Saturday, January 4, 2014

Beyond All Price

The younger children were sledding down suburban streets while their parents looked on. We older kids went skating on a nearby pond and laughed and stayed out as long as the sun did. On the way home, the boys start snowball fights, occasionally letting their kid sisters join in the icy skirmishes. When my brother and I got home, half frozen and daffy with delight, our mother rubbed our feet to warm them, and served us cocoa with miniature marshmallows.

Memories sometimes rearrange and edit themselves, but I recall these snowy days as clearly as the icicles that hung from skinny trees in the Long Island neighborhood where I grew up. It is a curious thing, this business of remembering. Perhaps because I am childless, for comfort, I keep returning to my childhood. Or, perhaps I am following Rilke's advice to writers about returning to "that jewel beyond all price, that treasure house of memories."

My father liked the Christmas song "Good King Wenceslas," and macaroons, and telling how he played Ebenezer Scrooge when he was in high school. Dad always smelled of cigarettes and after shave. When I was five or six, and snuggled on his lap in his favorite chair, I used to pretend I was asleep because when my mother asked him to put me to bed he always answered, "I don't want to disturb her. Let her stay a while." Playing possum bought me more time near him. This morning, I woke to yesterday's snowfall and record-breaking cold and while I am a great believer in living in the present moments that we own, on snow days like today, it's the long ago that often keeps me warm.

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