When I was young, December rolled in on a blanket of fog. Thick, wet and gray. It clung to the ground. If it let go, it would die. It would become as lifeless and indistinct as the barren ash trees it surrounded. It had the ability to reduce the power of the sun so that, during the day, the world was hidden in a single, ashen tone. Night brought blackness. No stars, no moon. Nothing.
The fog dulled your ability to see or hear. It dampened your ability to feel. It left a smell and taste of dankness that could only be equaled in my grandmother’s Minnesota basement. That smell permeated everything. Like the gray of those long-ago days when you feared the ghosts in that basement.
But the fog couldn’t dampen the childhood excitement of a “BIG DAY”. Like celebrations of magnitude all over the world, of any faith or belief, our little town used Christmas to create an otherworldly experience. Bright lights of green, red, yellow and blue sprang up everywhere and cast eerie glows through the gray stillness of the fog. Every house, every store, every bush or tree bore the burden of hundreds of lights. At night, they were the beacons that led you to your destination. They were the lighthouses in the seas of gray, silent fog.
Those lights would appear suddenly when something unseen split the clouds that rose from the earth. The shape of a house would appear. Or was that a tree? The vision would be gone in the blink of an eye. But the glow would remain, Sometimes faint, maybe a figment of your imagination or an echo of your retina.
If you stood long enough in your yard, you would hear the slow drip of moisture from the neighbor’s pine tree. The silence of fog could be deafening. And frightening. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future hid in those familiar places that you could not see.
Inside, the fireplaces crackled. The lights of the Christmas Tree were bright and clear. The smells of breads and cookies filled the entire house. Little stuffed elves sat on shelves surrounded by plastic holly and ivy. The card tables were placed in the family room with stacks of Christmas cards waiting to be signed and sealed for delivery.
In my memory, I see my parents and grandparents. I hear my great-grandmother’s voice. I looked out from that bright house and see the gloom. Pierced, in places, by the lights of our neighbor’s homes. I still imagine that their homes were as warm and safe as mine felt on those days.
It was another time, another place. A childhood of magical thinking that I will always treasure.
Gael Mueller is a retired criminal defense attorney. She grew up in the Central Valley of California. She spends her time reading, writing, weaving, singing with the California Vocal Arts Ensemble and enjoying her two Cocker Spaniels. She and her spouse reside in the rural area near San Luis Obispo, California. You can read more of her writing at Talkin’ To Myself where she writes under her pen name Gizzylaw.