Photo by gish700.
It’s a busy week, so when I ran across a copy of this little story I wrote in 1996, I decided it was perfect for today’s post. As I typed it in, I found myself critiquing my writing—so typical for anyone who creates and is looking back on something they created long ago. But I was also fascinated by this person I was then, who is so clearly connected to who I’ve become, in spite of all that has changed. I resisted the urge to edit, and am sharing with you the original version. Merry Christmas.
One Christmas Eve, when I was eleven, we broke tradition. Instead of a big dinner, the Kennedy Center Christmas concert on television, and then the candlelight service at church, we loaded the wrapped packages and skis and skates into the car, and spent the evening traveling north, to the cabin.
The drive that night was dreamlike. We left in darkness and falling snow to meet the others, who had driven up the day before. It was so bitterly cold that the car’s heater couldn’t sufficiently warm the air, so my mother and Aunt Lesley and I bundled up tight in the back seat under a sleeping bag. I felt like Laura Ingalls and her family during The Long Winter, traveling in their horse-drawn sleigh with fur lap robes tucked around them and Pa’s bear freezing into dozens of tiny icicles as he urged the team along.
While my father concentrated to identify the curve of the road through the flakes that flew suddenly out of the dark and toward the windshield, illuminated by the headlights, my mother and aunt led us through a long string of Christmas carols and songs.
When it was time to stop for a late dinner, we drove by several dark restaurants before finally seeing a pizza place that looked promising. It was closing for the night, but the manager saw our desperation and gave us a pizza—someone else’s wrong order. Back in the cold car with the lukewarm pizza box on our laps, slices being passed around, I felt a surge of contentment and closeness to my family on this adventure, with its small hardships and blessings.
Later, the northern Michigan road took more curves and dips, and we drove for miles at a time without seeing another car, or saying a word. Suddenly, my brother asked out of the cold, sleepy silence why some countries had nuclear bombs. The question seemed foreign in the context of that peace, yet it seemed the only “why” to ask, taking on a desperateness and clarity for a family very much together on Christmas Eve.
I had scarcely heard the words “nuclear bomb” before, and while I don’t recall my mother’s exact response, I know it was gentle, yet frank. The possibility of such power and devastation terrified me. I wanted to stay in that moment forever, safely wedged between my mother and aunt under the sleeping bag, with my father carefully navigating us through the snow, and my brother beside him, seeming so grown up. I wanted all of us to remain together in that small space, traveling through snow and woods and dark silence on Christmas Eve.
I must have finally fallen asleep, because suddenly the unpaved roads leading to the cabin awoke me with their gentle, familiar rocking. The darkness around us was complete in those snow-covered woods. Then we saw the glowing windows of the cabin through the trees. Warmth and family were waiting inside.
As we pulled into the drive and I struggled to fully awake from my dream-like state, I saw the Christmas tree in the window. Earlier that day, my uncle had skied into the woods to cut it down, and then had covered the branches with only candles—dozens of flickering lights—like a promise of Christ’s birth and a tomorrow.