Christ­mas lives on in mem­o­ries of my mother

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - By Gar­ri­son Keil­lor

t is hard to be­lieve that the Cre­ator of our uni­verse with its bil­lions of gal­ax­ies could have sent Him­self to this lit­tle blue blip not so long ago in the form of an in­fant born to a vir­gin, to be first wor­shipped by il­lit­er­ate shep­herds where He lay in a feed trough, live­stock peer­ing down at Him, Eastern po­ten­tates following a star to the site. But here we are again, singing those songs, so we shall see.

My mother loved Christ­mas with her whole heart. With six chil­dren and no credit cards and my fa­ther ever watch­ful for un­nec­es­sary ex­pense, Christ­mas was a moun­tain for Grace to climb, re­quir­ing en­durance, plan­ning, stealth and skill, but she brought it off to per­fec­tion every year, un­til she was in her 90s and then she coasted on her mem­o­ries.

Her mother died when my mother was 7 and Mother had no mem­ory of her, which trou­bled her deeply. She looked at pho­tos of her mother, tall, haggard, from the early 1920s, and tried to dredge up some rec­ol­lec­tion, any­thing at all, the sound of her voice, what she cooked, what her hand felt like. Grace was third from the end of 11 chil­dren, the 12th hav­ing died with the mother, of scar­let fever, and Grace was raised by her older sis­ters, Mar­ian and Ruby and Mar­garet. Com­plaint was not en­cour­aged in that fam­ily, and men­tal health was not a topic for dis­cus­sion, but clearly Christ­mas was a shin­ing mo­ment of gai­ety in a fam­ily of mod­est means and strict deco­rum.

When I was 19, my older brother asked me to look af­ter his house over Christ­mas so he and his young fam­ily could drive out to New York for a week. His house was in the woods and I, in­tox­i­cated by Thoreau at the time, was more dra­matic than nec­es­sary and an­nounced that I would spend Christ­mas alone out there “to fig­ure things out.” A poem of mine got in the col­lege lit­er­ary magazine, with the lines: The ice is thin and deep is the dark Be­low, green lights in the trees and red, Wind­ing my way into the win­ter mist. Coat open and the sil­ver blades are sharp And that long long bend ahead Will take me out and away from you and all of this.

Which was about skat­ing but a girl I knew thought it was sui­ci­dal and she came out to the woods to visit me and bring me din­ner from her mother — turkey, can­died yams, cran­berry, in tin­foil. We lit can­dles and sat and med­i­tated on the mys­tery of life, and it was pleas­ant to have some­one be so con­cerned about my well-be­ing. At the time, I thought of sui­cide as po­etic, an artis­tic choice stem­ming from great emo­tional depths. Two months later, her boyfriend Leeds was killed when a drunk driver pulled out of a park­ing lot and into his mother’s car com­ing back home from a play at the Guthrie The­ater. Twenty-some years later, sunk in de­pres­sion, my friend filled her pock­ets with rocks and pad­dled a ca­noe out to the mid­dle of a lake and cap­sized it and drowned.

Life is good. On a win­ter night, look­ing into a fire, our dead are around us, tes­ti­fy­ing to that. The books on the shelves, the young peo­ple around the ta­ble, the car­ols on the ra­dio in the kitchen, the shin­ing snow on the hill that looks out at the Mis­sis­sippi River.

As you get old, you gain a stripped­down life, mi­nus the clut­ter and hul­la­baloo, the ex­cess food and al­co­hol, the mean­ing­less gifts, and it is quite sat­is­fy­ing to sit with your true love in can­dle­light, a plate of cook­ies on the ta­ble, and let mem­o­ries come and go. My mother is there. It’s 6 a.m., still dark out, and I’ve come down the stairs in my pa­ja­mas to the dark­ened tree, a note from Santa, the crumbs of the gin­ger­snap I left for him, and I hear the pad­ding of bare feet on the stair, and sud­denly the tree bursts into light, and my mother is stand­ing there in a raggedy robe. She missed her dead mother and found her every year in mak­ing Christ­mas for us.

Even af­ter she moved to Florida, she flew back for a proper Min­nesota Christ­mas with frost on the win­dows and wind in the chim­ney. What you do for chil­dren is never wasted: this Christ­mas will live on and nour­ish them long af­ter you have faded away. Gar­ri­son Keil­lor is an au­thor, en­ter­tainer and for­mer host of “A Prairie Home Com­pan­ion.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.