A Sense of The Season
By Richard G. Johnstone, Jr., Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

Is there — indeed, could there be — a more evocative time of year than the Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s window, through which float or fly sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches that bring back and add to our collective exhilaration at the overwhelming wonder of it all? More than any other, this is the season when we are most closely connected to our childhood sense of fresh awe, of excitement, of possibility … no matter how faint or fragile or fleeting that gossamer thread may be.

As has become our custom, during this year-end issue we’d like to share with your family some of our favorite passages from stories and essays that speak to our senses during this sacred, special time.

The Sights of the Season . . .

If you want to have a Christmas like the one we had on Paradise Farm when I was a boy, you will have to hunt up a salt-water farm on the Maine coast, with bays on both sides of it, and a road that goes around all sorts of bays, up over Misery Hill and down, and through the fir trees so close together that they brush you and your horse on both cheeks … You must have a clear December night, with blue Maine stars snapping like sapphires with the cold, and the big moon flooding full … and lighting up the snowy spruce boughs like crushed diamonds.

—Robert P. Tristram Coffin,
“Christmas in Maine,” 1935.

The Sounds of the Season . . .

Christmas began when pecans started falling. The early November rains loosened the nuts from their outer shells and sent them plopping like machine gun bullets on the roof of the veranda. In the night, you’d listen and you’d know IT would soon be here … And so you lay there, listening to the drip drip of rain and plop plop of nuts, feeling something good is going to happen, something good and it won’t be long now.

—Lillian S. Smith, “Tree-Shaking Day,” 
Memory of a Large Christmas, 1961.

The Smells of the Season . . .

Around Christmastime the kitchens of Freetown, Virginia, would grow fragrant with the baking of cakes, fruit puddings, cookies, and candy. Exchanging gifts was not a custom at that time, but we did look forward to hanging our stockings from the mantel and finding them filled on Christmas morning with tasty “imported” nuts from Lahore’s, our favorite hard candies with the cinnamon-flavored red eye, and oranges whose special Christmas aroma reached us at the top of the stairs.

—Edna Lewis, “Joy in Freetown,”
The Taste of Country Cooking, 1976.

The black stove, stoked with coal and firewood, glows like a lighted pumpkin. Eggbeaters whirl, spoons spin round in bowls of butter and sugar, vanilla sweetens the air, ginger spices it; melting, nose-tingling odors saturate the kitchen, suffuse the house, drift out to the world on puffs of chimney smoke. In four days our work is done. Thirty-one (fruit)cakes, dampened with whiskey, bask on window sills and shelves.

—Truman Capote, “A Christmas Memory,”
Selected Writings of Truman Capote, 1956.

and finally,

The Spirit of the Season . . .

So this day and this century proceed toward the absolutes of convenience, of complexity, and of speed, only occasionally holding up the little trumpet (as at Christmastime) to be reminded of the simplicities, and to hear the distant music of the hound. Man’s inventions, directed always onward and upward, have an odd way of leading back to man himself, as a rabbit track in snow leads eventually to the rabbit. It is one of his more endearing qualities that man should think his tracks lead outward, toward something else, instead of back around the hill to where he has already been; and it is one of his persistent ambitions to leave earth entirely and travel by rocket into space, beyond the pull of gravity, and perhaps try another planet, as a pleasant change. He knows that the atomic age is capable of delivering a new package of energy; what he doesn’t know is whether it will prove to be a blessing. This week, many will be reminded that no explosion of atoms generates so hopeful a light as the reflection of a star, seen appreciatively in a pasture pond. It is there we perceive Christmas — and the sheep quiet, and the world waiting.

—E.B. White, “The Distant Music of the Hounds,” 
The Second Tree from the Corner, 1949.


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