Christmas was magical in those days. [what days? even though it’s in the title, you need to establish the time and place within the story.] We would rise around eight, the sun out but hovering beneath a layer of clouds, the snow glimmering dimly in the pale light. The children were easier to wake than when they were smaller and after rousing Daddy we would all troop into the living room, Christmas carols playing in the background, the children’s faces awash in the glow of tree lights and the sure, pure knowledge that Santa exists.
Sometimes Santa would leave brother a train or a car and then there was the year that jovial elf left a dragon complete with expectorated fireball and a plastic knight which was, as brother observed, “too statued” to allow proper placement on the dragon’s back making it a flawed toy, but the favorite, none-the-less. And after fully inspecting the toy of his dearest wishes he would become the Christmas Elf, passing out parcels and presents, his cry of “See, I told you this would be a fun day!” filling the air.
In the days of Colorado, sister was finally old enough to appreciate the promise of Santa. There were houses for her Barbie dolls, whistles and dollies, doll clothes and doll beds, doll cars and doll sleds. She, being young and blessed with an uncarnal [is this really the word you want to use?] mind, was happy to receive just one or two little gifts, enjoying the proceeding ones with greater and greater pleasure, pulling the red and white sweaters from the wrappings with oohs and ahs and drawing the soft mittens and hats and stockings along her cheek in fondest appreciation until she had had so many presents to open that she became quite querulous and demanding, stamping her little foot in a fury designed to produce more presents when there were simply no more to be had. [long sentence] She could only be induced, in those days, to calm down when the various boxes and wrappings were opened to free her dolls from their moorings, whereupon she would often be heard to say, “It is beautiful and I am beautiful and Mommy is beautiful!”
After all had opened their gifts; the children their toys, Daddy, one jewel box after another containing not jewelry but money and checks, and Mother, her silver and house wares and books, we would go to the kitchen and rummage around in the fridge and the cupboards, where it was known that ham, eggs, bread, bacon, hash browns and juice could be found. Daddy would set himself to the task of cooking, assigning mother the chore of timing the toast, just so, while the children scampered downstairs in their pajamaed feet, sliding and bumping down the dark narrow stairs to the basement, their arms full of the morning’s loot, to while away the time until breakfast with a showing of a favorite holiday movie. Then we would all have a long, lazy breakfast in front of the television.
It always came as a surprise when Mother would announce, with no sign, no warning, that it was time to go, to hurry, to get dressed, to get cleaned up, to put on our boots, to find our mittens and hats, and then to go! We would scamper up the stairs, our startlement lending wings to our feet, zoom past the windowed door leading out to the garage where the dog, could be seen at the back door, Christmas bone in his mouth, then on through the kitchen, past the Christmas tree, where papers, bows and boxes would fly from our precarious path, and on into our rooms. Hurriedly we dressed for no other reason than Mother told us so, then presented ourselves, never missing anything more important than a pair of socks or even a shirt, in front of our mother who would scold and hound, whisking the gloves and hats and boots from unknown origins onto our rarely cooperative hands and feet.
Daddy would back the car out of the garage and warm it up while loading the trunk with water and blankets, apples and oranges and whatever else he thought we might need if we were stranded somewhere in the white wilderness. Then we were off to places unknown. The journey itself was an exciting one, to be abroad on Christmas day, when all the world seemed to stop and stand still and listen. The mountains to the west beckoned us on into their snow-draped folds, the branches of the trees, bare except for an ancient bird’s nest here and there, would articulate, with their snow-white fingers, the way we should go and that is where we went, always; past the snow bleached field dotted with the black tracks of incipient geese, over the hill and past the white-frozen pond, then down under the train tracks and onto the open road.
A few cars would whirl past us but we took our time, rolling past houses and barns, their cake-icinged roofs boasting icicles jutting out over doorways which were gaily foil-papered, green-wreathed and red-bowed, waiting for someone to come Christmas-knocking.
Even the hills knew how to decorate for Christmas, it seemed, being bearded, here and there, with waterfalled icicles, frozen in place, skipping and dripping down the unmoving rock and onto a large lake dotted with motionless white caps that seemed to scud along the glassy surface amongst the ice fisherman sitting on crates and their dogs. Snow could be seen falling in the distance to meet the already white-capped mountains, which rose, in their turn, into the misty snowfall so that one could hardly tell where the sky ended and the mountain began.
Entering a tunnel, we would Hallooh! and scream until, reaching the other side, we would emerge into a sea of green firs, towering and white-capped or dusted with snow while tiny snowflakes flew into our windshield like aged dandelion seeds, as if God were making a wish. Drifting snow smoked across the black road while, up on the hill, red and blue skiers slogged down the long length of white, always with one or two black shapes sprawled, skis askew, in the powder-soft, cold, wet snow.
One town often arrived at in our Christmas travels was a real Victorian survivor, close to the skiing and filled with all the delights for which even a Floridian tourist could wish. We would ride the city transit system, a red and green trolley, up and down the main street for free and slide along the wide wooden benches into various other passengers who would smile and nod because it was Christmas.
Sometimes, if it were open, which it often was, on a Christmas Day, we would go into a little shop for cocoa and cinnamon buns. You opened the door and were met with the choice of going downstairs to stand in a long queue or up, up the narrow stairs to the fourth floor, the ski-chaleted, coffee-warmed, table-crowded room where one could watch from over the railing the tea-sippers on the tiny third floor below and the fat flakes floating forever eastward past the window in one direction and due south past the windows in the other. At the top, you could sit for many amusing hours watching the die-away-light in the eyes of numerous customers who, upon gaining the fourth floor, juggling coats and hats and mittens and sunglasses whereupon balanced precarious trays filled with doughnuts and rolls, coffees, cocoas, plastic forks and spoons –paper napkins–only to find there were no empty chairs, just as there had not been anyplace along their trek up the wooden-stepped, narrow-pitched, stair-wayed mountain.
Most usually we guzzled our cocoa and bun and then it was back on with the snow gear and out to find that it was still snowing in large, lazy spirals towards the ground and the air had warmed and the once gray sky had turned to a quilted cottonball white. The snowflakes fell so slowly, so densely, so perfectly for catching them on one’s tongue, it was easy for one to wonder why the entire population of sidewalk walkers and shopworn shoppers didn’t stop what they were doing to stick out their tongues and invite the snowflakes inside. We always did, halting just where we were in the middle of the pavement, arms flapping in delight whilst our tongues flapped in time, delving for just the right flake at just the right moment. Then we stuck our tongues to a nearby tree, trying our mightiest to hold them there while tilting our heads to sideways-smile in shared delight at the passers-by who pointed and laughingly shook their heads and who had doubtless seen the same Christmas movie we had in which a child is warned not to stick his tongue to a frozen metal pole, and who does and gets stuck.
Then, invariably, Mother and Daddy would return us to the car where we would be buckled into our seats and the doors closed behind us while they walked a pace or two down the sidewalk holding hands like a pair of teenagers with no cares in the world only to turn and come back and stand, kissing, with red noses and snow-whitened hair. Finally, they would open their doors and charge into the car on a fresh blast of arctic wind, whereupon Daddy started up the motor while Mother complained about the cold and the chill and the future puddle on the floor sure to form under her snow encrusted boots.
We would drive for awhile around the town’s neighborhoods and imagine what they would be like a month from that day when the unstopping-snow would pile up to the tops of the steps or to the bottoms of the windows until finally, the oft-shoveled drift-piled snow would tower, in our imaginations, to brush the icicle-strewn eaves. Then we would drive north into the teeth of the storm, the snow flying into our windshield and zooming past the windows with such urgency that their silent striking upon the glass made one think of deafness, or of cotton wadding. Finally, we would be heading home, past a whirling dervish of a snow-devil, funneled and flowing towards the sky as if, perhaps, in a former life, it had been a snowman even then on its way to the angels. The mountains and lakes and icicle waterfalls would all look different and new, watching them, as we were, from the opposite direction, yet, tired and warm, our heads would nod and some of us would slip into sleep.
Those who stayed awake would often be rewarded with the sight of a setting sun celebrating Christmas—an orange-pink, light-filled cloud would rise from behind a green-fringed mountain with such luminescent, glowing shine that one could not help but wonder if no Christmas tree, however gaily strung, could ever inspire such magic.
Eventually, we would be jostled out of our reverie by the sound of tires crunching along the ice-filmed drive in front of our house and we would stir and yawn and drift soundlessly from the car, trailing our possessions into the cold, dark house. Weaving our way around the wrappings and boxes still littering the floor around the tree and spilling on into the hallway and other rooms, we would pick up one treasure after another to re-inspect it in the bright lamplight whereupon, settling on one or the other, we would quietly play until, lids drooping, we grew tired.
The children went first–soft cuddly toys tucked under their chins or held in their fat little fists–without a murmur or complaint to be washed, brushed and pajamaed and finally to be blanketed over and folded up into instant slumber, never to see, or know, or care, how Mother and Daddy staggered down the never-longer hall to their own room where they collapsed into bed with the sheer exhaustion of the utterly replete. Outside, the Christmas-lighted houses glowed like candied gingerbread under their layer of snow. Their winking and blinking, as far as I knew, went on and on far into the dreaming night.
What I liked best: The language. Some of this is quite beautiful, painting a very lovely image. We are so accustomed to a fast-paced story, with action and dialogoue and something IMPORTANT happening, that we forget that its sometimes good to just slow down and be in the moment. This story captures that.
Magazine ready? Yep. But it needs a better title.