Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Memories

The other day we visited my mother and had a lovely afternoon together. What was the most fun was seeing her Christmas tree in her recent addition of a solarium and how happy she is in her new home (almost two years--maybe three? At 45 my memory is starting to wane a bit). She can watch a variety of birds from three sides of the room which overlooks a large field with a seasonal view to the northeast, high on a hill about a mile from the old farm where we lived. A few days after Thanksgiving we also got together for a walk to pick arm fulls of red winter berries that grow in the swampy areas of New England.

We reminisced about past Christmases when we were together as a family. She loves Christmas and always decorates in her charming way. Her two trees are covered in vintage ornaments from our childhood (many made by Mrs. Twila Baker who also crafted one for each of my brothers and me when we were growing up in Ohio) and additions from recent years. Her Santa collection is still going strong.

Much of my mother's holiday decor is reminiscent of specific Christmas memories from childhood. I recognized several of the d├ęcoupaged boards that she and Mrs. Baker used to make together. They would distress old boards and then use varnish or ModPodge (certainly a product of the 60s and still available) to seal an image on them. One is of a jolly Santa in the kitchen or pantry that I have always loved, but had forgotten as I hadn't seen him in a while.

Among the presents we got my Mom was a favorite book of mine by Cynthia Rylant, Christmas in the Country. The book reminds me of my mother, my grandparents, and the farm where she (and we) grew up. It begins:

When I was a little girl, I lived with my grandparents in the country. Our house was small and white. It had an old coal stove to keep us warm and a tiny little kitchen for supper and a nice back porch for the dogs...

My grandfather always got our Christmas tree from the woods behind the house. Off he'd go with his ax while my grandmother and I pulled boxes of old ornaments from her closet, which smelled like wool and mothballs.


Rylant was raised by her grandparents in the mountains of West Virginia and her first book, When I was Young in the Mountains, is about that childhood while many of her books are also influenced by her rural upbringing. I have always enjoyed her books and my boys have learned to read on the Henry and Mudge series. [In 1993 she won the Newbery Medal for Missing May] She writes exactly the style of books I would want to write for children and perhaps that is why I appreciate them: for their rural places, strong family values and a simpler time.

As we are leaving for Kentucky a few days after Christmas (but will be back up here in the summer), it was a bittersweet gathering. This is the first time I've really left home, having spent childhood summers and the past thirty-three years anchored to this part of New Hampshire. I have always been somewhat in my mother's orbit and, apart from a year spent in England, have never lived more than two hours away from her. I know my mother will always remain in our orbit and our hearts, wherever that may be.

As we load our own wagon train, I have thought of how hard it must have been for the early settlers of this land to leave their families and friends behind them and head west, knowing it was likely the last time they would see them again. But today with the internet, phone and any variety of travel, it is still possible to remain in touch in ways we would never have imagined in the nineteenth century. And I am glad to know that I have satellite internet on our ridge in Kentucky. There is a reassurance about these connections in cyberspace to friends, family, and the greater world.

This Christmas we remember and rekindle with family and dear friends--both new and old--and count our many blessings. Have a blessed season with your own family and friends, dear blog readers, and thank you for being here.

No comments: