Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas Spirit

I am sitting at a rehearsal writing this in pen. This is the last weekend of concerts for Warren in a month full of them.

It is the Friday night before Christmas.

While the musicians and chorus were taking their places on stage, I plumped my jacket up on the seat back next to me and tucked myself into the briefest of naps.

I am that tired.

The performances this weekend are in Mansfield, about an hour north of us. With the short days, it was already deep dusk by the time we left the house tonight. Much of the drive is through rural areas. The crops are all in; the bare field stretch away into the dark. In the cold evening gloom, the Christmas lights here and there stood out sharply.

The county immediately north of us is one of the state's poorest outside of Appalachian Ohio. There was a sign in the town square of the county seat that there would be a food drive, right there, tomorrow morning.

Just a small reminder of how hard the times are.

Despite the times, even the shabbiest houses have a string of lights on the door or a tree in a window. This reminded me of a scene from the short story, "Star Across the Tracks:"

Then Ernie signaled and the little procession swung down out of High View and circled into the part of town where the blocks were prosaically rectangular and everything became smaller; yards, houses, Christmas trees.

"Look!" mamma said happily. "Ain't it nice? There ain't no patent on it. Everyone can make merry. Every little house can have its own fun and tree, just the same as the big ones."

"Star Across the Tracks" was written by Bess Streeter Aldrich, a Nebraska writer in the first half of the twentieth century. Aldrich, whose legacy is a whole handful of novels, also wrote a number of stories mostly set in Depression-era Nebraska. A number of them, all about Christmas, can be found in her collection, Journey Into Christmas.

Aldrich wrote about what she saw and experienced firsthand in Nebraska during the 1930s. She wrote of the shock of losing the family business or the hard-earned savings of a lifetime. She wrote of everyday men and women struggling to stay afloat during a holiday time and feeling only a dullness as the holidays approached.

I like Aldrich's Christmas stories because while they often end on a quiet, positive note, she keeps them grounded in the reality of the era. Jobs are not miraculously restored; savings are not replenished. Her characters have to dig deep inside themselves to resolve the conflict in their hearts between the promise of the Christmas season and the reality of their daily lives. They invariably do so (it is fiction, after all), but not without considerable effort and thoughtfulness on their parts.

I have written recently that I have not found my Christmas spirit yet this season. If by "Christmas spirit" I mean the holly, jolly, jingle bells, deck the halls kind, I can safely say I probably won't be finding it this year.

But if by that phrase I mean the quiet, thoughtful kind of spirit, then maybe just maybe I am already halfway there. It was in the faces of the church school children caroling the other morning in the downtown coffee shop where I happened to be with Margo. It was in Warren's voice as we drove to rehearsal when he suggested we get a tree Saturday morning. It will be in Mt. Gilead's city parking lot tomorrow morning during the food drive.

And maybe, if I look deep inside myself, it might just be inside me too.

Postscript: We woke this morning to the first real snow of that season, both of us catching our breaths at the transformation of outdoors. That was enough to get us out the door early; we even bought a Christmas tree.


Sharon said...

Sounds wonderful! We are in the midst of a blizzard..not usual for No. Virginia for sure!

Happy decorating...I'm slowing invoking some peace with the holiday as well...

Bethany Proudley said...

April-I ran across your blog and spent hours reading. I have since revisited and reread. I'm sorry to hear about your cancer, and I pray that you will be okay. You're in my thoughts a lot these days....thoughts about the past, about how I could always talk to you in the most open and honest ways, and thoughts about our friendship-about how you could always make me laugh. I've always enjoyed your writing, your thoughts, your insight. It's been a hard road for me, filled with a lot of ups and downs. Unfortunately, more downs that ups, but within the past two months my life has taken a remarkable turn for the better. I'm glad that you found Warren, he seems to make you very happy and, from what you've written, seems to be a perfect fit. I hope you write me-I can be reached at Be good to yourself, miss you.
Love, Bethany