I woke yesterday morning to the sound of a steady rain falling over the rabbit patch. Usually, I have to ignore the lullaby of rain and rush off as if it wasn’t a fine time to rest-but it is the blessed winter break and so I rested. It would have been completely blissful had I not wondered if Christopher Robin was dry.
After tidying up and packing to go to Jennys’ home in Elizabeth City, I paid bills. I detest business of any sort. It is a cold and impersonal task to sort through official papers full of rules and threats. “Pay by this date” or else they all seem to say. I would rather be pulling weeds or cooking, but the bills got paid anyway. I left straight a way to visit with my dear friends, Rae and Jo Dee. Jo Dee barbecued chicken and I think it was the best I ever ate. It reminded me of my grandmothers. Sauce did not always come in a bottle from the grocery store. Rae and I carried side dishes. I must mention that Rae made a sweet potato casserole that was topped with brown sugar and pecans. Rae is known to eat ice cream and cookies, for the majority of her meals. She is a small woman anyways and seems to flutter through life. We tease her relentlessly about her lonely stove and dishwasher, but she pulled this off, and deserves some glory.
Jo Dee, like me, lives in a big farmhouse. There are fields in the front and fields in the back. It is absolutely a beautiful setting. Her house and yard are quiet like mine, and with our children mostly grown, both territories seem empty. Rae lives in a big old house in town. She lives alone and so we are all especially thankful for the friendship we have-We loved each other before our children grew up, and Raes’ husband died-and before our houses became big and quiet. We are anything but, fair- weather friends.
When darkness fell, a cold wind blew in. When wind travels over a vast field, it brings with it, the scent of pine, Rae was surprised at how dark the countyside is at night. Clouds hid the stars I have been bragging about, but ever so often there was a break for Rae to see. We laughed like young girls most of the night and vowed to visit more regularly.
Against our better judgement, Rae left late at night to go home. She is brave like that-I brought pajamas. The countryside, of that community is full of deer. They dart by in herds, at any given moment. There are no streetlights to give warning-but Rae went anyway. She let us know when she got home and so we were able to sleep satisfactorily.
Jo Dee and I had coffee this morning. We talked a lot about God. Her little dog, Georgia listened and yawned like it was a too long “Sunday School” session. Jo Dee had left her Christmas tree up for Rae and I to see-so we sat in its’ light with our coffee and thoughts, while the sun rose over the field. I remarked before I left, that I was as content as I could be. . .and that I was quite thankful for such circumstances .
The weather at the rabbit patch is mild, though it is early winter. Today, I have a few windows up. The air of winter has a clean, fresh fragrance. Often the morning air has a faint memory of woodsmoke from the night before. In the last few months , days have dawned slowly . The silvery fog mutes the suns’ first shine and seems to delay the days’ arrival. Today, dawned brightly-so morning came early.
I am still searching for Christopher Robin, a very young, softly gray colored cat. I do not fully understand the habits of cats. I have heard stories of cats that return after a while. I am so hoping this is the case. His young friend, Moon Shine, seems a bit bewildered and wanders about the farm house, past objects that once enticed him, without much notice. Cash, my loyal boxer seems on high alert and stares out the window, I think, with high expectations.
Late last night, Christian and I searched the rabbit patch high and low. We did not find Christopher Robin-but we heard the pine trees whispering as a light wind blew through them. We stopped a few moments to hear the hushed gentle sound that only a pine makes. The stars were scarce, but they were as big as I have ever seen them. In winter, they are scattered about so that the constellations are easy to find. The starlight was enough to illuminate the old trees-pecans and oaks, the sycamores and sweet gum. There wasn’t a single leaf on any of them. I remembered how I love trees in winter as I looked around.
Christian is my youngest son. His shadow in the starlight, was that of a young man. I couldn’t help but consider that . I know the rabbit patch like the back of my hand, where every root lies above ground-where the wild violets will bloom in April, but realising I was walking with Christian, now as young man, made it seem like unfamiliar territory . I saw the outline of an abandoned nest in one of the old trees right about that time.
We came in without a trace of the where abouts of Christopher Robin. I was glad the night was not harsh, but unusually warm, instead. We remain hopeful, as is our nature in all sorts of circumstances.
I am cooking a “Sunday dinner” though it is Wednesday. The boys went to work this morning and will be glad to see more than my fancy china on the table when they come home. Mama and daddy are coming, too. As the oven performs its’ duty, I am putting the “Christmas closet” back in order. I will place the wrapping paper and ribbon in the corner. The box of tags, scissors and tape will go back in and I will post a new list on the inside of the door to record gifts purchased through out the year. The porch and tree will remain as they are now til Miss Sylvia has her “old Christmas party” in January. In this way, Christmas does not “vanish into thin air” as if a crime had taken place-but has a proper farewell, instead.
This day in winter, like the night before it, has been as mild as May. Though, I can write, no matter the climate, I do not feel inclined to crochet when the sun is shining brightly on the morning table. I hope to finish reading “The Mitford Series” this winter . I am hoping against all odds, for snow, too.
The rabbit patch kitchen smells like a snow has fallen with the ham cooking and string beans simmering-but the open windows tattle that it could be the first day of spring or an Easter Sunday. After supper, I will go out to say good night and lift my evening prayer of thanksgiving for things like A “Sunday dinner” on a Wednesday night in late December, winter trees and seeing my little son become a young man willing to traipse around a rabbit patch on a winter night . . . . looking for a cat.
In late December and in the absence of Christmas, the rabbit patch is most quiet. The children went home yesterday. When the back door shut, I started missing them. I always indulge myself, on such occasions, by sitting quietly in the den and mourning for a while. For many years, I just cried outright and convinced myself that surely I suffered from some mental calamity.
Yesterday, I tried to avoid a ” nervous breakdown”-as folks used to call it. That term, when I was young, covered every sort of condition and mostly affected women. It could be brought on by such things as a flock of children in the house after three days of rain-though it was always the men that were yelling out and seemed in a state of panic. If a woman was caught crying, she was most likely having “a nervous breakdown”. So, in that case , I have had one most every year for a decade now, when Christmas is over, and the children go home.
Christmas was a beautiful affair, altogether. The days before it, I was with Jenny and we made every day count. There was a family gathering and later a luncheon. We shopped and wrapped presents. I came home early, Christmas Eve morning and went to work at the rabbit patch. I cleaned and cooked while the linens were washing. Mama and Daddy came for an early supper and Brant came home later on that night and so waiting for Tres, Kelsey, Jenny, Will and Lyla was more bearable.
The hours progressed in a typical holiday fashion with a sweet fanfare. Christmas night, we always gather at my parents. Christian brought his guitar and Lyla managed to hand out a few gifts-so there were some truly beautiful moments. The most shocking thing happened. I have said earlier that I had started a collection of a Lenox china pattern, Winter Greetings-I soon regretted that as it is entirely too expensive for my budget- and I am almost sixty years old. At the rate I was going, I needed to live much longer than members of the tribal communities in Brazil- My mom and sisters gave me twelve dinner plates! I opened the plates with its’ redbirds and ribbons and was on the verge of tears-My sister, Connie told me several times in the process, that this counted for my birthday too and daddy said I ought to be careful with them. I just kept unwrapping more redbirds with ribbons. I finally said “Now, all the children can get married!” -because now, I had a plate for each. It was a touching and funny moment, looking back.
Yesterday, we shared our last Christmas meal of this year. The sunroom needs a ceiling repair and a bedroom needs a new floor-but my table showed indications, that all was well at the rabbit patch. That table was “set by love” by the women in my family and I may sound vain, but it was beautiful!
This morning, is especially quiet and so I have already planned a strategy to avoid a “nervous breakdown” again, today. I will part with some of my other dishes to make room for that china. I will deal with left over food and I will look for Christopher Robin as he took a “a walk-about” and has never done so before. I looked this morning and saw a lifeless creature in the road. I glanced as it is all I could bare to do. I commenced to crying and vowed I could carry on without him. A neighbor saw me upset, and when I told her the story, she declared to me that what I had seen was not Christopher Robin, but a poor little rabbit. I went out again to the dreadful scene and found she was right. I had been crying an hour over losing the sweetest cat I had ever known, but now, with renewed strength, I will search again and proclaim him a naughty and worrisome companion, when I find him. I will fuss about his poor behavior, when a door is opened . . . . but oh, how, I hope I find him.
I love the days before Christmas. Days pass presenting all sorts of tasks that I find pleasant. There is always one more present to wrap or a new decoration to add to the porch. Occasions are anticipated while the winter sun shines, for gatherings to come, when the silent stars go by.
Jenny and I had a successful shopping spree yesterday. We found several gifts that suited those still on our Christmas lists. Lyla was dressed in an adorable winter white dress-but was barefoot before our first purchase. She never quarreled about anything else, as no matter the direction she glanced, there were lights in all colors. Reindeer grazed around every corner, guarded by gallant nutcrackers and ” there were shepherds abiding- keeping watch over their flocks” too. “Silver Bells”, my grandmothers’ favorite carol, played while we shopped-and all of the other traditional songs of the season, did too. Lyla loves “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night”.
Not long, after arriving home, Jenny and I began wrapping presents. Lyla reminded me of “Moon Shine’, my naughty kitten, at the Rabbitpatch”. She too, snatched any scrap of ribbon and paper . She also snatched chocolates and jewelry. She found her own bedroom shoes and put them on! Jenny wrapped them anyway.
Lyla and I went out to the porch, so Jenny could finish up. The afternoon was mild for December. We watched the neighbors hang more lights. A black cat came to visit and a neighbor brought a box of cookies. Ever so often, someone would walk by and say “Merry Christmas!” It was a nice while, we spent on the porch. I, who find solace in fields, now love sidewalks, too.
Last night, Will’s family came for dinner. They are a delightful lot and handsome too. The women are especially pretty . They are so friendly, you feel like you belong to them right off. Will has a lot of family in Elizabeth City, that means Jenny and Lyla do too. What good that does my heart, to think that all over the town, are people that love them.
Today, Jenny is having a luncheon- and I got up extra early, because of that. We still need to go to the coffee shop and again, to the grocery store. There is candy to be made and we will need to wrap the coffees. Such is the way of life at Christmas time-and the days before it. Many people say, that we ought to keep Christmas in our heart, all year round-and I can agree that the generosity and well wishes should be practiced in all seasons- but some things belong to Christmas, and I mean Christmas only. That is the reason gingerbread is not eaten on the beach in July, nor do we listen to songs about sleigh bells in April. Such things belong to Christmas-and Christmas only.
The “silent stars go by” til at last it will be Christmas Eve, when my children will come home . When I bought the rabbitpatch, a decade ago, a dear friend, knowing my love for all things Christmas, gave me a very old framed sampler. It is is dated 1909 and “Grace” had stitched her name neatly in the corner. It read, “All Hearts Come Home for Christmas”-and of all the wonderful things that happen during the holiday, I think Grace was right. . . and to me it is surely the most wondrous gift of all.
The first day of winter is here, and with it “the longest evening of the year.” I do not begrudge the way of winter. The rabbit patch , like all of the earth has earned the rest that winter offers. Fields lay bare, as they ought to now and trees do not cast shade, but both have served their purpose faithfully. They have fed us and so I can not bring myself to quarrel with either. The cold wind grooms the countryside with an icy hand at times and makes me grateful for the hearth in the old farmhouse.
Schools closed early today and does not resume til after the new year. I came home and wrapped a few more gifts while supper simmered. Moon Shine behaved awfully the entire time. I do not dare let him near the Christmas tree. There is an old french door keeping him out of mischief . I see how he stares through the glass panes and I declare he is plotting . He is a fat kitten with a shining tuxedo, these days before Christmas. It seems a long while ago that he was a wild kitten.
I will spend the first few days of winter, in Elizabeth City. Jenny and I have some shopping left. I do not mind shopping in little book stores , nor looking for fine coffee. My Christmas list is tattered and worn by now. Soon, it will be placed in a scrap book as a record , of sorts. Lyla has already opened “The Night Before Christmas” and tomorrow she will open a little china cup, that Jenny predicts, will not last long.
The truth is, most gifts do “not last long”. Some are used up. Many get scattered about or broken, by and by. Trendy gifts lose their charm very quickly and any sort of gadget becomes out-dated in less than a fortnight. People say “it is the thought that counts” and I have found this to be accurate.
When my grandmother died, Pop, did not know what to do with Christmas. Delores and I were very young teenagers, the year he decided to shop on his own. Delores opened her gift first. It was a set of earrings-and they were ugly. She held one of them up, stunned. They were bold and big. I could not imagine any occasion to wear them and the look on her face caused me to cackle. I finally sputtered something about their beauty and how I couldn’t wait to see her wear them. Delores gave me a hateful look , which tickled me more. Pop, was totally unaware of my amusement-he was upset because Delores had opened MY present! Oh, how swiftly revenge came. Now Delores, was laughing as she handed me the box with deepest regrets. She ended up with a dainty necklace, pretty enough to put on right that minute.
I am older now and have since imagined Pop in the unfamiliar territory of a store that did not sell fertilizer. I wonder how long it took him to pick out our gifts and I am just sure he did put a lot of thought in them. I am also sure he had rather been cleaning out a barn or mowing a ditch bank than shopping. Sadly, I do not know what became of those earrings, but I remember Pop presenting his gifts proudly with a big smile . . . It really is the thought that counts, after all- for that is what has lingered within me. That happened many, many winters ago, when I was young- and before I understood such things.
I woke up this Sunday before Christmas, in Elizabeth City. I am usually the first one to wake, no matter, the roof I am under, and today was no different. I did not stir the first few minutes as “visions of sugar plums” were still in my head. It may as well have been Christmas morning, a long time ago. I woke from sleep under the same roof that Tres and Jenny slept beneath-and I do not know why it made such a difference, but it did. I did not want to break that beautiful spell. If reindeer had been grazing in the yard, it would have seemed quite ordinary-this Sunday before Christmas.
I did rouse, for coffee. I needed to consider breakfast and went to the porch, to do so. Outside, it was April. Christmas lights lit the street and blackbirds were flying-otherwise, I could have declared it was early spring and so I warned the willow, not to be fooled.
Kelsey joined me first. Kelsey is a sweet soul, who helps tremendously, in quiet ways. She tends to tie loose strings, neatly and does not need a bit of fanfare for it. Every family would benefit from having someone like Kelsey to claim as their own.
Jenny came downstairs with Lyla next. Lyla wakes up sweet and mild . She says “good morning” with smiles and gentle hugs . Jenny made more coffee and planned the breakfast. Jenny is a capable young woman and a good homemaker, which to me is noble. She and Will had gone to a sophisticated Christmas party, the night before. I watched her get ready while she gave me details about Lylas’ supper and which pajamas she would wear. Kelsey gave Jenny a fancy hairdoo and helped her to decide what to wear. It did not seem too long ago that Jenny had asked Santa Clause for fried chicken and diamond earrings. I “pondered these things in my heart” as all mothers do.
When the house smelled like bacon, Will and Tres got up. The atmosphere was lively and happy. I was “having a wonderful life” in that kitchen, this Sunday before Christmas-and it seemed to me that before I open the first gift of this Christmas, I can say with certainty, I already have everything, I have ever wanted.
It is that time, when bells are ringing and children are singing. It is the Christmas season, the most wonderful time of the year, many say. It is hard not to declare this a truth, when kitchens smell like cookies and twinkling lights wrap around porches like southern vines.
Winter break begins on Wednesday, and until then, the rabbit patch corners are piled with presents to be wrapped, pretty paper and ribbons and possibly more lights. The “morning table” has a list beside the lamp, which is significant, as I never make a list for anything. . . unless it is Christmas.
Moon Shine, has decided he is a proper house cat now. Maybe, Christmas is a factor. He is the worst thing to wrap presents with. Cash and Christopher Robin are content to nap or watch from a safe distance. Moon Shine is underfoot hoping a scrap of ribbon falls his way-he feels the same way about shiny paper. The scissors have been found in another room altogether because I took a coffee break. Apparently, he does not believe in Santa nor wonder if “reindeer really know how to fly”. He is willing to take his chances, on that. Jenny says the same thing about Lyla.
This morning, I am up early. The Christmas season at the rabbit patch is so far, foggy. The heavy mist with the bare trees gives a wintry picture out the window. If I glance in the direction of my neighbors, I see the glow of their strung lights and think what a lovely card it would make- otherwise, it looks like a scene from “Wuthering Heights”.
Tres and Kelsey are on the way to the rabbit patch, now. We will leave for Elizabeth City, shortly. Will and Jenny have been in their new home just a few months, but Jenny knew where the Christmas tree would be, long before she knew where the sofa and beds would be placed. Today, I will witness her decision and sing “Jingle bells” with Lyla. I look forward to showing Tres our familiar trek by the river and discussing Christmas secrets with Kelsey.
At Christmas, I gather memories by taking great note of such occasions . I hoard them up like something precious, because to me, they are. They are the “stories in the making” that I will tell Lyla and the children to come, in our family. I will deliver them tenderly and with great honor, as in some sense, they are our own”gold, frankincense and myrrh” .