It all started with a fire. A fire built well enough to shoot out bright orange flames fairly quickly, from a wet log, after that one initial spark. “I used to have to build a fire that would last us all night,” Grandpa said. “That was our only heat.”
Stressed all morning, I was desperate to find a way to make some kind of holiday connection with this house full of 6 men, spanning ages 4-67 before the looming December 24th deadline. I thought of the days ahead, leading up to Christmas – our house would soon be revolving door of people coming and going – food to prepare – more dishes to wash. I thought of all the Christmas books checked out from the library, many we had yet to read. There is no time for just sitting on the sofa with a pile of books with kids crammed in a line beside me. It was just a matter of time before we all huddled in front of the TV to watch the latest football game, with that chance for a Holiday Memory soon goon, all wrapped tight in NFL.
The boys, pulled in by the flames, gathered around to watch Grandpa artfully create the fire. Maybe what we need is a good “how-to” session to pull us together. I thought of the Daring Book for Girls, the Dangerous Book for Boys, something that would serve as a veil to fill in the void.
Instead of grabbing for the books, I listened as Grandpa kept talking about the one potbelly stove, his six brothers and sisters, and how they sometimes slept by the stove to stay warm. His Dad, the outdoors-man, taught him how to build the fire. Soon, the boys, all of them, ages four to 67, were rolling up balls of newspaper and hurling them into the fire.
The room began to warm, not only with the heat in the hearth, but also with the heat of camaraderie. “You want them tight, so they don’t fall off the grate while they’re burning. But you don’t want them too tight, because you want the heat to get out and dry the wet wood.”
The newspaper balls go on first, then a layer of kindling, which we didn’t have, and then the layers of wood. “That ball’s too big… but it’s turning out all right – it’s staying on.” We ran out of newspaper. The boys, much more interested in making and throwing the balls, were barely listening as Grandpa dropped tidbits about his boyhood.
I found a dime, and we started a game of hide the button, with a dime. That’s one game that somehow, miraculously, in its simplicity, always seems to connect everyone together. Soon, we had covered all the best spots in the room, and there was no place left to hide the dime. So, they started to hide the dime within the ornaments in the tree. That dime, nestled in the tree, was almost impossible to find. But it did bring one extra unexpected reward; It actually forced us to look at, and appreciate those ornaments we have not noticed since we splashed them all over the tree.
Every summer, we buy an ornament on vacation – so each one has a story. Now, standing side-by-side together, facing the tree, how could we help but to talk about each one we inspected for the dime?
One ornament, my Mom made for me when I was small, is a cleverly sewed pair of ice skates. Paperclips serve as the blades. The boys, similar to Grandpa’s boyhood talk, barely listened to my talk about this cleverly designed, “girly-craft.” I didn’t even bother to bring it up again during this playful reflective ornament time.
For this round of hide the button, we had a hint; “think of Mom.” What ornament isn’t connected to me? Finally we found it. Tucked into the boot of the ice skate, there was the dime, in the one ornament my son remembered as “think of Mom.” So maybe they do listen, more than I am aware.
There are so many Holiday Traditions that we do and do, just because we should. We do it with lack of soul, hoping that the repetition alone will somehow create the warmth in our heart we want from traditions. I’m just as guilty of that as the next one.
Instead, maybe you just need to start and fire, and see where it takes you.