December 20, 2010

Of Dark Nights and Wood Stoves – A Christmas Reminiscence

I got our tree today, and some special new ornaments for each of us. (My own little tradition. Actually, I think my mom passed that one on?) We have lights, and candy canes. And a box of paraphernalia from Christmases past waiting to be unpacked.

Memories are flooding back this year. It’s interesting. And I wonder how much of the access to these particular memories – good ones, happy ones – how much of this is due to being on the right meds?

No matter; it’s nice to be able to travel back in time, back before the fall from grace, long ago, to an age of innocence.

I am thinking of how Christmas was when I was a kid. How we made popcorn and cranberry strings for the trees. Made sugar cookies, gingerbread men and women. How I used to make wreaths myself and sell them from door to door, mostly store fronts. I made my own money to buy gifts for all my family members. And I was young. I think I started my first entrepreneurial adventure at the tender age of seven?

Before wreaths, I sold mistletoe. Hand picked, and tied in a ribbon. Magic infused. I knew how the Witches cut it – with your left hand only, and don’t ever let it touch the ground.

My parents cut trees from our acreage, and sold them in town. This was back when trees were not expected to be “perfect” – or uniform.

And back even further…on the drive home I notice lights – first, it’s the display at the north end of town — that same house that’s been putting up a huge light display for as far back as I can remember, making it at least 35 years that this family has brought their own contribution of light to the darkness. Who knows who they are, or how many more years the lights will show up shortly after Dec. 1?

Then, I begin noticing the lights of the houses, scattered in the distance. Simple lights, in well-lit, probably well warmed homes. It think back to when I was a kid – the sheer crystaline darkness and sparking diamonds of stars – no lights. No lights at all.

Except after hiking for hours. After a trek like that, you see a light in the distance, smoke rising from a chiminy, and promising warmth, food, company. Far back, to the early years.The years where you hiked to a neighbor’s home. Miles. And then stayed for a night or two before venturing home.

This was the new frontier. The backwoods enclaves of Northern California. The edge of an era. Back before there were all-season roads to the houses we lived in. Back before solar/photo voltaic systems and battery banks. Back before anyone owned a generator. Back when off-grid was a moment to moment dance with the elements. back before there were bridges over the creeks, before cell phones and the internet.

Seeing the lights in doorways on my way home nearly brought tears. And then I thought…

“Wow. I’ve had this life that many would have a hard time believing. A life where light in the distance was a precious thing. Where visits to a “neighbor’s” house took hours hiking, parents packed with kids and clothes, but you did it anyway, even – or maybe especially – in the winter. Because you got lonely in the dark months, and a shared meal, shared conversation, provided sustenance of a sacred sort.”

So tonight I jot it down. What is remembered lives. The early days, where we got as close the The Garden as we ever did. Where we gathered, stardust, golden.

Tonight I’m grateful for that precious, hidden life I lead as a child. No idle hands. You worked all the time, but it was honest work.

And sometimes – especially in the winter – there were cookies baking in the oven of our antique cream and green Wedgewood wood stove. Goat milk hot cocoa. The Mexican kind – a little spicy. And even sometimes whipped cream, if we’d braved the elements – rushing rivers and mud slides of roads – to get to town for supplies.

The early days were innocence – back to The Garden. I didn’t know anything else. It was cold outside, but we huddled near the wood stove with our hot cocoa and cookies, sat in the light of kerosene lamps and candles, and read old stories out of old books aloud.

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