Abbey senses something special about the little man tending the reindeer who, along with an old farmhouse, was a gift to Abbey. She and husband Steve, together since the '60s, move in just before the holidays. Now 30 years later, they're looking forward to their boys coming home for Christmas. Turns out this Christmas proves to be more magical than anticipated!
The other day as big, fluffy, beautiful January snowflakes fell, Brian started listening to a Gordon Lightfoot CD I'd bought him for Christmas. I bought it for one particular song that he's always liked. After he listened it, I suggested he listen to the other songs, telling him the other Gordon Lightfoot songs were just as good. So he did.
I was in the kitchen when a certain song started playing. It used to be a favorite of mine (still is) so I started singing as I began to gather ingredients to make him an omelet.
"How do you know that song?" he asked. "I don't remember. I've just always liked it." "Come sit down and listen to it." So I did.
It was peaceful sitting there with the snow falling about the fields. I went on a bit about the beauty in winter; the peace I find in the stillness and how absolutely breathtaking it was outside.
Of course Brian has heard me go on and on about winter many times before. This time he laughed, telling me, "You're a Snowy Day person!" I agreed.
The way the snow was coming down reminded me of the times of long ago when skating with my cousin down at the creek that ran behind our homes. We spent hours at that creek. We'd never get cold. That's probably because we just kept on skating. And sometimes those snowy hours spent on the creek led to a bowl of piping hot cereal at our grandmother's house.
My grandmother-my aunt-my mother all cooked hot cereal. They each had their variations. Some used brown sugar. Some sprinkled cinnamon in the bubbling mix while some served it with cream instead of milk. My grandmother would add a dab of butter as she dished her cereal into a bowl. When making the hot cereal, she'd always use a simple sauce pan with a top that had a dent in it. She used the pan for years. My aunt used it too.
On Sunday mornings in the wintertime, that pan made serving after serving of hot cereal, depending on how many of us were gathered around the table. Besides Oatmeal, favorites included Cream of Wheat and Corn Meal. We weren't picky as long as it was hot and served with buttered toast for dunking. Of course there were no microwave variations-just spoonful after spoonful of creamy, delicious hot cereal cooked in a certain saucepan and served around the table as the snow fell and the wind blew.
So that afternoon as Gordon Lightfoot kept on singing and with hot cereal on my mind, I asked Brian if he'd like a bowl of hot cereal. "What about my omelet?" "You could have both if you'd like."
After thinking for a minute with Rainy Day People playing again he replied, "Hot cereal!" "Wonderful. I'll have a bowl too."
And so as those snowflakes kept swirling outside, inside we sat and enjoyed some piping hot Oatmeal because that's just what Snowy Day people do on a snowy January day.
On mornings like this morning when waking up to a breathtaking soft and fluffy snowfall, I think of my mother. Growing up, on days like these, she'd go to our 'entertainment console'-a big, clumsy piece of furniture made for stubbing toes, where inside there was an AM/FM radio which was a big deal, a record player for all of our many 45 records and 331/3 albums (a really big deal) as well as a storage place for the albums-albums including Sonny & Cher, The Beatles, Glen Miller, Perry Como, Simon & Garfunkel, Boston Pops, Frank Sinatra, and So many more.
Of all of her choices on those wintry, snowy mornings, she'd always select a Dean Martin album and when that funny and talented man began singing, "It's a Marshmallow World", she'd sing and dance around the house while dusting, doing dishes, making beds. She'd play that song over and over again. Sometimes, if I was there, I'd pretend to be annoyed-that's just what preteens and teens do sometimes. Other times, I'd sing and dance along as did my siblings.
Looking back, I always loved it when she played that song. It was a happy song. It was fun watching my mother let her hair down and let loose, dancing and singing around the house doing her everyday chores as the snow kept falling. If it was the weekend or if school was cancelled, I'd end up outside with siblings and cousins playing in the snowdrifts and playing down at the creek for what seemed forever. I don't remember ever getting cold.
Now that I think about it, I bet my mother loved it when we went outside to play. I bet she turned the volume up and kept dancing along with Dean-singing even louder; laughing and carefree on such "a whip cream day."
When growing up and playing in the dining room of my grandparents’ farmhouse with my cousins, I remember being told to be careful of the china cupboard because it held all of my grandmother’s china, including tea cups with matching saucers and serving dishes, as well as plates and silverware kept in a particular box lined with velvet. We were told most everything in that china cupboard was kept for good.
When I was a little girl I loved sitting in the middle of my parents’ bed and looking through my mother’s jewelry box covered with-yes again, velvet-midnight blue velvet. Everything in that jewelry box seemed to glisten. Gently touching the strands of jewels and stones and rings that glittered, I felt like a princess getting ready for the ball. But there were a few things I’d been told not to touch, like the long, narrow box holding my mother’s pearls and another holding a cameo brooch with matching earrings my father bought for my mother. I’d been told those pieces were kept for good.
When my children and their cousins were newborns-to-toddlers, my mother would go shopping for them at a little boutique in my hometown. It was owned by a wonderful woman with a warm smile. The merchandise equaled any shop in Manhattan. Besides rattles and cuddly blankets and sweaters and soft nightgowns, knitted outfits with little ducks or bears stitched in for accents were available in gentle baby shades as well as snow whites and earth tones. Along with sweater-like tops, the knitted outfits included knitted shorts or long knitted pants. And no matter what you bought, it was wrapped in tissue paper and placed inside a white box with her shop name stamped on top. When you received a gift from that shop, you were aware that what was inside was top quality. So most of the time when one of my children received a gift from my mother wrapped inside one of those boxes, I put that gift aside. I kept it for good. That meant those knitted outfits were hardly ever worn and eventually, they were outgrown.
We all keep stuff for good. We all have our good shoes-a good dress-good tie-good jewelry-good suit-good china-good linens-good blankets-good this-good that. Keeping stuff for good comes with the possibility of putting stuff away and forgetting about it and what good is that?
Wouldn’t it be more fun to bring some of that good stuff out and use it or wear it on a normal, run-of-the-mill, ordinary, no special reason, no special occasion day? When you think about it, every day, despite our problems and worries, is a good day. When you really think about it, we are blessed to be living it.
So maybe—just maybe, once in a while or once a year or just on a Saturday, have your morning coffee in a china cup with a saucer, wear your pearls to breakfast or your cameo brooch to lunch or serve dinner on those china plates kept for good no matter if that dinner is but a hotdog.
After all, stuff is just stuff. Every day is a good day.
(Photo was taken in my grandparents’ farmhouse in the dining room on an Easter Sunday of long ago. Top left you can see a bit of my grandmother’s china cupboard. Sitting around the table: my father, my mother, my sister, my grandmother, my cousin and her mother-my aunt).
Before last week’s mini ice storm I’d put some suet out for
the birds in a clustered bunch of bird feeders. A few of the feeders are made
of wood that’s now worn with plastic dividers chipped in the corners. One feeder
is made of small, colorful pieces resembling stain glass that glitters when the
sun is shining. Once the ice storm hit with howling winds and snow falling and
ice forming, many of the remaining seeds in the feeders went flying. Many ended
up on top of the ice covering the ground while even more of them ended up under
the feeders. Seeds just sitting there on the ice and under the feeders
attracted a variety of birds but more often than not, only the big birds were
able to conquer the slippery ice; then grab some seeds and take off to a nearby
tree to enjoy their winter feast.
Of all the birds that were out there, it was one little
bird that caught my eye. She was very small but determined. As my son Brian and
I watched her fight for a seed, we found ourselves cheering her on. There is a
very slight incline in the yard leading to the bird feeders. You probably
wouldn’t notice it but if you are a tiny bird with thin little legs and the
wind is pushing you and the snowflakes are knocking you and ice wants to trip
you up as you try to put one thin little leg in front of the other in order to
get under the bird feeders where some prime seeds are resting, you’d notice
that giant incline.
I’m sure that’s how the little bird felt as she tried and
tried to get under those feeders. Sometimes she’d get part of the way. Then the
wind would take her swirling around and around the ice like a beautiful
ballerina with wings giving the performance of a life time. On a few occasions,
one of her legs ended up in the air as if she was doing an Olympic-style
program in the backyard. Once we saw her pushed by the wind so far away that we
thought we’d seen the last of her as she crashed into some leaves frozen in the
ice. But that never happened. That only spurred her on to victory under the
bird feeders. Back she came, stronger than ever and away she flew with a mouth
full of prime, delicious seeds.
You see— this little bird was a fighter, conquering blue
jays and cardinals and sparrows and robins and mourning doves as well as the
ice and snow and wind . She was determined. She was Forrest Gump and the Little
Engine Who Could and Dumbo and Cinderella and Susan Boyle and a certain hockey
team who beat those Russians and Rosa Parks and Rocky and Rudolph and Stephen
Hawking and Andrea Bocelli and so many more. She was anyone who is physically
or mentally handicapped who gets up every day and puts one foot in front of the
other. She was the underdog who keeps trying; keeps fighting; keeps going. She
was akin to those who are bullied by cowards yetstand their ground and give it right back to
There certainly is a lot going on out at the bird feeders.
More than I ever realized. And when it rains or snows or the wind blows or the
ice falls, some of those birds stand up and fight for what they believe in.
In early November, I received a Christmas gift from a cousin I spent most every day with when growing up out in the country in that row of four houses filled with relatives. The gift came in a large manila envelope. Inside there was a Christmas card with copies of what started out as an idea we had and turned into a ‘family newspaper’.
I don’t know how old we were when we had the idea of ‘publishing’ a family newspaper but it didn’t take long before the idea turned into a reality. We called our newspaper the ‘Burns Row Journal’—named after our grandparents. We decided it would be a weekly. Starting out, we’d charge five cents a copy. Every Saturday night, the ‘presses’ were rolling, meaning we sat down and hand-printed four copies of our newspaper. Delivery was always Sunday morning to each of the four houses. While the first copies of ‘The Journal’ were small, content quickly grew to offer our readers more than just news, which was a combination of family news and national news if something caught our attention from the fifteen minute nightly national news broadcasts on TV. Added content included Sports, Classified ads, Display ads, Want ads, Local Events, Birthdays, Jokes, and ‘Newsy Notes from the Editor’s Desk.’
The manner in which we held the pages of our paper together changed as we became more professional, starting with scotch tape; then staples and eventually, sewing them with a sewing machine. From the examples I am including, you can see, as we grew older, how our front page changed for the better. There were fewer misspellings. We used a typewriter. The name of the paper was printed in a more ‘professional font.’ And the price went up!
I have no idea when our first edition hit those houses. Looking at the example, we were quite young. And, I don’t know how old we were when our presses stopped rolling.
I hadn’t seen a copy of the Burns Row Journal since delivering the final copies. So when I opened the manila envelope, I was overjoyed to find three copies. I’d shed a few tears and then laugh as I sat and read each edition. And when I opened my cousin’s card and read her note, I felt the rush I’d feel when working on our paper. We worked very hard to make our paper interesting for our readers. Our ads were quite creative. The copy, at times, was lively. My cousin’s message was heartfelt, writing that our Burns Row Journals were “works of art!”
The Burns Row Journal never won any journalism awards. Instead, it won the hearts of their dedicated readers in those four houses in a row out in the country.
When you’re young and gathered with family around the table, you don’t think about the dishes used to serve the meal. Some of those dishes are pulled out from kitchen cupboards. They’re the everyday dishes. Others are taken off shelves in a china cabinet. Those are the ones used only for special occasions. They need to be washed before they’re put to use. Some are quite old. Some have been serving meals for generations. Some have offered more than food; serving comfort in times of sorrow; joy in times of celebration.
As a child, our attention is elsewhere especially on Christmas. Santa Claus and reindeer and overflowing stockings and presents under the tree take precedence over dishes. They’re just dishes. But that changes as we grow older. Those dishes start to mean something. Those dishes and bowls and platters somehow turned into traditions as we were growing up. They’ve become old friends. They’ve earned a chapter or two in our family story like the yellow bowl that held the coleslaw made by an aunt who never married and the platter that sat in the middle of the table holding the turkey sliced by an uncle who always wore a bow tie and fell asleep after dinner. China serving bowls, some with a few nicks and scratches, held potatoes and squash, turnip, stuffing, cranberries and dumplings. Crystal dishes held pickles made from garden cucumbers by a grandmother who also shared her scrumptious pickled pears in another serving dish and slices of her infamous Christmas bread in yet another.
Pies in familiar pie plates with homemade crusts were made by the family pie expert. Crusts were crimped around the edges in lightning speed as if the baker was playing a piano. Along with the pies came coffee served in cups with saucers matching the plates sitting in place around the table all decked out for the occasion.
Besides the dishes earning a chapter or two in a family story, supporting players such as tablecloths and candlesticks and aprons worn by those preparing the feast and original artwork taped on the refrigerator-some showing colorful scribbles and some showing Santa in his sleigh or Frosty with his broom-complete the family story for another year.
Every year is different as a family grows and changes. But if we’re lucky, some of the dishes remain the same. That part of the story continues on. That’s what traditions do.
I told my son Brian I wouldn't be long. I only had a few things to mail. I told him not to worry. I'd get him to the gym on time. Hurrying towards the post office I noticed two women helping each other up the steps. It wasn't snowing. The steps weren't icy but I slowed down while they made it to the door. One pushed the handicap lever and the door opened. That's when they noticed I was waiting behind them.
They told me to go ahead. One explained, "We're just two old friends coming to mail our Christmas cards. We've been doing this for years. Don't wait for us. You'll be here all day!" I thanked them and went inside and stood in a long line. I thought about leaving but decided there'd be no good time to mail something with Christmas getting closer.
I could hear those two older women chatting. I turned around to see where they were. They both saw me. They both smiled and waved. That's when I noticed what they were wearing. The two were all dressed up with clip-on earrings and long wool coats and hats. Not winter hats but dress hats with veils. They reminded me of my father. He loved going to the post office and when he did, he always wore a tie and if it was cold outside, he'd wear his dress hat. He'd always run into people he knew and would spend time talking to them and others he didn't know. Going to the post office was a social event for him as it seemed to be for the women in dress hats chatting with all who walked by them.
The post office was really busy. Some people were waiting with arms full of boxes. Some held onto piles of cards and letters. Many had questions once they reached the counter and that took them even longer. I noticed a few people getting restless. A few muttered to themselves and to others in line. A few left and that made the rest of us happy. When one person reached the counter with many big boxes to mail, a subdued moan went around the lobby. That's when I saw one of the old ladies standing near me reading greeting cards for sale on a display. I noticed the ones that had her attention were all Christmas-themed.
One really caught her fancy. She brought it over to her friend. They both started chuckling and giggling and then laughing-laughing so hard like a belly-type laugh with tears falling down their cheeks. They tried stopping. They'd take a breath; then they'd start laughing again. Their laughter became contagious. Others started laughing. Strangers were smiling and talking with one another.
It was a wonderful experience. It felt like Christmas had arrived early in the historic old post office where I imagined my father standing in the line waiting to mail the Christmas cards my mother had addressed. When you think about that's what a post office does. It delivers Christmas just like I delivered Brian to the gym-on time!
(Hope you enjoy The Saturday Evening Post cover. I love those covers and that magazine. My grandparents always had a stack of them when living in their farmhouse).