Enduring Truths

by Richard G. Johnstone Jr., Exec. Editor


Richard Johnstone

In a year wracked by hurricanes and tropical storms, rent by political division, shaken by earthquakes, with most everyone still shuddering from ongoing conflicts around the globe, uncertain about finances of family and nation, unhappy with politicians of all stripes, worried about their children’s future, weary of recession and dismayed over rumors of another, and tired of the tedious 24/7 media machines that stuff airtime as plump as sausage casings with the salacious and the sleazy ...

Well, as the year winds down, surely such a backdrop prompts us to hold ever tighter to the enduring truths of our faith traditions, the welcoming warmth of home and hearth, and the comforting certainty of the ancient, inexorable rhythms that turn the seasons. 

So to celebrate the longer, clearer view that winter brings to the landscape and to our lives, we continue a tradition that goes back more than a decade, and herewith share with our readers some of our favorite passages describing the magical joys of November and December.  

Late November brings an end to full-fledged Autumn. The lasting warmth, the balmy days, the hazy in-between time, seldom endure much beyond Thanksgiving. Then it is that the pines and hemlocks stand out in cold-season strength of green; then the white reach of the birches is clear and clean against the sky ... The season changes so slowly that I must pause and listen to hear the silence. Autumn creeps away in sandals woven of milkweed floss; Winter makes no noise until it owns the land.

 — Hal Borland, This Hill, This Valley, 1957.

 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. 

Peter ran to the window and pushed the curtain aside to watch them. Arm in arm they went over the path, two black figures on the white field of snow, with stars looking down on them and the dark lines of the hills rimming them in a known world. Now they were running a little, then they stopped as if to catch their breath and Peter saw his mother toss her head quickly, then his father threw back his head and laughed. What a wonderful time Christmas Eve was, Peter thought, the world so still and everyone in it so happy. For so many days of the year his father was serious and full of care and his mother’s thoughts seemed far ahead of her as if she were thinking of all the things she had to do ... .

— Elizabeth Yates, “Once in the Year,” from A Newbery Christmas (compilation selected by Greenberg and Waugh), 1991.

With a dramatic sweep of her arm, the screen would be pushed aside and they would parade into the darkened living room where, at one end, the tree glowed with color, lighting the familiar walls with an unreal and transient radiance ... They entered the living room, stood for a moment silently, looking, each seeing in his own way what the crowd had seen when they looked at the great tree at Rockefeller Center, each sensing vaguely that he had stepped into a magic circle from which the harshness of life had been debarred and only its warmth and tenderness admitted.

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



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