I came to Elizabeth City on Thursday. A light rain fell from a gray sky. Every river I crossed was just alittle more blue than the sky. The detour was still active, and this made the trip a bit longer, but still I managed to get there before twilight.
I have been so busy that I really only knew it was sometime just before Christmas. I was not aware of the date, and as far as what day it was . . .well it was just before the weekend. I had carried my unwrapped gifts with me for Jenny and I have established a tradition of wrapping her gifts together, anyway. I had shopped early and mostly finished, but not a one was wrapped to be given at this particular gathering.
When I saw Lyla and Brynn, it felt like Christmas time.
On Friday, Jenny and I ventured out. Both of us had some loose ends to tie up. Lyla was the perfect child companion on this day and not one doll caused her to have a single unpleasant moment. Brynn is usually content -as long as she has her mama. So, we all had a nice outing and found most everything on our list.
We wrapped presents most of the afternoon. Lyla and I made gingerbread cookies, which turned out soft and tasted as good as any I have ever had. We used a cookie stamp, for the first time, which does sound so simple, but we decided more practice was needed. By the time Brant and Sydney arrived, supper was ready and their presents were under the tree. Daddy had a good day, so all was well on this day.
Tres and Christian were arriving on Saturday, so when I woke, it seemed like a special morning. After Breakfast, Brant Sydney and Will, went out to finish up their shopping. Jenny and I wrapped more presents and did some housekeeping. I had to go the grocery too. The place was mad with folks rushing and the store was out of many things. It took twice as long as usual, but I came out with everything on the list. I got the last of the rutabagas , the last of the string beans and the last of the pineapple. No matter how hectic the store was, there were plenty of smiles and if you but caught the eye of a fellow shopper, you were greeted with a “Merry Christmas”. As soon as I got home, I started peeling the rutabagas, for that is a long and tiresome task.
Tres and Christian got in just after dark. Brant was installing some projection lights on the house, much to the delight of Lyla . . and me too. Tres had bought some too and so the uncles set about to get the things connected. It was so lovely, that folks slowed down or stopped altogether, to look. All the while, those rutabagas cooked. I had a pot of the beans simmering and finally added some pork chops, which made a good combination. We had a late, but good supper . . .and then Jenny wanted to open our freshly wrapped presents.
Lyla gave out the presents and announced who they were from. She never once opened her gifts or asked about them. Brynn watched in amusement . Lyla finally opened her own gifts and the whole affair ended on that note. While we were cleaning up, I remembered a gift for Tres, that was nowhere to be found. We searched high and low. It was in Lylas’ closet. I suspected she had something to do with it. She wanted the reindeer bag for herself, as it turned out. Previously, all of the figurines from the nativity were missing. Lyla told me they had all left and that was her explanation. Jenny found them in a teapot, creamer and every available cup, later.
It was a late night for all of us. I had somehow kept up with Mama & Daddy. Mama was very tired, but otherwise, things were good. I went to sleep without the gumption to even pray. I simply hoped the best for everyone.
Sunday was the conclusion of our gathering. Parting always makes me sorrowful-and even though we will gather again, Christmas night, I dreaded ending this beautiful time. We had breakfast and then, Lyla and I baked Scottish shortbread cookies for Sydney to carry with her. Christian played his guitar while we made the cookies and Lyla sang along.
I made a pot of vegetable beef soup for lunch and then Brant and Sydney had to leave. Brant, has as hard a time as I do with good byes. No one is ever ready for it to end. We are a soft lot for one another and seem bound internally. Lyla was sad to see them go, and so when Christian asked me the time we were leaving, she said “Oh no! not you too!” When we do all leave, Jenny says Lyla will say forlornly, “I miss Uncle Brant, Uncle Tres, Honeybee . . .until we are all named, one by one.
I helped Jenny wrap the rest of her presents and noticed I was feeling “off”. There were a number of culprits to blame and I was too tired to decipher which was the cause. Reluctantly, I decided to leave early enough to get a good nights sleep and consume as much elderberry as I could.
Christian and I had a nice drive home. The sky was spectacular and we both loved the winter trees. I have not really spent a bit of time in weeks with Christian and so I made the most of our drive home. Some of my best conversations are with Christian. Of course, we share the same views of life and agree on most everything. It was a sweet consolation to depart with him.
I half expected my dog, Cash to bark when I saw him. He was joyfully prancing about instead though, and neither he nor my cat, Christopher Robin, seemed to be holding a grudge despite my long absence. I had missed them both and it cheered me to see them. Christian unloaded the car and I started a load of laundry. The kitchen table was full of all sorts of things -none of it was food. I do not like such disorder, but decided I could stand it for a night. I took a dose of elderberry and called Mama.
Christmasis a favorite time for me. It is bright and merry and even the hard hearted are apt to be more tender at Christmas. I love exchanging gifts, though I do not fall headlong into the exaggerated commercialism. I think big spending, for the sake of the holiday, robs us all of peace and dims the meaning of Christmas. Lyla will receive three simple gifts from Santa, in keeping with the gifts of the Wise men. Even “Santa” is introduced much like a fairy tale. Still Lyla will toss reindeer food on the lawn and listen for sleigh bells.
There is something about Christmas. I cannot justify why I love gingerbread mostly, at Christmas. I love the traditional, old fashion music and have yet to like any of the modern songs. The house ought to smell like pine or cedar – and fruit, which makes no sense as fruit is readily available in all seasons now. I embrace these traditions and look forward to this season, really, all year . . . But Christmas is a holy time for me, first and foremost. It is too easy to lose sight of this, with all the fanfare, but far from impossible. There is room for trimming the tree and making cookies, and tying bows on gifts for loved ones. . .for all commemorate the joy of the season. It is no wonder to me that ” All Hearts Come Home for Christmas.”
Since Will mailed the Christmas Cards this year, but forgot to use stamps . . .here is what could have been . . .
There is good news . . . Daddy came through his surgery beautifully. The thirty minute prediction turned out to be over an hour underestimated, so we were all feeling anxious, for a while. We did not say a word about it, but my sisters eyes met mine and we didn’t have to utter a sound. We caught up on the lives of our children and traded recipes. We talked about Christmas and Hayleys’ upcoming trip to Las Vegas. We talked about Lyla and Brynn – and I told them about the magic solution to get chocolate out . . til finally it was over. After we saw daddy, we were totally convinced all was well and began calling to let loved ones know, the good news. On the way home I wondered what will I think about now?
For months, I have had a lot to think about. None of these things were small either. I remember, that when the summer was rolling peacefully along, I had a slight bit of intuition that things were about to change. . .and I was right. Intuition is just never wrong. My brother in law, Mike says his mother, knows everytime he has ever been injured before he tells her! She even knows whether it is his ankle or hand! My intuition pales in comparison to that-but still I knew things were getting ready to “break loose”. Daddy was diagnosed with a serious muscular condition, I found a cottage, the sale of the rabbit patch was on and off til finally off altogether, there were several car issues and the Holiday concert and on and on it went. My simple diary became accounts of complications. Thank Goodness, for things like quiet pastures and laughing rivers-for they made a difference.
None of us are so privileged , as to escape calamity. I kept putting things in perspective and sorting out priorities, to maintain some sense of balance til here I am today, with at least some things resolved. When friends would ask “well, what are you going to do about this or that?” I would often say, “I will think about that tomorrow.” And I meant it, for each day held something that seemed to need immediate attention. This is why I found such comfort in things like fields and woodlands – and quiet pastures, that remain steadfast and do not yield to human circumstances .
Rain fell all night and continues this morning. Daddy had a good night, but is raising a fuss about getting out of that confining hospital. Mama and Delores spent the night, so I supposed they feel the same way. I am cooking a pot of soup and another pot, of chicken and pastry, to carry over, hopefully today, if Daddy does “break out” -as he put it.
Some day I will need to wrap Christmas presents, but today I am catching up from being gone for several days. I will not put a tree up this year. It is just not a priority, in light of the circumstances. There is a wreath on the front door and the little surprise tree, from Mama and Delores. Besides, I have helped put up two trees already . . and I just lack the drive to find the boxes, anyway. My children and I are having a Christmas gathering at Jennys’ and then we all gather again at Mama and Daddys’ on Christmas evening. Jenny and I have high hopes for things like toffee and a big pot of hot chocolate- french toast – and we haven’t even ask the boys yet. They will ask for things like rutabagas-Will will want beef stew and Lyla will want more cookies. Of course, we will play carols and Lyla will tell the Christmas story, so rest assured that I will have plenty of Christmas Cheer, with or without a tree. Christmas is as much a “feeling” to me, as it is anything else.
I do not know when Jesus was born, and it may have been spring, as some experts think. For me, it is of little consequence, for as I told Lyla, we are celebrating the birth of Jesus, who came to show us how to love -and how to help others.
The soup was done, by the time the doctor came in with the news, that it was likely, Daddy would need to stay another night. He took it better than we expected. Delores lives in Raleigh and wanted to attend my nieces’ recital, so I plan to spend tonight at “that confining place”, myself. My youngest sister, Connie was spending most of the day there-in fact, she brought cheese biscuits for breakfast for everyone. This has of lately become her habit, and none of us are sorry for it.
Things sure can take a turn. It is Monday, and Daddy is still in the hospital. In some way, we all are! Mama has only left to shower and take care of necessities. I have spent the last two nights and Connie joins us in the day. A fever, confusion and breathing problems came all at once and spawned this change of plans, but alas, daddy seems on the mend -and almost “out of the woods”. I am thankful, that things have come this far, but I will say, that a hospital is the last place to expect rest. Protocols are my least favorite topic, now and for goodness sake, do not go there alone. It has been “first one thing, then another” as of lately.
It is impossible to read much more than a paragraph of anything, at a time and by the time you get back to it, you will need to reread it again to have any recollection. Writing is next to impossible for, interruptions are so common, I have come to expect them. I can not believe this environment is conducive to healing, at all and in fact I think I am likely to come down with some sort of mental ailment, myself, for I am most suited for a quiet and peaceable life”, it seems.
Daddy sleeps in spurts and at any given moment, allowed. He wants to go home, and talks about it often. He misses his dog “Casper” especially.
We were expecting to go home on Tuesday morning and we were all looking forward to it. . . then everything changed . . .again. Another concern arose in the middle of Monday night and cancelled the prospects of a morning release. All hope is not yet lost for today, but it will certainly not be in the morning.
I have been taking a lot of walks as often as I can. I have grown quite familiar with all of the little nooks and crannies of the facility. I also know that not one window has a decent view of anything remotely natural. . .unless you crane your face upwards, which always helps, anyway. I suspect that a small garden view would do wonders for patients . . and a peaceful hour.
There are a lot of friendly people roaming the hallways. Many are volunteers and I think how nice it is to see this. I wonder if I might do something like that one day. . .along with my “little library” and a happy lemonade stand. Dreaming doesn’t cause a bit of harm.
Daddy came home on Tuesday evening. He was as “happy as a lark” . . well, we all were -especially Casper. The countryside was still and quiet and I knew, this was good medicine for Daddy. We carried all of the parcels in and made a heaping pile in a corner, and vowed to tidy up in the very near future, but for now, we all sat quietly and let the peace of “home” wash over us.
On Wednesday, we woke, and had breakfast. We had rested well -and it was a good thing, as the day slipped by in a lively manner. Good friends showed up early and brought old fashioned fudge and home made peanut brittle. Before they had left and driven a mile, a physical therapist came by to perform an evaluation. My Aunt Christine, Uncle Gene and cousin Gena came just after the therapist left. While they were visiting, Daddys’ brother called to say he was just a few minutes away. This happened all day and we ended up with fruit, bread, chocolate, a pecan pie, pimento cheese and chicken salad! We shared everything with everybody and so it was like an endless buffet, of sorts. Neighbors, Jeff and Karen were the grand finale of the day and what a finale! Jeff told us his own version of his hospital stay. His room was next to the helicopter landing pad! We laughed at his description of that noise and decided we had the lesser of the evils, after all. Karen, gave us a concoction of nuts and all sorts of things like cereal and pretzels, seasoned her own unique way. It is the best, I have ever had. People call this snack, “Christmas trash”, which I do not like especially when words like “medley ” sound so much more fitting. . .and are available. At the end of the day, We had all gotten a full dose of medicine in the form of generosity, laughter and love-and we were better for it.
I woke early on Thursday. I have missed seeing the sunrise. My routine has been most eratic and a far cry from normal. I found out yesterday, that today is Thursday. I am supposed to go to Jennys’ today. Jenny had a fancy party to go to in Virginia, but even that has changed. Jenny has a sinus infection and so now I will go to take care of her. . . and the babies. My sisters are working on some arrangement between them, for Mama and Daddy.
My own children are supposed to join me in a day or so, for a Christmas gathering. I did the bulk of my shopping throughout the year, but not a one is yet wrapped. I have several, not yet bought, but Christmas will come, anyway, so it seems I am now in a rush. Under normal circumstances, this would rattle me, but in light of this last week, I will not complain.
I have said it before, but it bears repeating, “plans” have never done me much good. It seems my lot, is “to walk by faith, and not by sight”. One way or another, I am going to understand this lesson. The last six months are proof of that. We read that verse, and may claim it, yet to truly live it, seems unnatural to humans. It is not an effort for the faint of heart. I think it takes the “wisdom of Solomon” to find that fine line of doing what we can and ought to, and then accepting what transpires.
In some ways, this is a very liberating concept. Not an ounce of worry, has ever made a difference in any outcome. . .and besides that, I do not have an imagination wild enough to dream up the prosperity I have known nor such a beautiful substance as has made up my life.
I came to Elizabeth City, Tuesday evening. I was determined to be there before dark, as I am not prone to drive after dark-and it is not just because I am older. I have never fancied driving in general, not even in youth and never after dark. I went to work, went to an appointment for Daddy and encountered a detour, but I was there by twilight, anyway.
Lyla was in a Christmas program at her preschool, and I had missed it last year. I wanted this memory for my collection and so it was worth what it took to get here. Besides that, Brynn, being an infant, is changing constantly. I can no longer imagine life without her. She is a calm, baby and a beautiful one too. The sweetest thing is Lyla has never harbored one iota of jealousy against Brynn. They are the dearest little pair, for Lyla is quite attentive to her little sister and Brynn smiles about it.
The program on Wednesday, was a nice affair. The children wore their “Christmas best” and sang songs like “Away in a Manger” and recited rhymes that began “Wisemen came from way afar . . .” and “Let us spread some Christmas Cheer”-Well, it was a wonderful way to spend an hour. Afterwards, Lyla decided that Brynn should have a manger too – and a box and a blanket would do, just fine.
Jenny and I managed a little bit of shopping, afterwards. It was very hard on Lyla, for she so wanted a certain doll and could not bear to leave it there. She was not worried about an elf reporting her mischief, or that the “sweet baby Jesus” would not forgiver her. Lyla, thankfully, did not cause enough of a ruckus to set off an alarm, but Jenny spent a fair amount of time, whispering in Lylas’ ear.
When we got home, Jenny went out again to complete her errands. Brynn wailed for a few minutes, but then then drifted off to sleep. Lyla and I made cookies and I am glad to report the results were just perfect. Once again, fortitude paid off, for my quest to be a baker of cookies fit to eat, is being realised, at long last. A “Honeybee” ought to be able to make cookies , at least.
Will and Jenny had plans to attend a celebration honoring a friend, Sarah, who recently got her Masters Degree. Will was especially tired and ended up staying home with the children and I. It was a wonderful time. Brynn was quite content with her daddy and so Lyla, and I were watching the Polar Express. Lyla had never had hot chocolate and so I made her a cup of the homemade kind. It was a peaceful happy evening . . .until just before Jenny walked in the back door. Brynn, for some reason, started crying, Jennys’ very old dog, did not make it to the backdoor, but before I could tend to that, the entire cup of hot chocolate somehow escaped from the sealed cup -and on to the couch. It was terrible mess and Brynn was crying all the while. What a commotion erupted at just the wrong moment, and all at once. Will was walking with Brynn, and stepped right where the dog had her mishap and so he yelled out, too. I was scared senseless at the sight of the sofa-well, we all were. Jenny took Brynn and I hurriedly mixed up a batch of stain remover (peroxide and soap) and went to work on the sofa. Jenny quieted Brynn and it wasn’t long before peace was restored, though we all were worse for the wear and tear. . . .and yes, the chocolate came out.
On Thursday, I gave Lyla my Christmas gift. I know it was early, but I thought it best she have it as she waited for Christmas. I gave her a nativity, suitable that she can handle the little figurines and “tell the story”. She was delighted and took great note as I used the pieces to tell her the story. I have been telling her about the first Christmas for weeks, adding more details each time. Of course, if you walk in the door, you are likely to “hear the story” before you can sit down. When Will came in, Lyla insisted he listen before he put his brief case down. In the midst of the shepherds arriving, Lyla noticed a switch on the stable and what a pleasant surprise, to see the thing light up!
Daddy has surgery scheduled for Friday. The surgery itself, is not the least bit complicated, but as we all know, there is no such thing as “minor surgery” when it is your father. Daddy is eighty three, after all and so we are all a bit anxious. On account of this, I am leaving early on Friday morning . I will cross the three rivers and drive past the resting fields, and wait with my mom and sisters for the thing to be over.
The concept of having a family and what it means, becomes clearer, as we age. We enter as babies and grow up with their rules and values. As children, expectations are set for us to live up to. We are taught how to behave , under all conditions. We are given habits and our thoughts are shaped as the elders see fit. Then there comes that time, when we all naturally want independence from all of it -and them. We entertain foreign notions and may want to act differently than we were taught. We are likely to quarrel and feel inclined to establish our own ideas. . . . when we hardly know a thing, actually. . . .Then we get older . . and find out . . .they were mostly right about everything.
It is a wonderful and spectacular thing to grow up loved. To matter deeply to others. To be provided for and to be taught how to live. Right or wrong, that kind of devotion ought not be taken lightly. If we live to be old, we realise deeply what a family is and what it means to belong to our people and for them to belong to us.
And so . . . I will wait thankfully, with my family for a person, that binds us all more tightly than we could have ever imagined in our youth. . .and I will claim them every one -proudly.
Christian has to be at work, long before the crack of dawn. I am an early riser, whether I am working or not, so Christian did not mind, waking me this morning . . .for there was snow on the rabbit patch! For just a little while, fluffy flakes fell, til a few inches had accumulated. People either love or hate snow, in the south. I love it. Now, this bit of snow, is expected to be a very short lived affair and it just may melt not long after morning light. A cold rain is expected to follow, after all, so I sprang out of bed to see the wonder of snow falling.
It was hours before daylight, but I could see the territory was covered and snow was falling in big fluffy flakes. I knew Mama would not be so amused, as she is not a fan of snow. I love it. That is the thing about snow, in the south . . .people love it or hate it. I have never met anyone neutral on this subject. The aftermath is mud and it is a messy affair – and woe to housekeepers because of that-but I will bear a dirty floor, for a few hours of wonder.
As soon as daylight came, I went out to survey the landscape. The pines were frosted and I found them beautiful. The fields and the woodlands behind them, were fit for a postcard . . .surely not even Mama, could deny that. To walk in “woods filled up with snow” is an almost holy experience. Oh, I regretted not splurging on some snow boots, almost immediately.
Now, all you have heard about the south and snow is true. I expect, even churches will close today. Most small towns, do not have snow plows. If they do, that is of no consequence to country dwellers, for we rely on the farmers to clear out roads. Besides, only a few souls are brave enough to venture out. Country roads, are often lined with woods causing patches of ice to cover the road. This is what causes the madness at the groceries in the days before a prediction of snow. As far as I know, no southener has ever starved during a snow storm. Besides, stores and businesses often close altogether, in the event of snow.
There was only a slight chance of snow, today. That is all there ever is, for us. Once years ago, snow was forecast with certainty. In light of that, my dear friends and co-workers, Rae and Jo Dee, and I decided to spend the night together, for school would be closed, after all. We bought a lot of the junk food, we considered forbidden-and stayed up late. Of course, I was the first to wake the next day, and immediately went to the window to see the snow. I shrieked in horror “It didn’t snow!” I may as well have screamed “fire!” for a ruckus ensued. We were scrambling with such a confusion, looking for shoes and clothes to wear. We never did that again.
By mid morning, a cold rain was falling. The wind blew and so the pines whispered. I put on a pot of “Great Northern” beans, for they take a long while to get done, if cooked slowly, as they ought to be. I baked bread too, for I always cook when there is any sort of storm. Since this was the first snow of the season -and it may well be the only snow, as well, I could not make “snow cream”. First snow is considered dirty, for it cleans the air. Fact or fiction, my elders drilled this in my head and so I must hope, it snows again.
I was delighted, that a favorite old movie was on. “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” is a sweet, “happily ever after story”. There was also “Jane Eyre” later on. I did a little housekeeping while the wind howled and the rain fell in big droplets, steadily. There wasn’t a bit of snow anywhere by mid afternoon. By three o’clock, I turned a lamp on. The wind and rain had increased and seemed to have joined forces.
Sunday, was full of fanfare. At times, I was busy, and at times I rested. I went over my Christmas list and “checked it twice”. The laundry basket is empty and the floors are clean. The burdens of last week had no bearing on me, this day. It was as if the wind had swept them far away, along with everything else, not nailed down. I felt as steadfast, as the old oak just outside the window, by the “morning table”. Suddenly, it dawned on me that storms of all sorts, pop up , full of a rage, loud and threatening. They rearrange all in their path – and though they may cause the oak to tremble, the old tree does not fall.
On Monday, there was a two hour delay for schools. I suspect the streets in towns were flooded. I was up at my usual time -early. The air was still, so the pines did not whisper, The mockingbird did not sing, either. A light rain fell and was the only sound breaking the silence of the morning. Hearing the steady tapping rhythm, of the raindrops on the leaves, was very calming and provoked a comfort, that could be felt, deeply. The delay afforded me the pleasure of listening to this earthly lullaby. Mornings are very important to me. In some way, they seem to affect the rest of the day, thus I do what I can to live my mornings pleasantly and peacefully. Some mornings, I awaken and will immediately, stump my toe and then predictably will spill coffee -on those days , I simply get still . . .and start over. It seems to break the spell, often. I have often wondered why things happen in threes, but they always do, hence I stop at a series of two, if allowed.
I came home and began my chores, as I always do. I do know I intend to pick out heavier clothes for tomorrow, for that cold rain is still falling. The misty drizzle of the early morning became downright rain while I was on the way to work and it has been raining ever since.
This week is already looking as if it will be a busy one too. Lyla is in a Christmas program at her preschool on Wednesday. I am packing tonight, to attend. Daddy has an appointment on Friday, so I want to be back home for that.
I have not been busy unpacking the seventy-five boxes roosting in every corner of the farmhouse. “Hope does spring eternal” for me, it seems. I have not yet formed much of a plan, but that will make itself known, at some point. The shock, of it all has dulled, to the point that I no longer feel curious about why this happened. I think we are all so used to having a sensible explanation for things. Not every answer is clear cut, though. Not every predicament will ever make total sense. This earthly journey has many a twist and many a turns, and sometimes we are in a blind spot.
We also, live at a time, that we are used to getting what we want, mostly quickly. I can not even imagine that my Mama waited til Christmas to get oranges, as a child. “Waiting” has become a lost art, but even in our modern world, sometimes we must just wait. I will be the first to say, that waiting is difficult and must be handled delicately. I wish that things had gone smoothly and as planned. So, I am also reminded, that we are not going to “like” all of the outcomes.
There I was on the brink of a new way to live, one I desired highly and the whole thing crashed like a fragile house of cards, all at once. (There is so much more to this story, besides a house sale, not going through. ) I really had tried to to do things right and make every accommodation, when needs arose and yet, it all happened anyway. I have muddled through all of this and have found myself quite juvenile. My daddy used to say “You are old enough to know better!” when I had committed some childish crime- or behaved poorly, when I didn’t get what I wanted. Those words ring true today, right now. I am old enough to know better.
So, in light of all this, I will wait with all of the grace, I can muster. The seventy-five boxes lurking here and there do not mock me, but instead implore me to have hope. Besides, my collection of treasure increases in abundance with each day that passes, with each step of the journey. My children have surrounded me and filled the wellsprings of my heart. . . friends have tended to me with diligence and loyalty, for I have no “fair weather” friends. My parents are as dependable as they were in my childhood. How can one complain, under such circumstances? I came across a mere “bump n the road” and needn’t be gloomy, which is really not a bit of fun. . . and it is Christmas. . . . and by golly . . . . it snowed!
Sometimes one day turns into another, in an ordinary fashion. I strive to have as many of those as I can. I take great pains to live a mostly leisure life, where things like supper , are the occasion of the day. I love a “quiet and peaceable” life. . . None of that happened this week.
First of all, it was the week of the “Holiday Concert” at school. This is a busy and exciting week, for all of us. The classes learned winter songs from ten different countries. Then, there were the violinists, at least one hundred of them, played carols. The older students, also decorated the campus with lights and served hot chocolate, cotton candy and cookies. It was all lovely and everything turned out beautifully, but it was an incredibly busy week.
For eighteen years, my mom, sisters and I have gathered the first week of December for a shopping trip. We have been joined by my nieces, Hayley and Dana, since they grew up, too. This year, we changed things up. We did not want daddy alone, for that long of a day and Mama who takes great pride in her decorations, had not even really started, save the mantel. This year, we all met early, at their house for breakfast and plans to decorate. Dana and I decorated the tree. Connie and Hayley, worked on the porch and Delores created Christmas scenes throughout the house. By noon, I was frying the cornbread, that Delores loves. A large pot of brunswick stew was simmering and everyone took a turn, chopping the slaw, for that will wear you out. Connie brought her home made barbecue, for the main dish. Since Delores and Hayley had December birthdays, Mama made a chocolate cake from scratch for Delores and a lemon meringue pie, for Hayley. It was quite a feast. Brant came for the meal, which thrilled me. He carried stew and some of the left over sweet potato pancakes, from breakfast, with him when he left.
Dana sketched, and was good company as I cleaned the kitchen. Dana had cleaned up after breakfast and since she is quite an artist, and always has a sketch pad, I asked her to draw a rabbit. It was adorable and I remain impressed with her ability. What sweet memories she and I made this day, decorating the tree together, and spending time together, in a kitchen.
Connie, being known as a hard worker, rallied us to tackle the yard, next. Hayley, like me does not like to rake leaves, but agreed, it was better, in good company. When we left, the whole place was orderly and little lights twinkled. Ribbons and garland , and wreaths proclaimed Christmas in the clean yard, too.
On Wednesday, I received a message that the sale of the rabbit patch, was not going through. Even, as I write this, now days later, I am still shocked. The message was short and final, and I felt a great many emotions, all at once. I still do not know what happened – or why. Instead of concentrating on the missing information, I decided to to think about what is next and trusted that “next” would surely be better. Still, I had the dreaded task, of telling my children. I knew Brant and Tres would be terribly aggravated and that Jenny and Christian would be hurt. Kyle would take it best, but he would be disappointed for me. . . and truly, all of us would be terribly disappointed. I worried for the people, I was buying the cottage from, and what this would mean for them. But, I had to prepare myself quickly, for Christian was home, when I drove in the yard, that day . . . and somehow, there was a small Christmas tree shining through a window.
Mama and Delores, were quite concerned that I would not be decorating for the holidays, and like little Christmas fairies, had slipped in the farmhouse and placed a table top tree in the den. Christian was happy for me, as they all know that I love Christmas, especially. (My decorations are all packed up, as I was expecting to move during Christmas break.) I decided to delay my news, as I could not spoil the goodness of the moment.
That night, I thought a lot of things, in the light of the little tree. I remembered the details of this six month ordeal. I knew the blunders now, of my lack of “business” sense and declared not to repeat those same mistakes. I was annoyed that it had taken six months and then fell apart in a day. I felt a sense of loss and yet not hopelessness, as so often accompanies an unrealised dream. I was not sorry, that I had dreamed. I did not feel defeated, though I did feel weary. I simply could not feel angry, for I had prayed fervently, for the right thing to happen. I am not yet at liberty, to tell the whole story, but rest assured a lot of wonderful plans were dashed. So many thoughts were jumbling around, yet I managed to maintain a peace, though at times, it was shaky. “Things work out for a reason” and “The best is yet to come” and “God works in mysterious ways” -all crossed my mind, in intervals, through the chaos of my thoughts. Finally, I cried, not because, I did not believe any of that, but because, I was saddened. I realised too, I was “sick and tired” of the harrowing last six months. I was ready to put that behind me, after all. Sometimes, “No” is the answer, to a prayer.
The task at hand, was to show my children what to do with disappointment, for I can not spare them of that. Really, when I thought about it, I was disappointed because I had concocted a goal for myself, that apparently was not in my best interest, at this particular time. Other than, my lack of business, I had exercised grace and fortitude . Now, I had to show them recovery, which in this life should be a highly desired skill, for we all need that at times. I had to take that “blessed high road” again.
When at last, I did bear the news, things turned out as I expected. Jenny was sad and Christian was too. The boys were highly disturbed and Mama cried. It was awful and in some way, I felt guilty of creating this calamity.
I have no clue, how I will afford to make repairs to this old house nor how I will maintain the land and barns. These are very real concerns for me nearing the age of sixty. “Starting over” on your own, lacks the luster, it has in youth. Just finding a job, at this age is a predicament, in itself. Against the odds, I still believe that it will work out. I have not unpacked a single thing. Against all odds, I still entertain lofty notions though, I am waiting, again, this time for clarity, about how to proceed.
I have a beautiful life, right now today. First and foremost, a little King was born and became my own, and I declare now, that “He does work in mysterious ways!” I have the dearest family, a heart could ever hope for. I have loving and loyal friends – and on and on I could go . . and so, it is hard to be downcast, for long. Instead, I await for something more, than I could have hoped for and until then, I will live my beautiful life, and make repairs as I can.
I will love the winter twilight and the stark beauty of bare trees, I will watch the moon rise over the old barn and the sun set over a resting field, turning it a coppery , gold in the process. In the mornings, frost will shine silver and sparkle in the first light. I will bide my time, listening to the pines whisper and the blackbirds chatter -and watch for that silver lining, in good faith.
The first day of December has dawned, quietly and subtly. The world simply got light . . and while it did a mockingbird sang. I have not heard a mockingbird or any bird sing, in a while. The chatter of blackbirds, while cheerful, does not “hold a candle” to the sweet melody of the mockingbird. I stopped everything and listened. With the air, being so mild today, it could have been a morning in April. I do not know why, but tears filled my eyes. I did not realise, until that moment, that I had missed the morning song of birds, so much. I love the winter and welcome it with my whole heart. I especially love December and Christmas time, but I did remember spring while the mockingbird sang, and felt “homesick” for a spring morning.
I couldn’t help but think of the poem, “I Heard a Bird Sing” by Oliver Herford. I loved it the first time, I read it, and had the children memorize it. Today, I lived this verse. My day was started with a little bit of wonder.
Housekeeping is on the agenda today. You can not “run the roads” and do much of anything else. I also plan to cook. There are several long overdue tasks besides the usual chores. The territory is an awful state and with rain in the forecast, today and tomorrow, it will remain so. I am quite sure the neighbors have given up all hope of my recovery – and with the community being full of such tidy folks . . . what a disappointment, I must be just now. Some day, I will redeem myself.
I put the windows up, though I am thinking that will be a short-lived affair. Still, I have always done so if the opportunity arises . . even in December. On a leap of faith, I packed up my spring and summer clothes . . .just in case, I really am moving. I am quite a minimalist, by nature and so, it didn’t take long.
It was one of those timeless days. where the light does not change, as the hours pass. It could have been anytime,when Christian came in-but it was only noon. I was washing linens and shared my lofty plans for the rest of the day, with him.
I had mixed up a batch of shampoo for Cash and Christopher Robin and so I started on that project. They were neither happy, but both tolerated their bath, well. I looked out the window by the “morning table” and noticed how still the countryside was. It certainly seemed, that the weatherman was right about rain coming in. It dawned on me, that this would be a good day to burn the garden -and so I did. I am not good at starting fires, no matter what I have in my arsenal, but at last, I managed a small flame. I burned til the rain came. I at least, had a good start. I removed the autumn wreath from the back door, as I came in.
The rain fell at a steady pace. It was the perfect kind of day, to start a new book -and I had one. . .“Elizabeth and Her German Garden” , so it was very tempting. I knew if I started it though, that I would not accomplish another thing, for I get hopelessly drawn in to books and do not even want to stop to eat. (Mama is the same way.) I laid the book aside, and placed a stack of bills, on top of it. That would keep me on task, as it is time to pay bills . . and I dread it. I am on a shoe string budget, first of all and sometimes, I think, I have spent a good deal of life , just trying to keep the lights on!
I was putting away laundry and it was suddenly dark. It was still raining, too. I was too tired to face the bills, hence, I did not start my new book. I went to bed early, after a supper of left overs, for I am cleaning out the freezer . . .just in case.
I was up long before the sun, on Sunday. The rain had tapered off to a mere drizzle. I made coffee – and opened the bills. After calculating my predicament, I was very thankful, that most of my Christmas shopping was done. Recently, all sorts of things outside of the budget had arisen. There was a hefty fee for extending the contract on the cottage and then I took the car for an oil change and ended up having two new tires put on. One of the tires was in such awful shape that I cringed when I saw it. I must pay better attention, I decided.
Now every month, for most all of my adult life, somehow, I have “kept the lights on”. Sometimes, I have dreamed of winning the lottery, but chances are mighty slim, as I do not play. Sometimes, I think, I have won a lottery, of sorts, for I am rich, when it comes to loved ones and wealthy when it comes to contentment. . . and I have “kept the lights on”, after all. Still, I can not deny that having some money is appealing.
I remember a Christmas eve, a few years back. I had a bit more than the usual amount left over, after the bills were paid. In haste, I went out to buy a few extra gifts for my children. Please know, my children always got socks, bedroom shoes and a book-guitar strings for Christian and art supplies. It was always the same. . .so this particular Christmas, I could splurge, if just a little. I was so happy and decided to bring supper home, as well-another indulgence. I called the boys, to tell them I was almost home and had supper, too. The minute I hung up, the car died. I mean it cut off on the highway altogether. I barely got it off the road. The engine would not even try to start! The lights were out and I was immediately in a state of panic. I called Kyle, who got a posse of local men and my daddy, to come get me. Daddy being a mechanic went about diagnosing the problem, but it was pitch dark and so he could really only guess. Everything he imagined, seemed to cost about five hundred dollars, which I did not have. I felt punished for having bought things like chocolate . . .and supper! I was ashamed of abandoning my good senses and on and on I went. Finally, when I was weary from lamenting, I pulled myself together. I was on Christmas break, and wouldn’t need the car for another ten days. I could come up with some plan, surely in that time. . .and it was Christmas eve, after all.
The next morning, Daddy called. He had awaken at first light, to look at the car. The whole problem was a loose wire! A simple and very free solution to my catastrophe. He would be bringing my twenty year old car, “home” to me , safe and sound. Well, I laughed and cried, when we hung up -at the same time! Such relief flooded over me. When I collected my thoughts, I told God, that I should have known not to fret, for He always has provided for me faithfully. I told Him, I regretted my foolishness , in thinking otherwise. I told Him, while I knew I can always depend on Him for everything, including money, I just wished He would let me write it down in my bank account!
This is a very true story, and it is not that old, either. The old car was replaced just a few years ago, with another used car, gifted to me by Tres. Christian still gets guitar strings and art supplies for Christmas-and the boys still ask for socks, too.
Today, as I start paying the bills, I remember that time and countless others, that turned out the same. I remain responsible but I do not fear being generous. I do not harbor shame, if I am doing my best and I expect things to work out., even in light of my mistakes. What liberty, I know now, when unhindered by my own limitations of my Father.
My dear friend Rae, lost her job and and a husband within a six month period. It was an awful season for her. I asked her once, how she was financially and she replied “fine, I never worry about money, for I trust God, to care for me.” She was not left with much of an inheritance, and so I was stunned at her bravery and faith. Moments later, I was laughing. Now Rae was stunned and asked me” what was funny?” I told her that she trusted God like He had all the money in the world-and I acted like He had ten dollars to spare! She laughed too.
Now, when I need new tires, I can say “its’ just money” for it is. . .and it is just God, that makes the difference. . . .now at the first of December . . .and always.
The last few days have been cold. Nights are below freezing and in the day, we southeners, now don our “winter coats”. I walk to the car, in the morning on frozen ground. I do not mind the cold weather unless there is wind. A cold wind is about unbearable. I have always heard that “New Englanders were a sturdy lot-and I suppose they are, for I can not imagine day after day of these conditions. Of course they have snow too- a lot of snow. When it does snow here, the least bit, southeners hunker down and no one is going anywhere! Instead, we are home cooking hearty dishes like stews or beans . . .in warm, comfortable “house clothes”. In the absence of snow, it has been business as usual.
With December, just a few days away, many of us are thinking about Christmas. I confess now, that I think about Christmas all year. Farm Life puts on quite a production at Christmas. Houses, barns and sheds are covered in lights. Reindeer graze on the lawns and wreaths are hung on doors and fences. Bows adorn lamp posts and the affect is charming.
I moved to the Farm Life Community, more than a decade ago, in May. I met my first friend, here just a few days later. “Miss Sylvia” came and presented me a cook book, of recipes compiled by the local women. It was a “welcome” gift, and it is my favorite cook book. The recipes do not start with a can of soup or instant pudding. These women cook from” scratch” and their dishes have stood the test of time.
Miss Sylvia had deep roots in Farm Life and it seemed she was “kin” to most everybody, or else went to school with them. She was glad to see that the old farm house would be occupied. Every room needed painting and the yard was full of debris. I was an awful mess, when she showed up. I was telling her all that I was doing, and without a moments hesitation, she asked me if I decorated for Christmas? I was a bit stunned at her question, but she went on and told me that the community placed great stock in good decorating. I assured her that I did, and she seemed very relieved.
As it turned out, Miss Sylvia used to work at a florist shop. She made bows, and had earned herself quite a reputation. She offered to make bows for me and so I took her up on it, each year, in early December. One year, particularly stands out in my memory and I never fail to remember it, this time of the year. It was the year that I used the red bows with small white polka dots.
I had the idea that the ribbon would be just perfect for a country home and I searched high and low for months, for it. At long last I found just the right look and presented it to Miss Sylvia, as soon as I got home. Miss Sylvia examined it thoroughly, and said at last, that “it was ugly!” She went on to say, it wouldn’t hold up, and said again “and it is ugly, too”. Being she was an elder, I sheepishly asked her to make them anyway. A day or so later, she called and said the” bows were ready – and just as she predicted, they were ugly”. Well, I hung them and I loved them! I still laugh remembering that. I always miss my dear, Miss Sylvia, but most especially at Christmas.
Now, this year, all of my decorations are packed up and I may not even decorate at all! It all depends on what unfolds in the very next few weeks in what has become certainly, a saga. . .selling the rabbit patch. Either way, if there is a sprig of pine on the mantel – or a wreath hung, it will be a last minute attempt to mark the grand occasion of my beloved Christmas. Maybe this year, I will carry on the tradition of “Old Christmas”. . .another thing I remember about Miss Sylvia, for she always marked the visit of the wise men, to the Christ child, with a party.
Work is especially busy, just now. The violinists-over two hundred of them – are practicing fervently and the children are also learning songs in various languages for the annual Holiday Concert. I never tire of Christmas music. I especially like the old music. The old songs never fail to spark my own childhood memories. . .one being the year, that Grandmama got a tree in a box.
I do not know what I was expecting . . .but it was not what I saw. I remember clearly the shock of seeing my first “aluminum tree”. It was silver with blue ornaments. . . a far cry from the usual, little cedars, cut from a ditch bank. Grandmama was so very proud of it and said, the folks in Florida, were using them regularly now. To me, Florida must have been another country altogether and they musn’t have had. a single patch of woods anywhere. Grandmama was “happy as a lark” with her modern tree. I was speechless. In my wildest childhood dreams, I could not have imagined an “aluminum tree”. Thankfully, “Dean Martin” was singing on the record player, as usual, so at least something, made sense.
Every thing seems to evoke memories, this time of the year. Of course, I am prone to being sentimental, on a regular basis, but I realise especially at Christmas, that I have quite a storehouse of beautiful memories in my collection. . .and I do not want to forget a one of them. In some way, it seems that remembering, is like a “housekeeping of the heart”. I sort things out, and tidy up any tattered fragments. It is odd that I do not remember but a few gifts that I received. Instead, I remember clearly, things like the tinsel that Mama saved each year. Putting it on the tree, was slow and tedious work . . .taking it off was worse. Mama was very particular about her tinsel, and how it was placed on the tree. The task was not going quickly. . .and that is all there was to it. After the initial complaining and protests, for no one wanted to hang single strands of tinsel, a hush would fall on us. It was as if we were in a trance brought on by the dangling silver. When the heat came on, or the door was opened-the tinsel would sway and flutter as if it had a life of its’own. I was so happy when Mama traded the tinsel for a garland-yet now, over fifty years later, I remember the tinsel.
As we bid November farewell, with its’ scarlet and golden woodlands and with the blackbirds flying, we know it did not leave us empty-handed. November gives us a quiet, steady dose of gentle beauty that stirs thoughts of home and hearth – and makes us remember the most beautiful things.