Monday, December 20, 2010


ABOUT MID-NOVEMBER, when what we call “cold” in Northern California sets in and we’ve pulled from the cedar chest the woolen shirts and extra blankets for their properties of comfort, we had a holiday. It wasn’t one marked on the calendar.

The local paper predicted that the first big storm of the season would slip down from the Gulf of Alaska, and, like clockwork, it did. Coincident to that, family had lost a member, one who’d been hurting for some time. In the days before the advent of the storm, we’d gathered in the city to say our farewells. We would all return to our respective homes resuming lives that were, at once, a little bit richer and a little bit poorer.

Then came that polar burst from the Gulf. It started with a gathering overcast – one that fully insulated the earth from the sun. The temperature dipped and a drizzle developed, prompting use of the intermittent setting for windshield wipers while driving up the Interstate. As the storm matured, the rain became steady and darkness fell without sunset.

Down to the city, after services but before parting, someone mentioned that perhaps they could come to our section – maybe visit for an evening. And they did.

I think that suggestion sowed the seeds of holiday.

LIKE THOSE WOOLEN COATS and blankets, a bracing stew is a favorite essential of late autumn evenings cloistered in fog and mizzly precipitation. Cubes of beef and lamb are rolled in a flour mixture, browned in a skillet, and set to steep in a bath of bouillon and water. At the opportune time, chunks of carrot, celery, turnip, bell pepper and potato are added. The mixture simmers and the house is filled with a tantalizing aroma that boldly declares: this winter may be bitter, but we’ll beat it.

Such as this was cooking when, with a gentle rap on the door and a chorus of welcoming barks from the dogs, folks arrived.

Warm apple pie had been pulled from the oven to be replaced by biscuits made with too much baking powder.

“No guarantees,” the self-anointed chef said as he slipped them in.

A DANCING ROW OF FLAME from a pressed-wood log tickled the metal edge of the only-on-occasion-used fireplace. With red wine, we toasted the departed. Then we toasted each other. We sat and ate at a table not big enough to accommodate our number. We bumped elbows and off-handedly drank from our tablemate’s cup. The sorrow of loss quickly dissolved: first with a titter, then a barb, then laughter. One spoke. Then we all spoke. Then we all laughed some more. Most had second helpings of the stew. The batch of biscuits did not see the end of the meal.

“Save room for pie!”

Another bottle had been uncorked and a third – perhaps even a fourth – waited.

IT BECAME ONE A MOMENT that could never last but would always linger. By late in the evening, folks headed home: To Texas, to Maryland, to parts unknown – and some only back to the city an hour or two down the Interstate.

Those of us who’d hosted sat for a long spell – fairly quiet – wrapped in warmth. The dishes would wait.

As they left, somebody had said: “We must do this again.”

“And soon,” said another.

“Yes, soon,” said another, “because there are no guarantees.”

It had indeed been a holiday –one in which no gifts were exchanged.

Except for the gift of family.

1438 Bidwell Avenue.  Circa 1958
© 2010
Church of the Open Road Press

1 comment:

  1. PA: Not only gifts.....treasures. I do hope you can all get together again, but not under the same circumstances.