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Rehobeth by Memory

holiday conflations? Eh....Merry Christmas

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, December 18, 1996.

My aunt Eleanor had electric blue eyes that seemed to gain in intensity as she aged into her final years, complete with Alzheimer’s and hard-wired social skills that evidently required no conscious thought. The last time I saw her was at my father’s funeral, where her memory kept prodding a spate of total recall about the people around her, many of whom she had known for seventy-five years.

When she was gently hushed and reminded that the occasion suggested some quieter form of reflection, she paused and inquired, “Who died?” which was wildly funny to the family and somewhat shocking to the others. She giggled in muffled embarrassment just like she did when wiping spilled food from the front of a grandchild or in sharing some sisterly gossip with my mother in years past.

My aunt and uncle boarded horses at a farm north of Providence, and the old farmhouse – parts of which survived King Phillip’s War – always had that wonderful smell of sweet wood and old leather and the epidermal sheddings of various animals that never seemed out of place or suggestive of unkemptness. The day always began early and ended early and was such a wonderful break with my regimen I loved it immensely.

One year in the 1950’s, New England had a serious storm around Christmas that kept the city folk from visiting the horses. My cousin and I helped feed and care for them, and at night my aunt and uncle rigged a light over the paddock which they pumped full of water and we could skate on what was a large disk. Better, when the moon was out, we could skate under the stars, and being then far from the city, the gentle stain of the Milky Way and the piercing light of the planets graced the sky and provided enough light to make the black ice sparkle in sheets of chips from the skates.

The barn and stables had simple wreaths and to the aromas of farm and house were added the scent of evergreen and holiday cooking. Aunt Ellie would get more and more excited at the prospect of her family’s arrival and her eyes were as bright and anticipatory as her grandchildren when they arrived.

Uncle Russ had a seismically deep voice and he would read a story to the family, and it was always a joy to watch his grandchildren overcome their initial fear of this huge man with the deep voice reading about St. Nick. They’d start leaning timidly against a mother’s knee, slowly edge closer, and finish the story in his lap, yelling in unison “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!” Then letting Grand Dad put them to bed under the adoring eyes of Eleanor. Then the silence of the deep country under a clear sky on a cold night. And the hysteria of Christmas on the morrow.

It is a vivid memory, which means it’s suspect. But if there’s one thing Christmas provides and forgives, it is the shawl of memory, warm and questionable.

Merry Christmas.