Christmas Eve 2012
Remembering California Christmas Eve 1974
Around the dinner table at Robin's tonight, everyone was taking a turn telling something about a Christmas Past.
Brad talked of a memorable Illinois Christmas at his grandparents house. Jamie, Robin and Brad's oldest, begged the question, not sure that this year might not be the one he would talk about later.
When it was our daughter Karen's turn she laughed.
"Ofcourse I remember the year I got all the stuff."
She paused and then added,
" but there is the Christmas Eve we were out here, in Madera, at Grandma's and we went to Yosemite."
Jim and Robin and I nodded. "Oh, yes."
This is not our first California Christmas.
My husband is a California native. He went to medical school on the East Coast and ended up staying out there. Jim's father died in March 1974.
We came back to California with our three kids for Christmas that year so that all the family would be together. It was a wonderful reunion of aunts, uncles, and cousins as those anniversaries often are.
Christmas Eve dawned. All the resident families had chores to do and fixings to complete for the holiday. We were at loose ends and in some ways in the way.
Jim suggested we take our kids for their introduction to Yosemite - only a 90 minute drive away.
As we climbed toward the mountains we met snow. There were snow capped peaks ahead as we drove through lightly dusted hills and valleys.
We stopped for breakfast at a lodge near the entrance to Yosemite Park. The dining room had a cathedral ceiling and large windows framed breathtaking views of the snow capped mountain peaks.
A floor to ceiling grey stone fireplace dominated one end of the room. Standing near-by was a 20 foot evergreen tree. The top just missed the rough hewn ceiling rafters. The room was perfumed with a mixture of spruce and wood smoke. The thick farm pancakes and maple syrup were as perfect as the setting.
We entered Yosemite Park through a tunnel. As we emerged the monumental El Capitan
stood before us on the left.
Ahead on the right we saw a bright white streak against a sheer rock face where
Bridal Veil Falls was frozen solid.
We were all so awed that we spoke in the same hushed voices we use in church.
The air was cold and crisp and pure. The skies overhead were bright blue with an occasional white cloud floating by.
Ours was the only car at the vista point. And that was how it continued all day. We saw no more than three cars all day. We owned the park.
Deer grazed in snow covered clearings.
When we walked toward a creek we heard the rushing water before we saw
it tumbling over the rocks. At every twist in the road there was a new view of the white capped Sierra peaks that surround Yosemite Valley.
Half-dome dominates and is my favorite sight.
That was thirty years ago today - but I can see it as clearly as if it were yesterday.
How could we have known that we were capturing a timeless moment that would live for each of us - -
Today I think of it as the day we spent in the Presence of God -
and I am so grateful we shared it as a family.
Back to the present:
I had not connected coming to California in 1974 to be with the family after Hal's death with this trip - but there it is. I suggested coming to Avila Beach because Jim had really wanted to come to California before he died - and is time ran out. So here we are - partly to make the trip for him.
My friend Lee Shephard turned the tables on me when he interviewed me on his cable tv show, "Out of the Past". We had a grand time and I told several stories. First a taste of Finding Gus and then a quick version of the Elephant Man, a story from Elmwood Cemetary. Both stories are true and both use genealogy and family history as the content of the story. ** Hope you enjoy the stories and that during the holidays you are telling lots of your own family stories. Happy Holidays
Here is an old story that reminds us to look at home for the treasure in our lives. Peddlar of Swatham from Ellouise Schoettler on Vimeo. What is treasure anyway? Gold? Goods? or the love and people in your life. At one time in my life, I admit, I went for the gold and goods - now I think more about the people being the treasure.
Today our country is mourning - mourning the deaths of twenty innocents in Connecticutt yesterday - and we hurt for and with the parents and families left in shock. ** This morning I wake up in a familiar hotel room in Jim's home town in California. We have stayed here many times since 1974 and even slept a few nights in this very room. I feel warm and comforted being here. Its as though I have stepped back in time - - I am home. Amazingly, Jim is here. ** Last night Robin and I had dinner in the restaurant downstairs with his brother, sister-in-law, sister and brother-in-law. We share the deep bond of loving Jim. Even when we are not talking about him we feel the connection. ** I was afraid of coming here. Afraid I would be overhelmed by grief and emotion. I am overwhelmed but its by the love and connection to Jim. Family. ** Dispite his own illness, Jim's brother came to visit Jim several weeks before he died. They sat together in our make-shift hospital room at home, saying little, feeling lots. I realized last night that Tom had not felt closure until we came and we could sit together. The same with his sister, who was too ill to travel. ** We will meet this morning to share Mass at San Joachim's where we have all prayed together and where we were all together for the funerals of Jim's parents and his sister. I know it will knit us still closer as we finally share prayers for Jim. ** One afteroon last February when he was in Sibley hospital, Jim fell silent. When I asked what he was thinking about he answered, "I am just wondering where you will be ten months from now." ** Now we know. ** Here in Madera - with him. ** As much as I feel my grief comforted this morning my thoughts circle back to the grieving parents of the innocent children in Connecticut -- just starting on their journey. I think of my daughter Gretchen who died when she was three years old- remembering walking that path and I pray for them. ** God Bless them with the strength to find their peace and comfort.
Hard for me to believe it has been nearly two weeks since I have written here. There has been a lot going on....but nothing I wanted to share particularly.
Neil Gaiman won the Newberry Prize for The Graveyard Book. I read it, loved it and have it on my bookshelf. Let me tell you what led me to read it. One afternoon when Jim and I were driving back from PA we listened to a fascinating NPR interview with author Neil Gaiman. He was talking about his new book, The Graveyard Book. Gaiman told about taking his small child to a near-by graveyard to play twenty years ago and how, watching his youngster, the germ of the idea of a child being raised in a graveyard began to jell. Nobody Owens or Bod is the boy in this book who is raised by a community of ghosts. I had to get the book into my hands as quickly as possible. It reminded me of Mama. Mama told me from my earliest memory that she was “raised in Elmwood Cometary.”