When my sister and I were in our early teens, we were lucky enough to have horses. Well, a horse. We boarded several, but we owned Clancy, a sable-brown thoroughbred with the temperament of a big lab. He was tall and gentle and surprisingly patient with a couple young girls learning to ride bareback through the fields around our home. Our neighbor friends boarded a couple of their horses, as well, and one of them was really smart. Clipper could open the door to his stall at will. Thankfully there was a paddock around the small barn that housed him and the others. But every once in awhile, it didn’t matter.
More than once the phone would ring in the middle of the night, and the convent nuns would be calling to tell us our horses were in their field again. Mom would come wake Kathleen and me and tell us to go get them. We lived in a very small town at that time, quiet and rural. This particular summer night, Kathy threw on some shorts under her PJ top, and she and I, in my kelly-green baby doll pajamas and tennis shoes, walked the half mile, bridles in hand, to the church yard where we found our two errant horses nibbling away on the green grass.
I have the sweetest most vivid memory of she and I atop those two horses climbing the hill towards home, hooves slowly sounding their ‘clip-clop’ down the dirt road. It had to be near midnight, but we didn’t need flashlights. Back then, with few lights for distraction, the dark sky had set off the brilliant stars and the Milky Way, creating an atmosphere so peaceful, I never wanted it to end. Letting the horses find their way, our heads tilted back looking at the deep, vast, star-filled sky, it was probably as close to heaven as I’ve ever been.
Growing up, there was a Christmas Eve tradition in our home that, according to my mom, began when she was just a little girl. Her parents started it, then my parents followed in their footsteps with the reading of T’was the Night Before Christmas.
Each year on that night, we would all get into our pajamas and make our way downstairs for “The Reading.” Dad would lie on his belly at the foot of the tree surrounded by all his children with mom standing somewhere behind. He would masterfully and with great relish read from the pages of that well-known book. After concluding with a very dramatic, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” we would suddenly hear, “Crack! Crack! Crack!” and from the ceiling huge walnuts would fall to the floor! At the same time, dad would leap up and run to the window yelling, “I see him! I see Santa! There he goes!” As we searched the dark skies for any sign of the sleigh, mom and dad would tell us to hurry upstairs so Santa could come back. We would then race up to bed and wait until morning to descend the stairs and behold the many presents under the Christmas tree.
As we got older, of course, we were quick to figure it all out. But with such a large family, and always with little ones, it was great fun to see what our parents saw, and it made us want to duplicate it in our own families years later.
This is a photo collage I put together on Christmas Eve a few years ago. These pictures started showing up on Facebook as the evening progressed, and I just had to collect as many as I could and put them together as a small tribute to a cherished tradition started over 90 years ago. I was lucky enough to experience this great mystery as a child, and it has been passed along to my children and now my grandchildren. My nieces and nephews and now great-nieces and great-nephews are delighting in the same excitement. I’m sure my mom’s parents never dreamed their idea for a little Christmas Eve magic would be repeated for generations every night before Christmas. But I know when it is, they, along with all our missed loved ones, are smiling down on these scenes.
11/28/19. Thanksgiving Day. This will be my eighth holiday season in Florida, which is hard to believe. And of those eight, several of them were spent on my own in my own place doing my own thing, such as it was.
The holidays bring so many memories reaching all the way to when I was a kid. Our family would either host or attend the many get-togethers surrounding the season, and I would eventually come to understand the significance and the importance of tradition.
Weather permitting, the kids would come prepared for the outdoors and would play outside until called in for dinner. It was always potluck style with everyone bringing a little something to the table. There was loads of help, with the kitchen as the center, the adults milling around, prepping the buffet for the long line of hungry eaters. Afterwards, tables were cleared, games were set up, and the fun and laughter would go well into the evening.
It’s difficult to let that go, but life happens; loved ones pass on, kids grow up and move on, and the only constant, it seems, is change. I know in some families it stays the same generation after generation. But in a family as large as ours, there’s bound to be lots of change, welcome and unwelcome.
And so it goes. This Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season that eases our way into 2020 and another year. Family and friends surround us helping create new memories. We slowly establish new traditions while thinking back to the ones that formed us. Seasons change, times change, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
When we were kids living in an old farmhouse in Rochester, Michigan, there was a tree way out in the back yard with a rope swing in it. It was the perfect rope swing. The rope was thick; probably not as thick as I remember, but holding it in my smaller hands, it was the perfect size to get a tight, two-fisted grasp around it that included elbows. The knot on the bottom was wide enough to accommodate both butt cheeks, but you could still lock your knees and legs around it for dear life. Picture someone trying to climb a rope, and that’s the form we seemed to take when we would first attempt the swing.
I’m third of 11 kids. I have an older brother and sister, and then a whole bunch of boys follow with another little girl thrown in for good measure. I was probably nine or 10 before I worked up the gumption to finally climb into the crotch of that tree and sidle out the thick limb that had the bark worn off from bottom after bottom sliding off into the air. I can still feel the trembling and the panic in my heart as I sat there terrified I would fall off waiting for someone to toss me the knot, praying I would catch it with my feet. Then, God help me, I had to pull my knees up and reach for the rope,all the while balancing and shaking like the leaves around me!
To their credit, my siblings were pretty good about urging me on, telling me I could do it. Looking back, they probably just wanted me to hurry up so they’d have a turn. I’d certainly been in that position before and not gone, so kudos to them for what I took for encouragement.
But that first time … Honestly, I can still feel my butt slowly slide off the branch while holding onto that rope like a baby chimp to it’s mother, my hair flying, hoping I wouldn’t swing back and hit the tree (never!), listening to the cheers of my brothers and sister. Heart pounding, a wide grin on my face, I savored my first flight down and out over the septic field, back and forth, finally slowing down and relaxing enough to trust my legs to hold me when I jumped off.
It was certainly a right of passage, an unquestionable confidence builder that perhaps led to my love of flying!