Taking Down the Christmas

2017 Christmas Treet

Today, as I always phrase it, I “took down the Christmas”.

The fireplace mantel, deep in dust after four weeks covered in garland and lights and candles, shines once more under an application of lemon oil. The cheerfully-decorated wax taper candles—the ones that cost me so many hours of searching to find in a world that seems now to use only LED lights–have been wrapped in tissue and gently stored.

Outside, the garlands draping each carriage light have been removed. The Yule wreath once more resides on a hook within the coat closet, having been replaced with a sign celebrating the next holiday to come, St. Valentine’s Day.

The bright red placemats and napkins have been discarded to the laundry hamper, as have the decorated hand towels from the bathrooms. The live mistletoe, dry to brittleness, is wrapped in a paper napkin and carefully enclosed within a glass dish, where myth and legend say it will now protect my home from fire.

The cheerful Christmas cards have not been discarded; as always, I’ve placed them thoughtfully into the boxes of ornaments and garland. Next holiday season, as I once more take out all the precious Christmas décor, I will find them there.  I will sit and reread each of the loving, thoughtful sentiments, perhaps with a personal message added; I will look at the photographs enclosed; I will, perhaps, shed a tear, coming across the card sent to me by someone beloved who is now gone.  Then, and only then, will I discard the holiday cards, having once more relived the pleasure of receiving them and their loving messages.

The tree has been crushed down to its smallest size and crammed into the garage. Each of the boxes of ornaments has been specifically labeled (Breakable Ornaments. Unbreakable Ornaments.  Most Precious Ornaments.  Angel.  Stockings and Stocking Holders) and stacked in yet another corner of the packed garage.

The beautiful crocheted lace and cutwork tablecloth, handworked more than a half-century ago by the Italian great-aunts, has been delicately laundered and starched and pressed, and then folded into its special storage box. In its place once more resides the tapestry cloth given me a decade ago by my beloved late mother-in-law—just as beautiful and precious, yet different.

All the living room furnishings once again reside in their proper place. No more the rocker crammed up against the fireplace hearth; the green armchair blocking the path to the French doors.  Instead, there is space to walk a normal path through the room.

Everything is, in fact, brighter and cleaner and more orderly and spacious than it was just a few hours ago.

And sadder. Somehow, infinitely sadder.

The Oak King and the Holly King

It is a night in prehistory, someplace in the area that will one day be called Britain. Those in this tiny village of mud thatched roundhouses live a precarious, hand-to-mouth existence, eking a few precious crops from the soil each summer season, hunting and fishing, gathering from the wild.  They pray each summer  for a bountiful harvest, that they might have enough to survive the coming winter.

The nights have been growing colder for many weeks now, but, what is even more frightening, they have been growing longer. The elders in the village say that this has happened before; many times, in fact.  The sun rises later and later, sets earlier and earlier, and each successive night lasts longer.  The elders have grown wise merely by the act of surviving so many repetitions of this occurrence.  And so they choose the largest, hardest, longest-burning oak logs and set them aside for what they know is coming: the Dark Night.  The Long Night.  The fearful night when Darkness overpowers the Light.  They set that hardy wood aside for the night when everyone in this little village will huddle together, seeking warmth, and desperately hoping that this time, this time once more, the Darkness will not win.  The unbearable, long night will end, must end, and the morning sun be reborn.

And as they huddle together about the bright light of that long-burning log, stories are told. Legends are born.  For the light of the log is like passion, like the heat of battle, and so surely it must represent a battle – the battle of Light and Darkness.  Perhaps it is two great Kings who are battling ,  or even Gods  (for there must always be kings and gods – someone, after all, must be in charge of all this.)   Perhaps one of these God Kings lives within the oak log itself, the oak twined with ivy, ivy which remains green even in winter, and with mistletoe, that mystic plant which appears growing high in the trees without reason or explanation.  This Oak King must be battling the Holly King, whose sharp, thorny green plant bears red berries like blood.

And what of the sun, the golden sun, the longed-for sun? Drawing perhaps on some misty memory of an ancient  sun-scorched land known only from legend, they recall the myth of  Nuit, starry Goddess of the Night Sky, from whose body each morning the sun was reborn.  Surely a God King must have a wife: a wife pregnant, laboring, struggling to give birth to the Sun.  A family — a family and history remembered even by those who have no memories of that land.  (It will be centuries yet before another small family will fly into Egypt, that ancient land of the starry Goddess…)

And so at sundown, the Great Battle commences: the battle for the very Earth itself. If the Holly King wins, the laboring Goddess will perish in childbirth, the sun never be reborn, and the Earth and all its inhabitants will die.

But the Holly King never wins. Time after time, battle after battle, he is slain, dying as he knows he must die: King, and God, and Sacrifice.  Darkness never conquers the Light.  And at the moment of dawn, the Queen of Heaven once again gives birth to the Child who is the Light.

And so it is that all the ancient legends blend, and twine, and intermingle, into this singular neverending Truth: that though the Darkness may gain sometimes hours, sometimes days, sometimes minutes, its reign upon the Earth and her peoples must always, eventually fade; that sacrifice and courage and wisdom enable one to battle through the long and fearful night; that the pain and toil of women who carry and labor the children of the Earth into existence allows us always to persist and continue.

And now in closing this ancient but always-new tale, I send (as Fra Giovanni once wrote in his Christmas Greeting, quoting the great Song of Solomon), “…the hope that for you, now and forever, the day breaks, and the shadows flee away.”


The Jonah Thanksgiving

Jonah Days. We all have them: those days when everything goes wrong.  L.M. Montgomery, eloquently described a Jonah Day in the second book of her Anne of Green Gable series, when the plucky red-headed heroine reaches the end of her tether on just such a day and – in a complete reversal of every tenet she has ever expressed and holds dear – spanks one of her students.  The scene itself and the passages that follow are delightfully written, completely evocative of the frustration and chagrin that all of us have experienced on our own Jonah Days.

On the night before Thanksgiving two years ago, I recalled that book and laughed ruefully. I’d just had my own Jonah day, and if I’d had a student to spank, I’d have been reaching for a paddle. If a day itself could have been whacked, I’d have done it. I’d reached the end of my tether and a bit beyond.

The morning had begun gloriously. It was very warm for November, and the day was sunny.  Newly retired, I knew had plenty of time for the cooking I would be doing for our family Thanksgiving.  So that morning I’d prepared the pastry shells for four pumpkin pies and, as I usually do, carried the huge bowl of filling over to where the shells waited, coddled in their pie pans, on the oven racks.  This was the way I’d always filled the pie shells — carefully dipping out the filling into each shell with a ladle.

I dropped the whole bowl of filling. Four pies worth of filling.  Onto the oven door.

Later that day, the bread I was baking rose over the pan, spilling onto the oven floor and beginning to burn. The house quickly filled with smoke, triggering four smoke alarms.  Those alarms are, of course, set too high on the walls to be reached without a stepstool. I ran to grab my stepstool…but a friend had borrowed it. Frantic in the midst of shrieking klaxons, I found myself hauling a heavy wooden kitchen chair up the stairwell to turn off the upstairs alarms.

The chaos of the morning and afternoon seeming to have subsided, I decided that giving myself a manicure would relax me. The bottle of nail polish tipped onto my white leather hassock, but I congratulated myself that I’d covered the leather with wax paper before starting the manicure.  Once finished, I carefully tidied up my basket of manicure supplies, putting them back into perfect order, and admiring how well organized the basket now was  Then I carried the basket upstairs to put it away.  And at the very top of the stairwell, I dropped it.  Bottles of polish, emery boards, pumice stones, scissors, cuticle oil, clippers, cotton balls and swabs, bottles of remover…all went tumbling down the stairwell, bouncing and scattering, the bottle of remover opening and splashing acetone all over the carpet.

I sighed, cleaned up the mess, and unceremoniously dumped everything any which way back into the basket.

The stairwell was apparently my greatest nemesis that day, however, because a short while later, as I started down the steps, I tripped. I fell and slid all the way to the landing, twisting my ankle and wrenching my back.

I cried, clapped an ice pack on my throbbing ankle, and finally hobbled upstairs for a soothing hot shower.

While I was in the shower, my phone rang. I decided to let the answering machine take it and finish my shower.  I didn’t listen to the message until I’d gotten into my pajamas.

My Dad had called. His friend was taking him to the hospital. He thought he might be having a stroke.

I threw my clothes back on, called other family members, and raced through the night to the hospital.

Dad had not, after all, had a stroke; he’d suffered an anxiety attack and his blood pressure had spiraled out of control. He was going to be just fine.  That was a great comfort as we all wearily wended our way home shortly before midnight.

The holiday was not, as I recall, the most scintillating of Thanksgiving days, given that we were all exhausted and drained. But I knew I had much to be grateful for, not the least of which was that Dad was okay.

And that my personal Jonah Day was finally, finally over.

Ghost Kitty Walks

A Spooky Little Halloween Poem for Mya and Kai
by Aunt Beckett ©2016

Gentle Ghost Kitty lives
In the little brown house
At the end of the bend in the road.
He had lived there alive
With his human, Dianne.
But for so long he’s been all alone!

For Dianne moved away
To a far-distant home.
But small Ghost Kitty stayed where he’d died.
There he wandered and moped,
So bewildered and sad,
And so lonely for such a long time!

For Ghost Kitty walks
And Ghost Kitty talks
In a tiny, well-bred “Mew!”
And Ghost Kitty looks for someone to love,
Purring, “I am calling you!”

It was then I moved in
To the little brown house
At the end of the bend in the street.
And one day, living there,
As I sat down to read,
Something sat down with me,
At my feet!

Something I could not see
Cuddled there beside me
And I reached but I touched empty air.
And yet somehow I knew
A small cat sat by me.
A cat purring and snuggling was there!

For Ghost Kitty walks
And Ghost Kitty talks
In a tiny, well-bred “Mew!”
And Ghost Kitty nestled by my side,
Purring, “I think I like you!”

An now sometimes I see,
From one blink to the next,
A small shadow that walks like the wind.
And I smile to myself, knowing that he is here,
For small Ghost Kitty, he’s my best friend.

For Ghost Kitty walks
And Ghost Kitty talks
In a tiny, well-bred “Mew!”
And Ghost Kitty snuggles by my side,
Purring, “I’ll stay here with you.!”