‘The Holly and the Ivy~ 2011’

Wait a minute! You can’t take that- it’s not done yet. It doesn’t even have a bouquet garnish on it. And I don’t care if the President just joined their table. The president of where? Who? And I can’t come out right now; I’ve got sixteen filets ranging from rare to ‘Pittsburgh’ on the grill, a souffle that has to be on the table in 90 seconds, boiling lobster I don’t want to bounce out of here, and oysters that aren’t even shucked yet-never mind Rockefeller’d. No!  I cannot come out right now. Where does he think he is- Benihana’s?  And if anyone is looking to seat the varsity soccer team, tell them to make a reservation like everyone else. Why is it so cold in here? I’m behind oven’s and grills and steam tables and I’m still freezing. WHO STOLE MY BLANKET???

My arm reaches behind me where the draft is coming from and I feel the empty space on the way to the floor. My little four legged muffler from the night before is now positioned squarely in the center of the full-size mattress. I try to crook myself around him- gently tugging the covers for a little warmth. I never have the heart to move him out of the way from such a deep slumber. He is Hound of the Palace, after all…And besides-Julia Roberts or whoever was playing the waitress was now gone and I realize it was but another frustrated restaurant cook dream.. I pretend that my eyes are still glued shut like I always do. I know the daylight has been coming through the old farmhouse lace curtains for hours, but I think how much I would like to laze in bed like the old days. Just once.

I cramp myself around the little body, half covered- fending off the chill. All I want to do is squeeze my eyes really tight and mentally yell “WAITRESS”! But alas, by now the attempt is futile.

Through my sleepy vision, I can see the glistening tops of the trees in the window and know last night’s predicted snow storm  had happened.  I huddle closer to Little B and gently tug for a bit more of the quilt and bury my head for a few more minutes.

‘Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village, though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there’s some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep’.*

With that, my eyes snap open and I realize I can’t afford to linger.  The morning has started and there is much to do. As carefully as I can, I gently slide myself off the edge of the bed (as to not wake my little four-legged companion). Just like a pea from a pod comes to mind, but I shake that thought off as I button the top of my heavy nightshirt. Luckily, my slippers are where they came off and not gone astray under the bed somehow. Very quietly down the steep stairs and over to the old cast iron wood stove (which is a main source of heat for this big house), I tip-toe. It never fails that, hard as I try, a step on the wrong wide planked pine board in the floor puts out the loudest rusty wrench creak, which echo’s like a bell in the quiet of the morning. I skip over the next board and reach the hearth space without another sound. Hopefully, there will be some embers still burning to start the day’s fire.

A heavy winter coat hangs by the front door. Going out for more wood in that and just my pajamas is not the best idea, but it happens anyway. The wood shed is but maybe forty feet away, but of course seems twice as far coming back with an armload of timber. Soft inches of powder give way to the crunch of an icy base underneath my rubber boots as I quickly fetch enough wood to last until the afternoon. Back inside, it doesn’t take long before the fire is built and first waves of warmth start to fill the room.

Ahhhh… And now it is time for what makes the mornings, and the daytimes, or any time possible: COFFEE!  Fresh brewed coffee and waves of heat from the wood stove are the life blood of a New England winter morning. It has a wonderful aroma one never tires of. As I wait for enough for a first cup full, I stare out the kitchen window at a cardinal busy trying to gather the last seeds from a feeder that needs refilling. Subconsciously, I start humming the refrain of a favorite carol that has haunted me lately:

Oh,  the rising of the sun

And the running of the deer

The playing of the merry organ

Sweet singing of the choir

Perhaps a little later, I can find it and let Natalie Cole sing the first song of morning music. Morning music has long been a tradition in our house on special occasions. It is aways very nice when it happens and a wonderful way to be awoken. You really have turned into a sentimental old fool, haven’t you?  I think and then laugh to myself. Oh- why not? Let someone else’s mother worry—

I really do like mornings like this. There is a very pleasing stillness. The world is quiet and outside, the newly fallen snow gives me the momentary illusion of peace in my small universe at hand. These are little treasures, in a world we know to be different. The strong scent from the cinnamoned sugar I’m sprinkling on richly buttered toast now fills my senses and triggers an avalanche of Christmas memories. Yes, I am a sentimental old fool, and on this trip I am whisked away many, many Christmas time’s into my past, being awakened by similar smells emanating from Nanny’s kitchen through the vent in the floor of the bedroom I was sleeping in. ‘Nanny’ was the grandmother every child should be lucky enough to have. She was sweet. She was round. She would pinch your cheek and kiss your nose and make you feel you were the luckiest grandson in the whole wide world. And I knew from past experience, if I made it downstairs without waking anyone, there would be a delicious treat waiting just for me. The smells that would come from her kitchen! Chocolate and clove; nutmeg and gingerbread. I know this is where my love of cooking and baking came from–She had unending patience with a house full of grandchildren who all wanted to ‘help’. It was with her I baked my first cake, made my first doughnut, whipped cream into butter, and gained the wisdom of a country cook.

I reach for the knob on the stove and slowy start to preheat the oven. The baking sheets I had taken out before going to bed and were on the table waiting to be oiled. As I roll each spoonful of the sweet mixture I’d prepared last night into the shapes of the cookies they would become, a smile comes on my face. I enjoy thinking of old Nanny… of my Mom… of the old Christmas’ gone by when I thought it great fun to arrive in Vermont unannounced from California on Christmas Eve. In the blissful solitude of this early morning, there are no rules– except one, which I will beg your indulgence to best be said by Charles Dickens’ Scrooge’s vow: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” My grinch of a father always told me that out of his six children, I was ‘the emotional one’. He probably never knew what a blessing that can be.

Soon, the enticing aromas of ginger and walnuts and molasses cookies and hazelnut coffee will make its way through the vent in the kitchen ceiling to the bedroom above and I’ll hear the creaks in the old floor boards made by six little feet (well-four little ones and two big ones). later we shall bundle up and bring our packaged baked goods on special stops to family and friends. Yes, I like this time of year.

Memory can be very generous. I prefer it that way. I guess this is the natural progression of life, here before I even really know it. On this cold winter morning in the stillness at hand, I offer my gifts of memory and fable in this little Christmas tale.  


Merry Christmas!

The holly and the ivy,

When they are both full grown

Of all the trees that are in the wood

The holly bears the crown

O the rising of the sun

And the running of the deer

The playing of the merry organ

Sweet singing of the choir

* * * * * * *

*Special thanks to Robert Frost-

who might have had the same view we do…

[This post was first published on Adgita Diaries in 2007]

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