Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Breaking Up Christmas Again

Time to take down the tree and get it out of the house before the New Year. I am so ready to see all the red and green, not to mention the increasingly flammable evergreen branches, GONE!

It's almost like the pre-Passover search in Jewish households for the last scrap of chametz (leavened bread) -- trying to track down every last red ribbon, reindeer, or Santa lurking around the house . . .

I'm ready to pack away the decorations -- but I hope we can hold on to all I love about Christmas -- the spirit of giving and the promise of Peace on Earth, Good Will to All Men.

That would be nice, wouldn't it?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Readings

Christmas always brings a new crop of reading material -- and not nearly enough time to read. But I have managed to gobble down Z -- a novel about the Montgomery, Alabama belle who became the wife of the young F. Scott Fitzgerald and an icon of the Jazz Age.

It's a fascinating take on the literary life in the Twenties -- a veritable Who's Who of Big Names.  Whether or not this captures the real Fitzgeralds, I don't know. But it's certainly sending me in search of Zelda's novel and the short stories that, according to this novel, Zelda wrote and allowed to be published as a joint effort.  (There's a review in the NY Times HERE that will give you a fuller picture.)

Wayfaring Strangers, the story of the music of Appalachia and its journey from Scotland to Northern Ireland and thence to our mountains, is full of pictures that look like home. 

I haven't read it through yet  but am enjoying a leisurely perusal of its pages. But wait! There's more -- a CD is part of the package and Madison County's own Sheila Kay Adams (seventh generation ballad singer) is one of the artists.

Another beautiful book is A Kitchen in France. I was overwhelmed with the idyllic life pictured -- rural France, a charming old house complete with adorable children and dogs -- and a  chatelaine/chef/mother/author who looks a lot more like a model than a serious cook.  But I must say the recipes sound amazing and I look forward to trying them.

And a new series to explore -- my daughter-in law Aileen is a fan of the Phryne Fisher mysteries. and she and Ethan got me the first four for my Kindle They've been on my radar ever since I first heard of Phryne -- a Twenties deb turned detective -- in Australia. I am really looking forward to these.

Did you get any books as gifts? Or did you treat yourself?  Tell us what you're reading

Sunday, December 28, 2014


Hiraeth (heer-eyeth) is a wonderfully evocative Welch word I recently learned. It's defined as a homesickness for a place to which you can never return; nostalgia or yearning for the lost places of your past. 

The picture above, taken from Google Earth (2007), was the home of my maternal grandparents. The size of the yard is distorted -- it looks absolutely huge -- but in a way that's appropriate because in my earliest memories, it was huge -- a great, green grassy empire that was all  mine. 

When I was very young and my father was in that mysterious place known as ‘overseas,’ my mother and I lived for a time with my grandparents. And later, when my father came home from WWII, I continued to spend a great deal of time here.  My family lived just around the corner but I spent a great deal of time at my grandparents' house -- I even had my own bedroom.

The new owners seem to have made very few changes -- at least as of seven years ago when this picture was taken. I can look at the picture and remember so many different times -- much like Miss Birdie's hall of doors I posted about on Christmas Eve. But here the memories are all good. 

My earliest memory is of lying in a crib between the two big beds in the master bedroom upstairs while my grandfather in his bed held my left hand while my grandmother in hers held my right . . . and the fresh smell of pillows put to air in the sunny eastern windows . . .  and later when my younger brother and I were both there for the night, how we would sit on little stools in the big bedroom and eat apples while we listened to the Lone Ranger on the radio . . .

Above the garage was a bare room, in the late Forties and early Fifties home to a ping pong table and my grandmother's treadle sewing machine --  remodeled in the early Sixties into an apartment where I lived while John was stationed in Japan a year after we were married.

I rode my bike along that sidewalk when I was a gawky pre-teen and later my grandfather took my older son for walks there. I looked out those windows to the right of the front door and saw John (only a classmate and acquaintance at the time (8th grade or thereabouts) driving his go-cart on the sidewalk across the street.

And from the breakfast room windows to the left of the garage, I would watch for John when he came in his Model A to pick me up during our senior year of high school. And our wedding reception was held here and we ran down the front steps in a flurry of rice in 1963 -- just as my parents had in 1941. . .

Of course the memories of this beloved place have crept into my writing. A Christmas post a few years back about an incident when I was young (HERE) surely contributed to Miss Birdie's Christmas memory (though without the bitter part.) 

And while I do, indeed, have hiraeth for this lost paradise, I know that I'm where I belong and where I want to be. But I still love prowling that hall of memories. . .

Friday, December 26, 2014

Seven Years

After several gloomy days, the sun shone on our Christmas breakfast, making the holiday bright indeed. To add to the joy, both sons and both daughters-in-law were here.

We had our traditional Christmas breakfast of croissants and sausages and ambrosia before adjourning to open presents. Once the presents were dealt with, we moved into preparing the Christmas feast -- more friends and family were joining us for that...

And  it's all kind of a blur after that -- amazing food, lots of bubbly, and  lots of good cheer.   By 7:30, most of the guests had departed, the dishes were done, and three of the young uns had settled in for a spell of role-play gaming. 

Willa and I were flat wore out but before I headed off to bed with an improving book, I just wanted to note that my very first blog post ( HERE) was on December 26, 2007. I seem to have been blogging for seven years -- and (almost) every day at that. Considering that I've never managed to journal for any length of time beyond a week or two, I find that amazing.

I suspect that it's because of the pictures. And the fact that I'll talk about most anything, no matter how trivial or silly.

And hope to continue to do so . . .  many thanks to all of you who comment and keep me from feeling that I'm talking to myself.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Mr. Sawyer was wearing a Santa hat when I went out Monday. Oh my way back, I stopped to give him a tin of cookies and to thank him for his Christmas displays over the years and for always waving when folks pass by.

I asked about the black plastic  on the main display (some of you had wondered if it concealed a Nativity) and I think he said it was to make the things in front show up better.

 Then I asked if I could take his picture and he kindly posed for me.

He said that he hitches the little trailer with the display to the riding mower (above) and pulls it around. I really wanted to see that but hadn't the chutzpah to ask. But how lovely -- a  home-grown mini parade.

May your Christmas and Holidays be as real and from the heart as Mr. Sawyer's!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Miss Birdie's Christmas Memories

Why, how proud I am to see you here on Christmas Eve! Come on in and get you a chair.

Oh, my, is this some of your cranberry bread? I’ll have it for breakfast tomorrow before Bernice’s boy comes after me – I’ll be eating Christmas dinner with them like I always do.

You like my little tree? Don’t it smell like the woods? It ain't but a little cedar that sprung up in the old pasture over yon –they ain't not good for much but they do make a nice Christmas tree. Them little bows is from ribbons I saved from Christmases back of this and I made the paper chain with color pages out of magazines. That feller at the dumpsters is good to save me magazines with lots of bright pictures.  How my Cletus used to love making them chains – one year he made one so long that we looped it round the tree and just kept going all round the room.

No, we didn’t have Christmas trees when I was growing up. My mama was a widder and she didn’t have the money nor the spirit to make anything much of Christmas time. And she had quit going to church when my daddy was kilt. So Christmas was mostly just another day – except . . .

Except this one time I remember – back when my Granny Beck had first come to live with us. I was the least un and all the others had married and moved off. So it was just the three of us, Granny Beck and Mama, and me. My granny, oh, she was the sweetest thing – she was crippled bad with arthuritis and couldn’t hardly walk but me and her was best friends. She told me stories of all kinds – Cherokee stories about the Yunwi Tsundi – that’s the Little People in the woods-

Oh, yes, Granny Beck’s mama was full blood Cherokee. And her mama’s daddy, he had told my granny all manner of Cherokee tales when she was little. She passed them on to me, alongst with Bible stories like David and Goliath and old Noah and his ark. And stories about Jack the Giant Killer and his rascally ways.  She told me about Santy Claus and his reindeer too and Joseph and Mary and Baby Jesus in the stable.  Ay, law, her and me had us a time . . .

But this one Christmas Eve, she told me that iffen I was to go out to the barn at midnight, I’d find the old cow and the mule kneeling because the critters in that stable long ago had kneeled to do honor to the baby Jesus.

Why, yes, I did go and look. Me and Granny Beck shared a room and she had told me the story and promised to wake me when it was near midnight. My mama was hard asleep – she took some medicine in those days that was so strong she’d sometimes fall asleep right at the table. She didn’t hold with stories and Granny always waited till Mama was somewheres else or sound asleep one to go to story-telling.

 Law, I remember it as good as if it was yesterday –  slipping out the door and hurrying to the barn in naught but my night shift and Granny Beck’s shawl. There weren’t no snow but the ground was froze hard and my breath was like smoke wreathed around my head. They had been a hard frost and it seemed like I could hear little ringing sounds all round. And the sky, oh the sky! The sky was just as clear and the stars – law, how bright they were – like great golden lamps shining down from Heaven. You don’t see skies like that no more along of all them old security lights folks put up.

 But I was telling you about the barn. It was some warmer in there and the smell of the critters and their manure seemed to make it even warmer and homely-like. It was dark as could be but I had brought a little battery lantern we had and when I opened the stall door and mashed the button, the first thing I saw was the bright gold of the hay in the manger and for a minute . . . now you’ll laugh at me . . . for a minute I thought I saw a little hand waving and I was just as sure as anything that it was Baby Jesus.

Just like Granny Beck had said, old Poll the cow and old Nell the mule was kneeling down and I stood there all amazed, kindly like them shepherds Granny Beck had told me of, the ones the great shining angel came down and spoke to.

Of course, I was just a young un and so ready to believe . . . I almost didn’t go forward, thinking that was I to turn off the lantern and go back to the house, Baby Jesus would still be there and I could hold that memory in my heart forever, rather than finding out it was a trick of the light or some such.

But at last I had to look. I held my breath and crept forward betwixt the cow and the mule to look in the manger. . . 

Let me wipe off my glasses on my apron – they’ve got fogged up somehow. . . 
You get to be my age, honey, and so much that you loved is gone . . . but for the memories. I picture it like walking down a long hallway and they's doors on both sides. I can go down a ways and find Cletus, cutting a shine over some new playtoy, or I can go back a mite farther and find Luther and me on a certain snowy night  . . .

Course, there's some doors I don't never open -- those lead to the bad memories -- but this one about my Christmas with Granny Beck is mostly all good. 

So this was the way of it. I tiptoed up to the manger and shone my battery lantern on the hay, dreading to find that what I’d thought was Baby Jesus a-waving at me was a possum or some other varmint. And lo and behold, when I got close enough to see right into the hay, I like to fell down on that hard clay floor.

There, laying in the hay, just like Baby Jesus, was a baby doll with one arm raised up. I just stood there staring, my mouth hanging open and the tears starting to come.

You see, I hadn’t never had a real doll – it was hard times, like I said, and there weren’t no money for play toys. I had made dollies out of old corn cobs that I wrapped in leaves for blankets but oh! how I had always wished I could have a real doll. And here one was, just a-waving at me.

Well, honey, I snatched that thing up and took off running for the house to show Granny Beck. I was so stirred up that I forgot to be quiet but it didn’t matter – Mama was in her bed and snoring like one thing. In the little back room, Granny Beck was setting up against her pillow, just waiting for me.

 I went straight to her. ‘Granny Beck,’ I whispered, ‘Poll and Nell was kneeling down, just like you said.’

‘I knowed they would be,’ she whispered back at me. ‘Crawl in under the covers with me, honey; you must be most froze to death.’

I crawled in beside her and showed her the baby doll.

‘And looky what was in the manger – the prettiest baby doll you ever did see – just like the ones in the wish book. Do you reckon Santy Claus could of left it for me? He ain’t never come here afore . . .’

Granny Beck put her arm around me and hugged me close. ‘Why, child,’ says she, ‘I’m as sure of it as anything . . .’

Now as I grew older, I begun to wonder how that baby doll got there. I knowed for certain it weren’t my mama’s doing and, even if somehow she had made out to order that doll, Granny Beck weren’t able to walk as far as the barn. I asked her about it a few years later -- not long before she passed away but she just said she didn’t know a thing about it. And I reckon it suits me to leave it at that.

No, I don’t have that doll anymore. I kept it hidden for a time but one day Mama found it when she was rummaging around after some old clothes. She took on something awful, saying I must have stole it. . . .  I tried to tell her how I found it but she called me a liar and a thief and threw my baby doll in the fire. I cried to see it swivel up and turn to ash. . .

Oh, honey, now don’t you cry too. I shouldn’t of told you that last part. But what you got to see is that I still have what matters . . .

I still have the memory of that night – the way the stars hung so low, the sparkle of the frost on the dead grass and the bare tree limbs, the smell of that barn stall, the sound of the critters breathing, and the wonder and the magic of it all. 

And I can still feel Granny Beck’s arm around me and how nice it felt to lay there warm beside her with my baby doll from Santa . . . ain’t no one can take that from me.