A quotation for December 19. “. . . if there were a heaven, I would expect it to have a lowering violet-gray sky . . . and white lights on all the trees, and the first flakes just falling, and it would always be December 19–the best day of the year, school out, stores open late, Christmas a week away.” (Adam Gopnik, Winter)
Christmas colors. There are other Christmas colors this time of year, better than the glitzy and shining and blinking colors of Christmas decorations. There are the startling bright green of winter wheat, the various browns and gray-white of tree trunks and branches, the light blues and grays and clear light colors of the sky, the mix of greens and grays in the grass in yards, the colors of birds still here, the various colors of sunrise and sunset, the faded yellow and gold and brown of leaves yet remaining, the colors of washed-out night sky and still bright white of starlight, the remaining greens of pines and magnolias and other evergreens, the red and white of berries, the green balls of mistletoe high in bare threes, the silver-gray-brown of squireels. The colors of quickly fading dusk.
A new tree. A friend brings a red maple tree a few feet taller than I am from the woods on his farm and plants it in my absence. It is good to see trunk and branches where there has been too long a vacant space. When I told him that I was going to name the tree for him, he refused the honor. “If you go out and talk to the tree, it will tell you its name,” he said. Wisdom, spoken by a fellow Druidic spirit.
A Christmas remembrance. Sometime between 1983 and 1987, Greeley, Colorado. I’m strolling through the local mall, enjoying Christmas. I had finished shopping, and I wanted to see at leisure what there was to see in the mall. I came across a Salvation Army Giving Tree, on which people had put a tag with a name, age, and request. We were invited to choose one, buy the gift, and return it for wrapping and distribution. I saw that Heriberto, age 3, wanted a truck. I smiled. I had never bought a toy for a boy. I took the tag and registered it with the attendant and said, “I’m going into that toy store and buy Heriberto the biggest damned truck in the store!” And I did. It was a big, yellow plastic monster with a steering wheel that turned big wheels. The truck could hold and carry things. “Here it is,” I told the attendant when I brought up the truck. “The biggest one in the store! How will you wrap it?” “Just a big ribbon,” she said. That Christmas morning when I awoke, I smiled, knowing that somewhere in Weld County, Heriberto had received the biggest damned truck in the store. I knew Merry Christmas.
An old Christmas post card. When post cards sold for mailing of 1-cent domestic, 2-cents foreign. The top half of the card is a circle lined in gold. The picture is a man, with gray hair and moustache, wearing a red vest, long-sleeved white shirt, blue pants, white socks, and slippers. He’s seated in a wooden chair, smoking a pipe, looking pensively at a burning fire in the fireplace. The walls and floor are warm brown. The window curtains are open, and it’s snowing. The sky is dark blue, the flakes are white, and the sills are filling. On the left of the picture are red rectangles merging into the circle frame, effect of candle. At the top and bottom corners of the columns are sprigs of mistletoe. The rest of the card is a verse printed in gold. At the end of the verse is another red rectangle with mistletoe around the top and upper sides and a golden bell in the center. The verse: “There’s nothing quite so precious / As the memories we hold / And you, I know, are rich indeed / In tales that ne’er grow old / I’d love to sit beside you / And listen while you tell / Of all the other Christmas days / That you remember well.” The card had never been stamped, addressed, or mailed. On the back is the imprint of the card company, Whitney Made, Worcester, Mass. Someone has drawn an arrow from the line underlining the imprint and at the end of the arrow, written in black ink and in large and clear printed script: Jud from William. There’s a story there, should we choose to write it.
Fiction of the week. (1) The short story in The New Yorker, “A Voice in the Night” by Steven Millhauser. The story concerns stories and their power for inspiration, the call to vocations of writing and teaching. It’s a portrait of a father and his relationship to his son while the son is trying to figure out purpose, meaning in life. The father is a deep reader, a teacher, an atheist, who tells his son that he must decide for himself his beliefs. Here are two quotations concerning the father (they are quoted directly, without added quotation marks): (1) In high school, asking his father whether he liked teaching. His father’s pause, his grave look, his utter attention: “If I were a millionaire, I would pay for the privilege of teaching.” The son knows he’s heard something important. He is moved, he is proud of his father, he’s envious. (2) His father said, “There are three great opening sentences in all of literature. The first is “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’ The second is ‘Call me Ishmael.’ The third is, ‘Far, far west to the rest of everywhere is the village of Lower Trainswith.'” [opening sentence of “Tootle”]
Santa is bringing me Millhauser’s collection of short stories, We Others, and when I unwrap it on Christmas morning I may or may not pretend surprise. But I will smile in anticipation of the good hours I will get to spend with the enchanting stories of Millhauser.
(2) Colm Toibin, The Testament of Mary. 81 pages. Read it slowly. Read it out loud. It’s bleak. It’s violent. It’s harrowing. It’s magnificent.
It is late in Mary’s life. She lives alone and is watched over and cared for by two men writing the gospels. They are concerned that she will not collaborate on the stories they are writing. She does not believe that her son is the son of God. She believes that he had surrounded himself by “misfits” and their actions caused the suspicions of the Roman and religious authorities and his eventual arrest. She does not believe in the reported miracles. She was present at the crucifixion but left before Jesus’s death, to flee for her own life. She knows the cruelty of humans, and she herself, on feeling for her life, stole shoes and food from others. “. . . I can tell you now, when you say that he redeemed the world, I will say that it was not worth it. It was not worth it.”
Soon Santa. I hope he is good to you and yours. Thank you for reading.