan of overdone cookies.
Make Mom’s Kookie Kake: “Cream together 1 lb butter, 1 lb powdered sugar, add 5 egg yolks. (Paula Deen would love this!)… Argh! I hate this bleeping mixer that throws batter everywhere… “Slowly add 4 cups of flour.” Am in hurry as we’re going out for dinner. Put in too much flour. Bleeping mixer has dusted walls, microwave, toaster oven, black counter, cabinets, floor with flour. Clean kitchen. After Christmas, into the trash this mixer goes.
“There’ll be parties for hosting and marshmallows for roasting… it’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Andy Williams should take his song and…
Thursday: Up at 5:30 to write. The register is blowing icy air. Bill comes stomping down the hall. “The furnace is out.” Oh no! Jean and Jana are coming to learn how to make piecrust, and Jean is spending the night! Furnace fixed. Make spare room bed, straighten house, teach Jean and Jana how to make pie crust, party all weekend.
Following Monday: Oh dear, I promised to make little English mince pies to serve during a benefit when we read A Christmas Carol out loud at Benton House. Mix crust, roll, cut out, put in freezer. Clean up be-floured countertop. Repeat.
Wednesday: Eek! I committed a major culinary sin of not reading recipe first. Hash brown potato casserole that I’m taking to pitch-in 2 hours from now is supposed to be topped with crushed cornflakes. Don’t have any. To Hell with cornflakes, put extra cheese on top.
Thursday: Must frost Santa’s and make mince pies to take to Vicki’s tomorrow, wrap gifts and pack.
Saturday – home
Sunday: Fix dinner for relatives followed by concert at Benton House
Am losing my fondness for Dickens’ Christmas Carol and Clement Clarke Moore’s “Night Before Christmas.” Their idealized vision of Christmas started all this. Why couldn’t we go back to my mother’s childhood when she was delighted to receive and orange for Christmas?
A CHRISTMAS LESSON
Bill’s father was English, and Bill’s mother taught me to make the little mince pies that have been an English custom since the 1600’s. I see her in my mind’s eye, showing me how to cut out circles of dough with a martini glass, a cigarette dangling from her lips. Sometimes she sips a martini while she stands behind me.
I’m not crafty, can’t sing or paint, but I take a deep satisfaction from cookery which I consider an art form. Friends Jean and Jana wanted to learn to make piecrust, and I offered to teach them.
I wasn’t successful in learning it from my mother who could make three or four double crusts at a time. She just dumped flower and salt in a bowl and worked in lard and added water without measuring. She tried to teach me: “Watch this. You see?” No, I didn’t! I think that they only way you can learn to cook is to do it. During the first year that we were married, I used the Meta Givens Cookbook that Mother gave me. I wept tears of frustration when my crust was so short that it fell apart or was so tough that you couldn’t cut it.
Using Meta Givens’ information, I explained how each ingredient in piecrust is added and why it is important. I used the recipe that Lucinda Newby, my beloved fifth grade teacher gave me. As they worked with their bowls of ingredients, I demonstrated with mine the steps in making pastry – how to mix with one’s fingertips and not with one’s palms which will heat the fat too much, how to know by touch and by eye when the flour/shortening mixture is right and how much water to add. We toasted the results with Champagne, and dinner was a merry – and fattening – meal of pot pie that Jean made followed by Jana’s cherry pie.
The next day Jean said, “I’m afraid I’ll forget… Show me again.” She rolled out a perfect crust and made mince pies and apple turnovers. The following week she made mince pies for the ladies at the nursing home where her mother had lived before her death. Proudly she sent me a picture of an apple pie that she baked for Christmas dinner.
One of my treasures is my grandmother Gard’s rolling pin that hands on the wall in our kitchen. Unfortunately, the wood developed a crack in it so that it can no longer be used. Sometimes when I roll out crust, I mused about the number of crusts that were rolled out by three generations of women.
For Christmas Jean’s father-in-law gave her his mother’s rolling pin so that now she has a piece of her husband’s family’s past.
Nothing beats my mother’s crust made with lard, but “boughten” crust, as Mother would say is pretty good. However, it gives me a feeling of intense satisfaction and accomplishment to have learned the art of making piecrust.
It’s pleasant to know that something that came from Bill’s mother and my beloved teacher has been passed on to my friend who perhaps will see me standing behind her in her mind’s eye in years to come when she rolls out pastry with the rolling pin that had been used by her husband’s grandmother.
AUNT NAOMI’S CHRISTMAS DINNER
Food nourishes more than bodies: It satisfies all five senses, provides comfort, and strengthens the bond between families and friends. From the simple backyard cookouts of hot dogs and hamburgers on July 4th to the turkey-with-all-the-trimmings of Thanksgiving, certain festive meals are woven into our memories.
Eighty-one-year-old Naomi Mason Hostetter isn’t my biological aunt; she’s the aunt of my friend, Jana Mason Gruner. However, Naomi is one of those people who become universal aunts because they are so warm-hearted and outgoing. Every year Jana talks about driving down to Guilford to Aunt Naomi’s home for her incredible Christmas feast.
In every family there are standout signature dishes that are passed down. No Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner would be complete without my great-grandmother’s corn pudding. Jana says, “Aunt Naomi makes the best dressing in the world. I tried to make it, but it just wasn’t the same.”
Determined to discover the secret to “the best dressing in the world,” I sat down during a baby shower for one of Jana’s daughters with Naomi and her two daughters who serve as sous-chefs.
Naomi said, “I cook because I love to please people.” “Love” is the operative word in good cookery. No one – amateur or professional – will cook well without it. The other thing is the willingness to spend effort on it. Naomi’s cooking is the real deal: no shortcuts, no microwave, and it’s surely not fat free! To feed thirty-five people she peels and cooks five pounds of fresh sweet potatoes and twelve pounds of white potatoes. She serves ham as well as a twenty-five-pound turkey. Frozen corn is cooked in cream and butter. Slaw is made several days in advance. Others bring desserts, including Grandma Mason’s fudge.
The most expensive dish on the menu is scalloped oysters from an old family recipe dating from a hundred fifty years ago when oysters from the east coast came to Aurora, Indiana on a barge. Six pints of oysters cost $75.
And that world-class dressing? The secret is the bread: Five days in advance Naomi bakes 5 ½ loaves of homemade bread. She tears the bread and lets it dry. Then the usual seasonings, sautéed onions, and celery, fresh parsley, 4 beaten eggs and a quart-and-a-half of hot chicken broth are added. The dressing is baked in 9 X 13 pans for 45 minutes to an hour at 350 degrees. “Did you use homemade bread to make Naomi’s dressing?”
“No!” replied Jana.
Just as people who love to read fall into “booky” talks, cooks share recipes and tips. I told Naomi Bill’s mother’s method for roasting a turkey. We usually have ham as well as turkey at Christmas. I put some of the “liquor” left after baking the ham in the dressing that we make with breadcrumbs made from toast. I lay the rind on the breast and thighs. If there isn’t enough, or if we aren’t having ham I use strips of bacon. This bastes the turkey, gives it a wonderful color, and makes luscious gravy. Rather than using foil that steams the turkey, I cover it with parchment paper.
It’s heartwarming to thing that in the future someone will still cherish family traditions such as that stuffing or scalloped oysters just as my daughter cooks my great-grandmother’s corn pudding.
EXPECT A MIRACLE
I sent this to my brothers and sisters the first Christmas following out mother’s death 25 years ago. My brother and one of my brother’s-in-law were extremely ill.
To my family:
What with the recent passing of our mother and our own illness, this doesn’t seem like a good year to wish each a Merry Christmas. However, I’ve been thinking about Mother. She was a person of great faith. On her refrigerator she had a magnet that said, “EXPECT A MIRACLE!”
|EXPECT A MIRACLE!”||Miracles are not rare. They happen all the time|
|EXPECT A MIRACLE!”||Mother was a miracle. No matter how difficult life was, she remained a cheerful, hopeful optimist.|
|EXPECT A MIRACLE!”||Each life is a miracle. Jesus and Mohammed were poor sons of the desert, but their lives influenced countless millions.|
|EXPECT A MIRACLE!”||Our country is a miracle. We are a free and prosperous people.|
|EXPECT A MIRACLE!”||A family is a miracle; a friend is a miracle. We have loving families and friends.|
|EXPECT A MIRACLE!”||As long as one person remains who remembers our mother, she will be here. She is present in her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, and unborn generations yet to come.|
|EXPECT A MIRACLE!”||Wait for them! Watch for them! Miracles may not come in the shape that we desire, but our miracles are there.|
|EXPECT A MIRACLE!”||Christmas is a miracle. I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year that will bring you a miracle.|
Thank You, Monsieur Monet
People whom I shall never meet enriched my life and made me see better the world around me. Following a heavy show, I looked at an art book, Impressionism in Winter – Effets de Neige (Snow Effects). I thought about how great artists record what I see when I watch a dawn or dusk or survey the weather. They speak to my soul.
The Impressionists strived to capture on canvas the elusive, constantly changing quality of light. Their paintings speak directly to my heart. Perhaps I have such a special rapport with them because there were several blind people in my family, leaving me with a heightened awareness of how precious light is.
They painted outdoors in natural light, to record the immediate, transitory “impressions” of what they saw. They painted the rivers, fields, woods, rural roadsides, cityscapes, dance halls and cafés of the present world rather than the past grandeur of Rome or Greece.
They painted everyday people: carpenters refinishing floors, saucy can-can dancers kicking up their heels at the Moulin Rouge, and rich stage-door Johnnies twirling their mustaches and ogling the women at the Opera. Their people were alive: couples dancing at balls or drinking in bistros, friends lunching at a café next to the Scene, artists picnicking with their nude models, Through their eyes one sees snippets of the lives of ballerinas and bareback riders, housewives and harlots.
They were mocked and reviled. The prestigious Academy where one had to exhibit in order to succeed rejected them. They stuck to their brushes, established their own exhibitions, and now their paintings sell for millions upon millions…
Early morning: The greenhouse window at the front of the house is frosted with lovely snowflake patterns. The weight of icicles has forced the lower limbs of the oak tree to bow down to the ground and transformed the bird feeder into a Hansel and Gretel house. Beneath it squirrels root greedily, and an assortment of bird’s peck upon fallen seeds from the frosty ground. The dark gray backs and white breasts of juncos echo the tints of the sky.
Shh! For this brief moment the snow-hush is undisturbed by the sound of a car or human voice or that of a raucous jay. Other than a few bird tracks, the snow lies pristine.
Late afternoon: The sun is hidden yet one senses that a faint, golden patina is seeping through the pearl-gray clouds to lay a barely visible sun-sheen upon the snow.
I leave the window and look up “La Pie” – “The Magpie” – by Claude Monet. Whenever we go to the Orsay Museum in Paris, I spend a long time contemplating it. I am not the only one who loves this painting. According to the book, it is the most visited of all the paintings in the Orsay which draws millions of people a year. I asked Bill to guess which is the most popular painting in the Orsay and he immediately named “The Magpie.”
It’s a snowscape where a wooden fence and stile, mounded with heavy snow, cast shadows upon the snow in the foreground where there are a few footprints as if someone has stood to survey the scene. The artist, perhaps? Beyond the fence is a building with red chimneys. Snow-laden trees disappear to the horizon of a gray and white sky. The only sign of life is a magpie perched on the stile. Its shadow, also, is cast upon the snow which bears the most delicate faintly golden sun-kisses.
So keen was Monet’s eye, so perceptive was he of the human heart that our worlds match up, and my spirit enters the painting to stand beside his easel where he paints in spite of the cold, wearing several coats while icicles freeze in his beard…
In the “Magpie” Monet encapsulated and preserved for me the memory-mood of every snowfall that I have ever experienced. His vision on canvas summons forth the impressions left imprinted on my mind. Great art gives me entrée into the lives of others and sometimes makes my own visions ever visible, ever accessible, ever fresh. Monet would have been able to paint what I felt while Vicki and I sang Christmas carols as we pulled a wagonload of luminaria candles through the hushed, snow-deepened streets of Irvington, made magical by the light of a full moon…
To anticipate, not the sunrise and the dawn merely, but if possible Nature herself! How many mornings, summer and winter, before any neighbor was stirring about his business, have I been about mine?…It is true, I never assisted the sun materially in his rising, but doubt not, it was of the first importance only to be present at it. So many autumns, ay, and winter days, spent trying to hear what was in the wind… For many years I was self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms and did my duty faithfully…
Henry David Thoreau – Walden
I too, am an early riser and a weather watcher. It was as bright as day outside and the most exquisite snowfall I’ve ever seen – worthy of a Christmas card, lacking only a horse-drawn sleigh. Spellbound, I carried my cup of coffee from window to window.
Across its rounded top the big greenhouse window had a Viennese puff curtain of snow dripping with a fringe of icicles. The bushes were heaped with cotton-candy clumps. Friend Jana said, “You know, there’s something hypnotic about snow. I sat for a long time just watching the flakes come down.”
Each season of my life brings rich days that add new memories to the deep pool of experience that forms the center of my being. That’s one good thing about growing old. One has a trove of treasures that one can access at any time.
Life is circular. Much that happens today has happened in the past and others take pleasure from the same things that have brought me joy. I’m sure that people will be out sledding on the hill at Irvington’s Ellenberger Park. Time was when Bill, the girl Vicki and I would have been there.
Deep down: On a day like this, my Knightstown chum Wanda, and I would have gone out as soon as we’d gobbled breakfast. In those days before nylon and polyester, we bundled up in wool coats, wool leggings worn over our pants, wool mittens tied to a string that ran through our coat sleeves, two pairs of socks, and rubber boots pulled over our shoes.
We’d build a fort and throw snowballs at Rex Mattix or try to make a snowman. We rarely achieved a showman because we rolled the balls so
big that we couldn’t hoist the second ball onto the base. Other times we dragged our sleds through town to the Adams St. hill, waddling because of the thick layers of clothing.
We wouldn’t go home until we couldn’t stand the cold any longer. When I opened the door, I’d be enveloped in the house’s warmth and the scent of Mother’s comfort food. “M-o-o-m, I’m ho-o-me,” I’d call as I shed my sodden clothing that made the house smell like wet wool as it dried. So long ago… so long ago…
And now? And now, remembrance sings its old sweet song and beckons. Perhaps I should borrow a sled and fly down a snowy hill one last time. On second thought, perhaps I shall be content with what’s stored within me and admire the snow from inside my cozy home while a pot of savory soup simmers on the stove. Deep inside me, the child Rose Mary still comes in from the cold and rejoices in the warmth of home and her mother’s home cooking… “Mo-o-m… I’m h-o-me!”