The Christmas gathering that happened yesterday is over now-and another happy memory. As I predicted, Brynn loved the boxes but a doll from her Aunt “Glory”-which is really Delores-did spark a keen interest. Lyla named her aunt so, for she could not say “Delores”. Ryan was adored by all and was content the whole time. Lyla and Dana spent a good while playing. Dana is seventeen, but will “play” with Lyla, patiently. There was enough food left to do it all again.
Now it is “Christmas Eve”-the most enchanting night of the year. Many will attend services tonight, many will be frantically finding that last item in a mad dash effort, many will gather . . .and children everywhere will be especially good, hoping to make amends for past transgressions. . . and go to bed early.
Since the grandchildren were born, Christmas eve is a quiet time at the rabbitpatch. Even when my children, were all grown up, they spent the night here and woke to a special breakfast. That is a beautiful and treasured memory. . . .but I do have others.
Christmas was very quaint when I was young, compared to now, but the recollections are every bit as beautiful. I remember, going to my great Aunt Agnes’ house to sing Christmas carols, while she played the piano-straight from her heart. She would toss her head and nearly dance off the stool as she played.
There was the visit to “Mama Hodges” -my mothers’ grandmother and Aunt Agnes’ mother. This was always a very solemn occasion, as children were to sit quietly, at her house. Your name was called to collect a Christmas card with a five dollar bill in it and say “thank you”. I did not know what to do with money, for I had never needed any and so I always gave it to Mama.
On the Sunday night before Christmas, the church would exchange simple gifts. We would all draw names, weeks before and then meet in the small fellowship hall. How exciting that was to sit and listen for your name and find out who had drawn your name. Upon leaving, each person was given an apple and an orange. This continued til I was a young woman.
Apples and oranges were always associated with Christmas, back then. Delores and I would know Santa had come, when we caught the smell of apples and oranges in the early morning hours. The whole house smelled of them. I asked Mama why, one year, when I was older and she said because when she was a child that was the only time of the year you could get “the out of season” fruit. I did the same thing with my own children, because of that memory.
I have told this before, but it bears repeating. I suppose, it was a lean year that Mama took to sewing non stop, just before Christmas. Mom was a good seamstress and used to make all of our dresses -and her own, when we were young. I got a doll each year at Christmas . . .so did Delores. They were just department store dolls, but since we only got them at Christmas, well, we loved our dolls. We never cast them aside. Instead we ended up with several “children” that got sick, were naughty sometimes that got cold and needed blankets -our dolls were our first children. One year, the dolls came with clothes that matched our dresses! I wondered how Santa did that! Years later, Mam said she could not afford the clothes for the dolls, so she gathered every scrap of material and trim to make the little dresses and bonnets. She told me this years later and it still stings my eyes to remember.
There was the year, my cousin “Cookie” got a pony. We all had ponies in those days. Cookie named her “Rose” and could not wait to join with the rest of her cousins for weekend rides through field and wood. We all went to see Rose that Christmas day. She was a beautiful golden shetland . . with a terrible temperament! She tossed her head and dared to bite and kick anyone who approached her! Cookie was terrified-we all were, but the men were sure that Rose could be tamed. They were wrong. We had to throw apples to her all of her life, for she was that fierce. Cookie rode one of our many gentle ponies, instead on the week ends, while the beautiful Rose grazed haughtily in the pasture.
Everyone had a Christmas tree, They were usually cedars that had been growing somewhere on the farm. The trees were draped in silver tinsel and glass blown ornaments. Bulbs of every color were strung on them and the “bad side of the tree” was always next to the wall. One year Grandmama surprised us all with an “artificial tree”. I can not recall my memories without another account of this for the thing was quite a shock. It was an aluminum tree, like she said the folks in Florida used. Grandmama was so proud of this silver tree. Her face nearly glowed as she showed off this modern prize- I could not say a word. I had never even thought of such a thing. The branches were sparse and the ornaments, which were all the same, were in permanent places. When Christmas was over, all you had to was fold the thing up and put it back in the box. Florida seemed like an odd and faraway place to me, after that and I had no desire to go to a state that couldn’t grow trees!
Every year, we read Lukes’ account of the birth of Jesus. I memorized it word for word by the time I was ten and recited it at school, when I was in the fourth grade. My favorite part was of the shepherds tending sheep when suddenly the sky was filled with angels. I still think how beautiful that was. . . a sky filled with singing angels. As a child, I would peer into the night sky and try to imagine it. . .I still do.
I suppose these simple memories of Christmases past, seem unimpressive and archaic. . .but, to me they are beautiful and beloved and dear to my heart.
School is officially out . . . not just for me-but for everyone now. I did go back to work on Wednesday. Afterwards, I went straight away to the large department store, I try to avoid at all costs. It was a necessary evil, this day. Mama and I were both dreadfully behind on on holiday shopping, and groceries -and the boxer would have gone hungry, after all.
That huge store was filled to the brim. with shoppers. I needed gifts, dog food and things like cabbage. It was all there. So were poinsettias -and pajamas! Hence, a crowd formed of folks who needed anything, for it was all there. Everything moved in a slow motion. There wasn’t a single bar of fine soap in the place, nor a suitable gift for the people on my list. Christmas carols did not chime as I shopped and the scent of soy Christmas candles did not waft in the air. I left with cabbage and the fixings for ambrosia . . .and the dog food.
On Thursday, Daddy had a doctor appointment. It was a follow up from his recent plight with an infection . Daddy did not come through the ordeal with the infection, unscathed. The thing left him weaker physically, than before but, his fortitude does not waver. Neither does Mamas’.
As difficult as this time is, something I have realized, is that this is an extremely significant stretch of my journey . . . for the life of me, I can’t “name” it-but it feels holy. There is so much more to it, than the “care” that both of my parents need physically. now. We are all so accustomed to associate work with money, as our reward or results of our efforts – a pay check or a clean kitchen, something mended . . .but there is a work that does not offer such tokens. There is a time, when all else dims but the authentic purpose before us. I must confess how the “revelation” came about.
One day, I was sitting with Daddy, while Mama attended her appointments and errands. I read a lot as he slept. As the hours passed, I felt restless to “do something”. The house was tidy without a chore in sight. I wondered how my classes were going at school and almost immediately felt ashamed of wondering what to do. I was doing something-and something more noble than anything. Of course, I chided myself for not recognizing the magnitude of that something, and now the things falling to the wayside, can stay right there . . .where they belong.
Now, my beloved Christmas looms right around the corner. We are gathering at my parents’ house on Monday. For years. it has been on Christmas night, but since traveling now involves young children and other families to visit, we opted to gather earlier than usual. Tres come home tonight, in light of that. He will not be traveling light either, as he has rented a moving trailer to begin the task of moving to Elizabeth City. His classes start in January , but in the meanwhile, he will store what he can at the rabbitpatch. There are several vacant bedrooms, after all. I have cleaned the house today and the kitchen smells of roast chicken. There are clean sheets on his bed and Christian bathed the dogs. We always include the dogs when we do a deep cleaning . . .and the cat, Christopher Robin, too . . .but Christopher Robin “high tailed” it, when the boxer got his bath.
Tomorrow, I will spend a good part of the day, cooking and wrapping presents on the kitchen table. . .but tonight I will sleep happily . . for Tres is home.
Sunday dawned clear and cold, just like the days before it. Tres and Christian were up late last night, so only the boxer and I saw the “early service”. A dove shattered the silence and startled me! The cry of the dove, always sounds like an alarm to me. A light patchy frost was scattered on the territory, like old lace. The air was as still “as a church mouse”. A cardinal came to visit. How lovely his red feathers looked against the silver sky.
Maybe this year, I will attempt one more time to feed the birds. Country birds are not nearly as bold as their town dwelling cousins. The plentiful woodlands are their preference . . unless you grow berries, of any sort. The squirrels here are much the same. I must get up mighty early to see a squirrel in the yard. Once in a “blue moon”, it snows here and that is the only time that I know of, that the birds will show up for supper.
Tres left shortly after breakfast, He had errands and a gathering to attend and so, I then, turned my thoughts to preparations for tomorrows’ gathering. I could make the ambrosia today, but not the garlic cheese biscuits. I could make the cabbage filling for the egg rolls, but they, like the biscuits must be cooked tomorrow – I could make the Christmas cake, which required a trip to the grocery. All I needed was a small splash of almond flavoring, but the cake would surely suffer without it. . .and it is Christmas.
About mid afternoon, I ventured out. The grocery was less crowded than I expected. I suspected many shoppers were at that big department store. I made good time and upon arrival at the rabbitpatch, went straight away to cooking. The cake was cooling within the hour. Meanwhile the cabbage filling for the egg rolls simmered. We have never had egg rolls at Christmas. Our tradition has always been to serve hearty hors d’oeuvres . (what a fancy word!) There is always a ham and usually a turkey breast and our favorite sides of heavy dips and deviled eggs, biscuits to fill with ham, and Delores’ candy . . .well we do take the menu seriously. Most years, I have done a vegetable tray without much success and so I eat salads for days. . .hence the egg rolls, this year. Now ambrosia is an old staple on southern tables and most especially, at Christmas.
By the time Tres came back, the kitchen was almost orderly.
There are many ways to “keep Christmas”. As is always true to my nature, I like simplicity . . .even at Christmas. The “world” spends a lot of time trying to convince us that “bigger is better” and that we need more of everything to be happy. I have not found this to be true.
Now, I like wreaths and Christmas trees and thoughtful gifts, that say I understand your heart. I like Christmas cakes . . .and I love carols. I am all for celebrations, but the truth is when someone arrives at our gathering, it will be announced with delight -“Mike and Connie are here!” or “Will and Jenny are here” rings out and folks rush out to greet them. There will be quite a commotion when Brant and Sydney arrive with Ryan, as this is his first Christmas. Mama and Daddy will have a pleased look when we have all gathered. . .and this is the kind of thing, I will love best about Christmas. We will pray together and eat and probably sing later. We will all gather around the tree and everyone will open a gift. Brynn will want the boxes, Ryan will be passed from one set of loving arms to another and Lyla will sneak candy. This is my Christmas . ..my beloved Christmas. . . for I so love the time when ” All hearts come home, for Christmas.”
I did as I said I would . . .and went to bed earlier than usual on Sunday. The phone rang at an unlikely hour, and a sense of dread filled me, instantly. Mama was frantic and all I knew was, that something was wrong with daddy. By the time, I got there, an ambulance was in the yard.
It was a long night. Tests were run. Daddy had an infection and was running a very high temperature. It caused him to shake violently, which was deeply disturbing and downright fearful for Mama and I. Then his blood pressure dropped dangerously low and wouldn’t budge. Daddy was admitted to the intensive care unit, around four am.
In a few days, Daddys’ condition improved. Yesterday, he was moved to another floor, for recovery. His strength is greatly diminished and he still has a “Parkinsons like” condition to battle with. He is a different kind of warrior , these days. It is heartbreaking to watch him struggle as it must be for all children of ailing parents. Sometimes, I find myself remembering who he was and a sense of loss washes over me – and then I realise, he is every bit as gallant today as ever. His movement is slow and calculated. He speaks in a hush. Everything takes more effort, from the simplest of tasks, but he continues with that familiar determination. He has always been a quiet man, and gone about his business without commotion nor the need for fanfare.
I watch Mama tending to him and able to interrupt his needs with precision. Daddy watches her going and comings from room to room, with a look of sheer adoration. If she tarries too long, he inquires about her where abouts.
As a child, I took my parents relationship for granted. They toiled together, as one decade passed after another. A roof was over our heads and supper was always on the table. New winter coats and Sunday dresses and school shoes, birthday cakes and Easter baskets marked the seasons, til we had all grown and flown from our delightful nest, my parents had built in their youth. Mama pinched pennies and Daddy worked overtime and sadly, I never gave this a second thought. Now, every hour is magnified and stirs my heart, for they toil together now, still, with an admirable fortitude and devotion, more and more rare these days.
Everyday, I am humbled, watching the days unfold. To be the child of such a union, fills my heart with gratitude.
Daddy came home, one day-I think it was Wednesday. The confines of a hospital warp my senses. There is little difference between day and night, nor from one day to the next. I made it my business to walk outside each day, in an attempt to “steady the course”. On top of that, it is Christmas and I feared it was the next day several times. I could not concentrate on gifts to be bought nor fancy dishes to concoct. I am sure that I work at a place, where grace abounds, for they only offer assistance and encouragement, when I call in. It is another blessing and not taken lightly.
Once Daddy was home, he improved by the moment. An old western replaced the political turmoil and mindless talk shows that were shown at the hospital, day and night. (I was glad that I had carried a good book.) Home cooked food and rest without interruption, are quite restorative for the spirit. . . so is a dog. “Casper”, Daddys’ snow white and naughty samoyed, was as glad to see Daddy home as the rest of us.
After a few days, when the “dust had settled” and a big pot of soup and pan fried apples were made , I left to go to Elizabeth City. Brant and Sydney were coming with little Ryan and so it was quite an occasion for us. We had all sorts of plans and all of them were good.
On Saturday morning, we somehow had breakfast, “dolled the children up” and headed downtown for a visit with Santa. . .before noon. Ryan could have cared less. He is a mild tempered child and very content. Brynn was unsure about the situation, for she is shy by nature. . .Lyla had a list with three items on it.
We went to a coffee shop afterwards. Since the bookstore was just across the street, I did a little Christmas shopping. Christmas is the only time of the year, that I like to shop. We keep the holiday simple and have never gone overboard, anyway. When my own children were little, they received three gifts each year. It was in sort, a commemoration of the visit of the magi. Extravagance spoils the spirit of Christmas for me. I can scarce expect Lyla to think a moment about the manger in a stable if there are toys galore scattered about the room-no more than I myself could. Whether it is Christmas or not, I do not want her happiness to depend on what she has in possessions, for that is quickly a very deep pit and produces a hollow life.
On Sunday, after breakfast, the children were changed into their matching Christmas pajamas, hair combed and set under the Christmas tree, like the precious gifts they are. Ryan could have cared less, Brynn was unsure and Lyla was on her best behavior . . .because of that list.
I made a pot of potato soup for lunch, at the request of Brant. I put in a very few carrots and a lot of mushrooms. The broth was a golden buttery concoction, thickened with heavy cream. Lyla and I made strawberry brownies after that, for Jenny and Sydney love them.
Before we knew it, Brant and Sydney were packing up for the trip home. I was fixing egg rolls for them and filling containers with the soup, brownies and macaroni and cheese, left from supper, the night before. I consoled myself, with the thought of seeing them next weekend for our Christmas gathering at Mama and Daddys’.
Now, I will make my journey back -over the three rivers , passing the winter trees and twinkling lights in the homes along the highway. The day is clear with a muted light, quite typical for December, in these parts. On the way home, I will go over my newest collection of memories. Brant dancing to Bing Crosby, with Brynn, Will promising baby Ryan that he will always be there for him, Sydney sitting with Ryan, by the fire-just the two of them-Lyla performing a dance to the Nutcracker Suite and Jenny . . . our sweet hostess, tying up every loose end, tending to the needs of others tirelessly . . . and standing with Ryan by the Christmas tree, every chance she got.
Now, it is winter. It matters little to me what the calendar declares, for I know winter when I see it. December was born of a cold wind, which stripped every leaf and a cold rain followed. The landscape is full of bare trees and sunlight falls where it pleases, claiming territory it was denied just a week ago. The sky at night hosts stars the size of silver dollars and the constellations nearly announce themselves. I love winter.
The after Thanksgiving gathering , my children and I created, did not quite go as we had planned. Brynn and Lyla were both recovering from some sort of “bug” that gave them about a week of fevers and a cough. With Ryan , being just two months old, it was just too much of a risk to have him exposed to such a thing. Christian had taken Thanksgiving day off, and because of that, he was denied approval for the days after. . . so we did not have the “full house” we had hoped for. We made the best of it and made plans for another gathering. When we all left on Sunday, we had shared some good meals, Brynn had fallen in love with Tres and Jennys’ house was decorated for Christmas.
This is an extremely busy time, at school. The holiday concert is this Friday night. It is a huge event. Older students have a light show and prepare food. The youngest children play the glockenspiel and sing. Each class performs a song and then the violinists-around two hundred of them- give a concert for the finale. Every day is filled with rehearsals and all sorts of details. There is always a broken string on a violin, it seems . . or a missing hand bell . . or an amendment to the “programs”. . . and yet . . .I took Wednesday off.
For many years, my sisters, and my mom and I had an annual Christmas shopping day. It was always on the first Tuesday in December. As my nieces grew up, they came too. With Daddy, now needing company at all times, and Mamas’ bad knees. we broke the tradition and instead now decorate their house for Christmas. This year, when we all arrived, Mamas’ freezer had stopped working. This caused quite a commotion, right off. By noon, Dana and I had decorated the tree and Connie had come back with a new freezer. After lunch, Hayley and Mama had transferred the food and Delores and I had the garland and bows on the front porch. Connie did the windows and Hayley concluded the effort by hanging a wreath on the garage. We left as the sun was sinking behind the distant woodlands.
Thursday was a whirlwind of a day. By the time, school was over, I realised I was exhausted. I didn’t feel right. My eyes hurt and I felt weak. I dreaded the drive home, for I was sure I would fall asleep! I was in bed before eight and I am not sure what Christian had for supper.
I slept straight through the night-and wished I could have slept more! I willed myself to shower and dosed myself with oregano oil, which tastes so awful, but works wonders. The rehearsal went well, thankfully. I drank as much water as I could stand throughout the day and doubled up on my elderberry. Still, I was tired and was cold all day. I steered clear of people, as best I could. A good many were out with sickness already. I hardly ever fall victim to “bugs”, but I was sure by now, that I could not deny the facts-I was getting sick-and at an awful time!
As it turns out, the concert went beautifully, with little assistance from me. Practice does pay off, I thought -and not just in music.
Practice in general produces habits and I will do well to remember that. Whatever we practice, we tend to become good at and with time, it becomes a natural act. to us. While this idea applies to such things as diet, housekeeping and most every thing else -it also applies to matters of the heart and how we think, which is a most fearsome endeavor, for it is not a bit swift nor easy. It is a worthwhile effort . . .for all that really matters is the contents of our heart.
After the concert, I came home and went straight to bed. Again, I slept through til morning and awoke feeling mostly restored. I wondered how just sleeping could make such a difference. So when I “got my bearings straight”. I set about studying about sleep. Now, I am convinced that sleep is a very important time for us. I have always tried to see how little of it I can abide with. I like to stay up late -yet I also like to rise early. I do not like to nap, for it seems like a waste of my time. I hope you “can teach an old dog new tricks” for I intend to mend my ways.
Tres had orientation in Elizabeth City on Saturday, and so he spent Saturday night at the rabbitpatch. It still seems “too good to be true” that he will be closer to home and Jennys’ neighbor, literally – and right after Christmas! Lyla is very excited, for she has decided that Uncle Tres will teach her about the constellations! Jenny intends to cook for him, and Will is responsible for finding him a house and a part time job . I will be “on call” for housekeeping, errands and any “loose ends”. . . Tres has a fan club, and will not lack support in his endeavor.
All in all, the past week was full of blessings-even, whatever ailed me for a while, was an experience to learn from. The concert was a success and seeing Tres . . .well, that was the “icing on my cake”.