Christmas Past


This recent post chronicled what was one of the worst Christmases  of my life. Here’s one of the best:

It was 1977; my first wife, who had been an anthropology major in college, was working for the Park Service doing research in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park on the North Carolina side. Depending on the weather and traffic, It was a two to three hour drive from Knoxville. We’d meet on most Wednesday nights in Gatlinburg, which was about halfway, and I’d spend most weekends sharing her small house.

The week of Christmas I arrived a day or two before the holiday. Christmas Eve  it snowed, and snowed and snowed. The accumulation was at least a foot – enough to insure we were effectively prisoners in the house. Worse, we lost power. We went to bed around eight and snuggled together for warmth in her narrow, metal framed bed; the sparsely furnished room was bathed in a weak, uncertain light from three fat candles that  brought a flickering enchantment to her pale, bare shoulders, face and auburn hair. Beneath the plain blankets her body was warm and soft. We held each other in a prolonged silence until the growing desire within me led to the inevitable result.

Christmas Day dawned cold but clear. We managed to take a short, crunchy walk through the Christmas card snow. Trees around the small compound of government owned  prefab houses were draped with ribbons of shocking bright snow and the two lanes of Highway 441 were buried beneath an undisturbed white blanket.

That night we exchanged presents. I no longer remember what I gave her. I know my gifts weren’t expensive; we weren’t poor but we never had much money that wasn’t earmarked to pay the costs of living in two different places.

What made that Christmas so special was one of her gifts to me. She had laboriously filled a small hardback book of blank pages with handwritten versions of a few of my poems and short stories. I was overwhelmed. Those neat, elegant pages must have taken hours and hours of tedious writing to make.Any mistake would have ruined the project. It was most certainly one of the best presents I have ever received.

I still have that little book. In truth, the literary quality of my prose and poetry is slight. But my words, spread across the pages in her lovely handwriting, made a unique, powerful gift of love that I still cherish and whose pages still have the power to brings tears to my aging eyes even now, thirty years after our divorce.

Photo by Robert S. Donovan, subject to this creative commons license

Read all of VISIONS

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