When Karen and I walked outside after work today we were both taken aback by how suddenly dark it was. For a few moments my mind lurched to the future, two months from now, when the great cold, like a giant dentist’s drill, will strip-mine life from the plains for a few months. A sense of momentary dread, like a Golem of clay, alive with the breath of my fears, thumped me on the forehead. Thankfully it didn’t linger.
Karen says Midwesterners have the God-given grace of seasonal amnesia. This is how they survive long winters. It isn’t that a deep, dark coldness doesn’t bother them. Like anyone confronted with the turnipy gray of mid-March, the butt end of winter here, they moan, mope and curse the deep chill, but come April, a switch goes off in most Midwesterners’ heads, and it is as if the darkness never happened. It is a trait I will always admire, and hopefully, some day possess. I actually told Dave that I hoped the cool gray of a recent day would stay for a while. That’s a step in the right direction I think.
Like I said, this evening the dread feeling passed, chased in part by the beauty of what I know will be the less surly side of winter—the holidays, when the lights of the season start poking through the ever increasing darkness.
I’m not one to sublimate Thanksgiving in an effort to stretch Christmas out even more. Not that I’m not tempted. The kid part of me that counted the days to Christmas when I was young is still very much alive, embarrassingly so, and as naggy as ever. But Thanksgiving is just such an upright holiday—hey, let’s get together with our families to express gratefulness! Who can fault this premise? And there’s no out of whack commercial gain for anyone besides those with Butterball stock. We should make the most of the better parts of ourselves more often.
Still, tonight, shortly after my spasm of dread, I accidentally bumped into Christmas. As I pulled up to our door I noticed my neighbor, B.W., washing the enormous window in the parlor of his circa 1860s farmhouse. B.W. is something of a miracle. He’s my age. Completely sanguine to the point that he has been entirely comfortable with taking eight years to single-handedly transform what was once a fallen down shack into a subtle and charming treasure. One year, he bent the tin necessary to replace his roof. Another season, he nailed lathe and plastered the walls of his home the way it would have been done a century ago.
Occassionally I pop in–typically unannounced–to say hello and marvel at whatever new thing he’s done. I’m appalled at myself for never calling first, but B.W. always just throws his door wide open to me anyway. This time he showed me the trim and crown molding he’d cut from poplar trees (stunning) and his new floors, which he laid and stained himself. As we stood in his parlor I asked him if he would be putting his Christmas tree in front of the enormous picture window. I don’t know why I asked such a random question.
He got the biggest smile on his face and with a hearty “yep!” started describing the tree he wanted, 9 feet or taller, huge, fat—and artificial, “because that’s what I always had when I was a kid. Menards has them on sale. I’m gonna go buy one next week so I can have everything up by Thanksgiving.”
His sudden excitement made me smile. As an aside I asked him if he would like our artificial tree because I’d recently started using real ones. Ours was perfectly fine, and I hated to throw it away. It was my and John’s first tree. You would have thought I’d offered him a ticket to turn four of the Indy 500. “Really?!”
“Sure. It’s in good shape. And it would look awesome in here. The perfect size.”
Then with the same kind of kid-ness I see pop out of me from time to time, he started talking about how excited he was about Christmas this year. How he’d already started listening to Christmas music and how he was really gonna do things up right. He didn’t know what it was, but he just couldn’t wait for Christmas.
I loved seeing this guy in his 40s, a construction contractor who travels to China for business and who is hand-working a 19th century farmhouse back to life, get so excited about Christmas. I told him we would help him get the tree over to his house this week so he could start putting it together if he wanted, which made him even happier.
So it may be getting darker, but in some ways it is getting lighter. I have to admit, after talking with B.W. I got a little excited about the coming month. Surely there’s a way I can find joy in the inevitable visit from the giant gray Golem of winter that is February and March, too. I’ll start praying to see that grace now. Maybe I’ll poke some early season lights into his heavy form. I doubt he’ll mind.