A Remembrance of Grandparents at Christmastime.
My grandmother baked Christmas cookies in angel forms, Christmas tree forms, Santa Claus forms and decorated several of them. Talented in gardening and crafts, she made decorations with evergreen sprigs, ornaments, and Styrofoam. She made award winning wreaths for her front windows and doors. On her last Christmas, she made me a wreath with a peace symbol. She played piano. Pop and I listened–and sometimes sang quietly.
Before I started school, Pop took me to a Christmas pageant at the Methodist Church. I was amazed to see angels in the aisles, and he was wise enough not to tell me that they were high school girls in angel costumes.
It was in their house on one Christmas Eve, I lay in bed upstairs and heard Santa on the roof and immediately fell asleep.
In years before we started school, they took my brother and me each year to Raleigh to see Christmas. We were overwhelmed and amazed by the lights, the crowds, the decorations, and the opportunity to talk with Santa. We fussed over the preparations, for Mama insisted that we wear our pajamas under our clothes as protection from the cold in Raleigh streets, which we probably would not have felt anyway, but we were always happy for the warmth in the back seat of the car, for it carried us to a happy sleep long before we reached home.
On one such trip I learned a lesson in manners. Mama and my brother were off together in a different part of a department store, and Pop and I were at a water fountain. As I was walking happily to the fountain, Pop called my name. I stopped and turned to look at him. Before I saw him, I saw a little girl, about my size, and an old woman go to the fountain before me. After their drink, the girl smiled at me, the woman smiled and said, “Thank you!” and when I looked at Pop, he was smiling, too.
Then much later, a long time ago, when I was in eighth grade, I went with them to Houston to spend Christmas with Uncle Jack and his family. Riding in the back seat with all the North Carolina food and presents and all my thirteen years of impressionable age, I for three days observed their patience, courtesy, sense of humor, conversations, and love for one another. Once we took a wrong turn in Milledgeville, Georgia, and drove for two hours in the rain in red-clay mud, the two of them taking turns driving, literally sweating to keep the car going–and never a cross word or a grumble. I remember their consequent sense of humor about it at the car wash, when we finally found a paved road, and years afterward. In Houston at shopping centers when Pop and I became separated, he called for me across the mall or across a street by whistling tune. I turned smiling to know a tune was from Pop to me.
I remember one summer day they awoke me at dawn to go on a road trip. They encouraged me to look outside at the sunrise colors before getting dressed. Yes, there were kindnesses throughout the year.
But I especially recall Pop and Mama with love at Christmas, for Christmas is a time of love, a time of gifts, and I am grateful for the lasting gifts of love they gave me: music, poetry, example.
Reading. Fiction. Kate Kingsbury, Mistletoe and Mayhem (Berkley Prime Crime, 2010) This is a murder mystery novel set at a Country Club, a resort for the upper classes, in England in Edwardian times during the Christmas holiday season. The owner and operator of the estate, Cecily Baxter, takes it upon herself to solve four particularly nasty murders that occur in the space of a few days: a clobbering with a gargoyle, a strangulation, a hanging, and a knifing. As she observes and works through her observations, she must tend to various guests, execute various scheduled holiday entertainments, relate to her grumpy husband, and deal with a kidnapping Of interest are subplots in the lives of the servants, including a romance. There is an unbelievable confession as the murderer attacks Cecily. Red herrings are obvious; the key to the identity of the murderer is in small details. I chose to read the book on a cold night with intermittent blasts of wind and rain.
Listening. Peter Warlock, Choral Works. (The Finzi Singers, Paul Spicer, Director; Chandos, 1992). This recording contains ten works, mostly carols. I have three favorites. “I Saw a Fair Maiden” has an anonymous Medieval text. It’s a lullaby, celebrating the Nativity, especially the Mother and the Child. It’s lyrical and beautiful. “Corpus Christi” is a dark, somber piece, with text from the 1500’s. Imagery is of a lover borne away by a falcon, a resplendent hall “hanged with purple and pall” in which there is a knight lying in bed, with his wounds “bleeding day and night.” At his bed a maid kneels and weeps continually. Beside the bed is a stone with the writing “Corpus Christi.” Over a rich choral texture a contralto and tenor have alternate solos of narrative and of a lullaby refrain. “Bethlehem Down,” text by Bruce Blunt, has been recorded by several groups of the past years. Blunt contrasts images of the Nativity with those of the Crucifixion: “Myrrh for its sweetness and gold for a crown” with “Myrrh for embalming and wood for a crown.” It’s quiet. The Finzi singers perform a cappella. There is much to admire in these three pieces as well as in the other seven.
Reading. Nonfiction. John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley (1962). Steinbeck set out with his dog Charley, a standard poodle, to experience America, from New York, through New England, the upper Midwest, the West Coast, the Southwest desert, Texas and Louisiana, continuing through the South back to New England. There are short reported conversations with various people, including a submarine sailor, a New England farmer, a guard who comes to throw him off a property, an itinerant actor, mobile home owners, long distant truck drivers, and season workers from Canada. We learn of his love of Montana and Texas, his strong dislike of the South, his admiration of redwoods and the desert, his view of road food. It’s an engaging and interesting work.
Thank you for reading. I hope you are enjoying these shortening days of December and the promise of Christmas and a New Year.