Of Hearth & Home For the Holidays

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Executive Editor

Richard Johnstone
Richard Johnstone

In a world seemingly gone mad with domestic political strife and partisan bickering and 24/7 talking heads giving equal airtime both to real news (North Korea, for instance) and to voyeuristic fluff (runaway brides, as an example) — not to mention ongoing wars and rumors of wars and the daily threat of terrorism — it’s a welcome relief to come to this season of holy days and happy gatherings.

The holidays that close out the calendar year — Thanksgiving, the religious celebrations of our various faith traditions, and New Year’s Eve and Day — remind us of what’s really important: our faith, our family, our community, concern for those less fortunate, and grateful hearts for our many blessings as Americans.

It’s in this spirit of celebrating home and hearth — and to continue a tradition we’ve followed for many years now — that we offer in this final issue of 2006 some of our favorite passages from works written about this most sacred, most special season. Here’s to a blessed, bountiful, and (most of all) peaceful holiday season to your family from all of us at Cooperative Living, your electric cooperative’s member magazine.

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 ... Everybody in town had at least one tree. Some had a dozen. No matter. Pecans were prestige. They fitted Christmas.

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 Smith, “Tree-Shaking Day,” from Memory of a Large Christmas, 1961-62.

Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.

A woman with shorn white hair is standing at the kitchen window. She is wearing tennis shoes and a shapeless gray sweater over a summery calico dress. She is small and sprightly, like a bantam hen; but, due to a long youthful illness, her shoulders are pitifully hunched. Her face is remarkable — not unlike Lincoln’s, craggy like that, and tinted by sun and wind; but it is delicate, too, finely boned, and her eyes are sherry-colored and timid.

“Oh my,” she exclaims, her breath smoking the windowpane, “it’s fruitcake weather!”

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

“It’s all so beautiful and at the same time so baffling,” said Mrs. Baxter.

“What is?” asked Mr. Baxter, drowsily.

“Christmas, of course. Don’t go to sleep like a lump, darling. I don’t mean just the day. I mean the whole thing. The whole build-up. Christmas isn’t just another holiday. It’s a force — a terrific force that we don’t understand. It does things to people. If you took Christmas out of the world it would be a major calamity. But try to explain why — try to pin it down — and it’s like trying to pick up a soap bubble.

“What is Christmas? You can’t tell me and neither can anyone else. Is it a religious day — or a pagan festival — or is it just a bit of folklore that won’t die?”

“Or a shot in the arm for the department stores,” suggested Mr. Baxter.

“All right. A shot in the arm, if you will. It can be all these things and at the same time it’s none of them. On the surface it’s dozens of things that are constantly changing. Yet the heart of it never changes. It just goes right on beating through the centuries, strong and ageless.”

— Edward Streeter, “Merry Christmas, Mr. Baxter,” 1956.

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 Christmas time) 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,” from The Second Tree from the Corner, 1949.


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