Followed by a Star

starseeker2

Perhaps she noticed my absence. More likely, she felt a draft from the partly-opened door and came out to investigate. Whatever drew my grandmother onto the porch that cold Christmas night, she discovered a quilt-wrapped, shivering, unhappy litle girl huddled on her front steps.

“Well, for heavens’ sake,” she said.”What’s the matter? What are you doing out here?” “I don’t want to go home,” I said. “Of course you don’t,” she said, sitting down next to me on the step. “It was a nice Christmas. Did you have fun? Did you like your presents?” Unwilling to look at her, I murmured the complaint voiced by generations of children. “I wish it wasn’t over.”
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Henry Longfellow Considers Christmas

longfellowHenry Wadsworth Longfellow ~ Chromolithographic cigar box label, Heppenheimer & Maurer, ca. 1880

Long ago and far away, in a world still accepting of rhyme and meter, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow committed the crime which made him poeta non grata to later critics: he became popular with the reading public. By the mid-twentieth century, Longfellow’s accessibility had become, as Indiana University professor Christoph Irmscher puts it, his literary equivalent to the mark of Cain.

A century after publication of his most memorable works, Longfellow not only continued to be accessible, he had become ubiquitous.  By the time I graduated from high school, I’d read dozens of Longfellow poems and memorized others, either in part or in whole.  Some still linger: “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls”; “Paul Revere’s Ride“; “Evangeline.”
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The Tumbleweed Christmas Tree

O Christmas Tree

Even if the words toolpusher, roughneck, monkeyboard, or mud man aren’t familiar, it’s probably clear that this aging bit of oil field equipment, known as a Christmas tree, has little to do with the fragrant pine and fir trees we bring into our homes for the holidays.

Still, the quite modern array of valves, spools, and fittings, designed to control the flow of fluids into or out of a well, reminded oil and gas field workers of old-fashioned, decorated Christmas trees: and so it was that the name took hold. Continue reading

Wisdom: Gift-Wrapped and Waiting

The key sits loosely in its lock, unturned, unnecessary. In a neighborhood where children drift from one house to the next as freely as wind-tossed leaves, and women freely borrow milk or sugar from unattended kitchens, no one locks a closet.

In this neighborhood, closets hold no treasure — no jewels, no gold, no banded stacks of bills. They overflow with life’s necessities: shoes tidied into original boxes, purses and shirts, a wardrobe of ties. Now and then, two closets nestle side by side. Hers is obvious: ajumble with boxes of quilting scraps, extra pillows, photographs, and report cards. His, more intentional, arranged with more precision, is a purposeful array of hunting vests, stamp paraphernalia, drafting tools, and gun cases. It’s a perfect marriage of closets.

Dimly lit and cave-like, the closets are mysterious, compelling and sancrosanct. Few children dare enter them without permission, but in these weeks before Christmas, a child might be tempted to cross the bounds of caution by the merest whisper of possibility: “There might be presents…” Continue reading

The Kingfisher’s Carol


The Common Kingfisher – Alcedo atthis

When it comes to Christmas, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. My traditions may be idiosyncratic, but it just isn’t Christmas without pickled herring, a string of cranberries on the tree, bayberry candles, and Medieval carols. Pink and lavender trees, Mannheim Steamroller, and Elves on the Shelves will come and go, but I’m satisfied with my old ways, and probably always will be.

Still, there are times when something new emerges from the clutter and cacaphony of the season and attracts my attention. Last year, it was a snippet of song that stopped me in the yogurt aisle of a local grocery.  Light and rhythmic, it lilted through the store: a memorable melody with words sung in a language I couldn’t decipher.
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For Cats Who Love Christmas

Laugh at the antlers if you must, but laugh at your peril. That business-like look in the eyes of my beautiful calico is very real. Dixie Rose (short for Dixie-Rose-Center-of-the-Universe-and-Queen-of-all-She-Surveys) loves Christmas, and she intends to be ready when it arrives. I don’t advise standing in her way.

Dixie arrived on my doorstep fourteen years ago: an unloved, four-month-old stray who became my first pet. I did receive a small, painted turtle as a child, but it met an unfortunate end. A well-meant birthday puppy lasted only a few hours.  Tiny but exceedingly enthusiastic, the black Cocker Spaniel terrified me, and soon was sent packing by disconsolate adults.

Later, I raised a fox squirrel, and laughed my way through four years with a prairie dog, but my relationship to Dixie Rose is of a different order entirely. I believe her to be the most beautiful creature on four paws. Whether she’s the most spoiled remains up for debate, but she’s working at it — diligently. Continue reading