Have you ever intentionally frozen a moment into your memory? I have. The why of it seems less important than the ability to conjure, at will, an image or scent or sound. For instance I clearly remember giving birth to my children. Not just the labor pains racking my body and tearing places I didnâ€™t want torn, but the scratchiness of the sheets, the coolness of the bed rail, the feeling that I needed to submit to something unknown.
In another vivid memory more apropos to the holiday season, Iâ€™m sitting on my grandmotherâ€™s front door steps. Itâ€™s Christmas Eve, cold, with overweight snowflakes hitting my cheeks. I look over at my parentâ€™s farm and know I should be getting home to help with chores.
Each year on Christmas Eve, after the animals had been fed, milked, stabled or let out, Mom allowed each of us to open one small gift. I believe it was meant to take the edge off of our childish â€œtonightâ€™s the nightâ€ frenzy. As my brothers hunkered near the tree and compared toys, Mom and I baked two Jenoâ€™s pizzas from box kits. Do they still make those? I donâ€™t recall if frozen pizza was in existence back then, but having a pizza kit felt incredibly urbanâ€”powdered cheese and all.
The pizza disappeared, the table cleared, and we all rushed to change into our church clothes. Required layers of coats, mittens, and boots–mostly matching–doubled our body size. Someoneâ€”usually Dadâ€”yelled, â€œWe have to go. Now!â€ A mad dash, a few good natured pushes, and six bodies piled into the station wagon. The church sat two miles from home so the car never warmed up in time to matter, but the heater wheezed in tempo to the static on the radio.
In route I silently repeated my â€œpieceâ€ of the childrenâ€™s service. It was pure memory work and if you messed up while standing in front of the congregation it felt like the loneliest place on earth. Speaking softly only helped a tiny bit. Swaying side-to-side while staring at my shoes helped even less. Parishioners glared their disappointment as one or two Sunday school teacherâ€™s whispered prompts from a pewâ€¦â€and unto us a child was bornâ€¦â€ â€œA CHILD WAS BORNNNNNNNâ€¦â€ Then, too loudly, I would say, â€œAnd unto Guss a child was born.â€
There was predictability in those childhood Christmases that I loved and took for granted. Conjuring my memory, I sit on Grandmaâ€™s steps once again. My breath furls and curls into the night air. I touch the metal pipe my uncle rigged as a handrail and wonder if my skin will stick. It doesnâ€™t, but the textures of too many layers of silver paint fascinate me. I will myself to never let go of the moments that blend Christmas Eveâ€™s past and present. The snow. The cold. The anticipation of church and pizza and gifts. The lights from the farm beckoning me to come home. Itâ€™s all there and Iâ€™m adrift in childish wonderment. The chores, once again, can wait.