It was late afternoon by the time we left the house, the Rambler station wagon packed with suitcases, bedding, gifts, and boxes of food. My Dad could not close his business until the last customer left his store at five, so he’d packed as much as he could the night before.
Mom finished wrapping gifts and baking during the day so as to be ready when Dad pulled into the driveway at five-thirty. With the sun sinking fast, we were ready and helped carry everything out to the rear of the station wagon. Dad would fill what few spaces were left and off we’d go.
With Dad driving and mom in the front seat, we three kids, in full winter gear, including mittens, were squeezed into the back seat, tight. There were no complaints. As a matter of fact, it was exceptionally quiet. We’d done this before and were about to do it again.
We were on our way to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for Christmas!
Their house was on a farm near a little town that only had one bright streetlight at night. The town was about three and a half hours away from our house in the city. As long as it was still daylight, there would be constant scenery change going past the Rambler side window. A few miles and dad would turn on to a highway. We could go faster on the highway so what we saw would change faster. Soon there would be miles and miles of snow covered farmland. As the sky turned black, little lights would pop up here and there, and then go past.
As it started to snow, the pop up lights out of the side window were getting harder to see and had the illusion they had little halos around them. I heard Dad tell Mom that it was about thirty degrees out, and the road was turning white. He could still see tracks from a car that was somewhere ahead of them so, we were still all right. Driving in the snow was a skill you just developed in this part of the country.
When we met a car coming from the opposite direction, its headlights made the snow look as if it was going sideways. The sideways snow would try to hypnotize you and then suddenly disappear as the car passed. The dark, the sideways snow, the hum of the engine and the warmth of all those clothes made us very sleepy. Soon, it made the three and a half hour trip seem like one hour. We only woke up when Dad turned right on to the little towns “one light” main street.
Through the town and just a little bit more, we would turn right again. It was the driveway to Grandma and Grandpa’s. It wasn’t very far and just over a little hill.
There it was. A place of special magic; where snow covered tree limbs overhung the driveway and blinking multi-colored lights surround the frost outlined windowpanes. I could see into the house because the shades were up. There were two faces, one high, one low, watching for us.
The car stopped. I don’t know why but everyone just sat for a moment. It was very quiet outside except for a little hiss caused by snowflakes hitting the roof of our car. The flashing Christmas lights, gentle snow falling, lack of motion, and silence was Christmas card like, peaceful and very relaxing.
Out from the back porch door poured a grinning Grandpa and Grandma. They were running a Grandma and Grandpa kind of run, trying not to fall on the fresh snow. They didn’t even have coats on and were breathing out steam!
Grandpa opened the back door on my brother’s side and pulled him right out of the car. As I watched with mouth open, my door opened and my cinnamon smelling Grandma had me. She squeezed me so hard, I couldn’t breathe. Our littlest brother in the middle was heading over the top to the front seat. Grandpa quickly caught him by the britches in mid-flight, and out the door he went. The problem was, he is so light, when he let go of the seat, it threw Grandpa off balance and down into the snow they went.
This brought Mom and Dad out of the car quickly. My other brother and I thought it was a game and piled on top. My mom screamed for us to get off. Her loud order scared us so much, we quickly got off Grandpa, who then rolled to a sitting position laughing!
Ok, so now we’re all out of the car! That was pretty much the end of peaceful relaxing.
Dad walked to the back of our station wagon and had just opened the fold down door, when another set of headlights turned in to the driveway. The bright lights blinded all of us for a moment. It pulled up right behind our Rambler, the doors flew open, and our cousins, from another city farther away than us, piled into the drive way.
There were four girls, and their Mom and Dad. I remembered them from last year. Even though they were girls, they knew how to run, sled, and throw snowballs. The sisters were all a little older than me. My Mom said they won all kinds of awards for poem writing and stuff like that. I didn’t know you were allowed to be good at both at the same time!
Everything got unpacked and brought into the house. This farm house had raised five kids in its time. Grandma and Grandpa had worked hard to provide for their family, and the land had been good to them. The house had plenty of room for everyone to be comfortable and we all spread out to our assigned places.
My brothers and I were in one of the “upstairs bedrooms”. The only way to get to those bedrooms was up a wide, worn, oak stairway. There were what they called “registers” in the floor of each second story room, which allowed a little heat to float up from the first floor rooms. My Dad told me that sometimes, it got so cold in his bedroom that the drinking water on his light stand would freeze during the night. He remembers pulling his clothes into bed with him to warm them before he would put them on to go to school. He also told me, with a wink, he did not waste much time in the bathroom.
I only mentioned the stairway so I could tell you about coming down it. After unpacking, I came down that stairway that emptied into the family living room. One of my favorite memories occupied that room.
There stood GRANDMA’S UPRIGHT GRAND. It was one of her prized possessions. It was here, flashing lights, trees, presents, and troubles were all forgotten, and magic would begin. The family and their families would gather around on Christmas Eve, and Grandma would make music come out of that piano. Her fingers would bend, and her arms would move back and forth. She would read the dots in that music book and everyone would read the words and sing Christmas songs. I couldn’t read, but I’d hum until it came to a part I knew. Nobody cared. That was good enough for them.
At some point, Grandpa opened a beat up black case and pulled out his fiddle. The music seemed to liven up when his fiddle started to sing. Although Grandpa’s fingers didn’t move real fast anymore, the expression on his face made it feel like the tempo picked up.
Christmas Eve was a day of snowballs, sledding, sliding, feeding the animals still left on the farm, and eating. The music was the Grande Finale of a long day. The traditional last song of the Grand Finale in this house was Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. My favorite part was about the Star. It was something about “how still we see thee light!”
I was pretty young when I was told about “The Star”. I can’t remember when it was, but a little boys imagination is a wonderful thing.
That night, after the singing was over and everyone went to bed, I thought I heard something outside. I went to my “upstairs” bedroom window to see if I could catch Santa Clause delivering presents. Catching Santa flying is a little boy priority and for a moment, I thought I had him. To my surprise, it was not the sleigh and reindeer I saw.
Through the floating snow, I saw a single bright light with a halo around it. I knew I was looking at “Thee Star”.
“Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee light!”
Yes, I had it wrong. It should have been “how still we see thee lie!” I really thought they were singing “how still we see thee light!”
It’s been many years since the trips to Grandma and Grandpa’s. I, of course, learned to read music and became a musician, a writer and many other things yet still, hang on to pieces of my warmest childhood memories as most people do.
I still sing that line the way I originally thought it was, and I still walk out on the porch on Christmas Eve, wherever I am, to see if I can see “thee light” and capture a small piece of the magic around “Grandma’s Upright Grand“!
Merry Christmas Everyone!
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