home for Christmas

Just another traveler on life’s highway hanging out in the slow lane.  It’s quiet.  It’s peaceful.  Beyond the horizon is rest calling my name.  Green pastures, still waters, my cup overflows.

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home for christmas

Tis the season.  Time to shake out some memories.  This is where I lived in Pennsylvania for the first 45 years of my life.  I come here every year at Christmas.  It is rural. It is peaceful.  It is where I wanted to live all of my dreams.  When snow covered the fields, the world was so quiet that I could hear myself thinking.  We built snowmen, we sledded on the hillsides, we made angels in the snow.  Winters were harsh, but also magical.

We were farmers.  During the winter months there were always building and equipment repairs to be done.  When the early winter butchering of livestock to replenish the canned meats shelves in the cellar, hams and sausages in the smokehouse, and roasts in the freezer was finished, we also challenged our hunting skills in the nearby woods to add variety to the food supply.  Quite often the women of the house had projects inside which kept us warm and comfy on the coldest of winter days.  We complained about doing ‘woman’s work’ but were quite content to be inside looking out.

The neighborhood boys came by for games of hockey on the frozen pond nearby.  Often a night game was staged with kerosene flares for lighting.  Those same flares were positioned along our sledding run for night-time rides down the hillside behind the house.  What seemed like mere seconds on the down run took fifteen minutes to return to the top.  One of the younger boys stuck his tongue on the sled’s frozen metal frame.  His older brother intuitively used his own breath to unglue the panic-stricken boy’s tongue from the icy frame.  Winter hiking on the mountaintop bordering our farm was an introduction to the indescribable beauty and peace of God’s world covered in a fresh, undisturbed snowfall where only deer and rabbits had trod.

Christmas Day was the highlight of the year.  Grandma decorated the tree which Grandpa brought from the nearby woods often fussing about the scrawny stick which he thought was beautiful.  And it always was a sight to behold, scrawny or not.  My aunt cut pine boughs from the trees in the stand of pines on the hillside, carefully attached them around the porch and nestled  brightly colored lights in the branches.  The surrounding community lauded Grandma for her cooking skills.  Indeed, she outdid herself for the holiday meal.  A fresh turkey from a neighbor’s flock, a ham from the smokehouse, numerous canned vegetables from the summer’s abundance, and desserts.  Many desserts!  My favorite was her mince-meat pie which she tediously assembled from scratch following the Pennsylvania Dutch custom of using shredded beef as the main ingredient.  The older members of the family poured a shot of Grandma’s ‘medicinal’ whiskey atop their slice of heaven.  I, later in life, was also allowed to do this.  Delicious!

Winter also allowed time to visit neighbors and travel to visit faraway relatives.  My grandparents motored to see an uncle and his family in Florida.  I met cousins whom I had never known before.  Uncle Ira owned an orange grove on a beautiful lake with scores of palm trees on its shore.  It is now part of the Villages in central Florida.  We then took off for the Florida Keys.  The bridges were very narrow at that time and Grandma freaked out driving across them.  She fussed and scolded until Grandpa turned around for the mainland.  We never made it to our destination of Key West.  I was glad to return home to Pennsylvania and it’s snow-covered hillsides.  Florida did not impress me at all.

Yes, I’ll be home for Christmas this year….but only in my dreams.

 

 

 

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silver lining

Hello from Florida, the land of the powerless and sweat-soaked.  Nice to be back.  I once again have AC and internet.  Yes, those conveniences were missed, but, the days without them forced an adjustment in daily chores and in priority thinking.  Neighbors helping neighbors, people being courteous, washing dishes in the sink, turning t-shirts inside out for another day’s wear, and cooking campfire coffee somehow take a man back to the truly important things in life.  Providing for basic comforts and needs is relearned from a childhood spent dealing with the capriciousness of farm life.  Summers without adequate rainfall meant sponge baths in the sink instead of a tub bath because the scant water supply was needed for the livestock; a poor corn crop meant no  new school clothes; sinking commodity prices meant repairing the old worn out refrigerator rather than buying a new one and making the 20 year-old-tractor last another year.

My grandfather and great-grand father with whom I lived as a child knew a hard life.  Farming was never accredited with the appropriate respect for the risks taken to provide food for their families and the city folks.  There were no guarantees back then on investment return and we were all called hicks and hayseeds.  But my forefathers were as dedicated to their life’s calling as any college degreed professional.

They were devout men.  They were earnestly sincere, devoted, godly, reverential, genuine, ardent, and true.  They were not religious although they supported the local church and its ministries.  They were pacifists who rejected the ideology of war and the country’s war machine.  They quietly raised their families to be loving and compassionate.

When times like this past week enduring hurricane Irma strike and force us to our knees, I catch glimpses of many years ago living in better times in a benevolent community of godly people that understood who they were and what their purpose was on earth.  The religious pomposity and hypocrisy we witness in today’s sects can’t hold a candle to the goodness of my people.  The corruption of today’s government would have been a mere side note in my grandfathers’ daily life.  They had more important things to consider.  They had families to enjoy and communities to build.

Irma has shown a silver lining to this simple farm boy.  I hope to return to those boyhood times more often now, to draw upon the wisdom and compassion of my folks, and to hold in proper perspective the noise and stench of our world today.  Even as the internet lights up my computer screen again, I will seek the inner knowing and the wisdom of my forefathers to maintain a grasp on the truly important things.  They were a happy, content community poor in materialism but wealthy beyond any of the glitz ruling our society today.

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