A Few years ago I was asked to write a description of my Perfect Christmas. I know that Christmas is still over a month away, but I really needed to share this today. I needed to read this today and to remember that there was a special place and there was a perfect Christmas. So this is my offering to you today and I hope each of you have a special place and can have a Perfect Christmas when it comes around again. I will always hold the memory.....
Two uncles, three aunts and all their assorted families from my father's side and three aunts and three uncles and all their families from my mom's side. That was a total of eleven spouses and about twenty five kids, not to mention mom, dad, me and my brother and my grandmother...mom's mother, all of them converging on the house Christmas eve and all were spending the night so they could enjoy the whole of Christmas day together with us.
We had a very small, three bedroom house so that night there were bodies laying about everywhere on every available space in every room, for us kids it was great!
Some of these folks I had not seen since I was twelve years old and that was at my older brother's funeral. He had died of cancer at the age of twenty-one, leaving a widow and a small baby girl behind. Mom and dad had withdrawn from all family gatherings after that as a pall of pain and loss totally encased them. So you see, this particular gathering was made extra special for me because I knew that this marked a milestone in their healing process.
Now as special as all that was, the really wonderful part was waiting for us all when we awoke the next morning. As was the custom on Christmas morning, all the men along with the male children over the age of ten would be up before daylight and head off for a morning of deer hunting. This, of course gave the women a lot more space to work their magic in the kitchen, a talent which each of them excelled in.
Well it was a good hour before daylight when dad woke me with a gentle nudge.
"Get up, sleepyhead," he said softly. "You have a surprise waiting for you outside".
I knew it wasn't a gift because we had decided not to open gifts until after lunch so I was a bit confused as I stumbled up from my mat on the floor and followed dad into the living room. This room sported a large picture window which looked out upon our front yard and to my surprise most of my cousins who would be hunting that morning were already standing in front of that window, their mouths hanging open.
When I shouldered my way to the front of the crowd where I could look outside, I understood their awe.....
A full moon illuminated a foreign landscape for those of us who had lived our lives in Southeast Texas. The ground was completely covered with a fine carpet of snow! Snow and ice clung to the tree limbs as if God had decided to decorate for Christmas.
The whoops and yells coming from us was deafening and served to wake the rest of the sleeping household. We could not wait to get dressed and head outside into this rare environment.
There was a general melee of all of us kids charging about trying to get dressed. All the grownups were already dressed, of course and they were waiting on us so we could head out on the deer hunt.
As everyone made ready to leave, I hung back. Today of all days, with this special blessing of snow, something I rarely got to see other than in picture books, was not a day I wanted to share with a mob of kinfolks.
I pulled mom and dad off to one side and I explained that I didn't want to go hunting that morning. I told dad that I had a special place I wanted to go to by myself. I think dad must have understood what I wanted because he didn't put up a fuss at all. He just told me to be sure and take my saddle-gun with me in case I ran across any deer, which I promised to do.
So they smiled and watched as I tore out to the barn and saddled up my horse. The rest of the men were loading into trucks as I lead Skipper out of the corral and mounted up. I sat silently in the saddle as they pulled out of the driveway on their journey to the deer camp about ten miles from the house.
After they had gone I wheeled Skipper about and walked her into the woods. I can still remember the magic of that three mile ride in the bitter cold.
The snow-there really wasn't much by northern standards, maybe an inch on the ground-served as a pristine blanket. As I rode deeper into the woods I was amazed at the hundreds of small trails of animal tracks visible in the fresh snow. They cris-crossed each other like mad little highways going from who knows where to somewhere else.
While I rode I was keenly aware of the silence of the pre-dawn forest; all sounds muffled by the fresh fallen snow. I was aware too of the puffs of smoke-like breath coming from the soft, brown muzzle of Skipper as she walked carefully in this unknown stuff on the ground, her hooves making small crunching sounds with each step she took.
My eyes, my ears and even my nose were assailed by the strange whiteness, the silence and the clean smell of what had been a very familiar woods. It was now an almost alien place for both me and Skipper.
I had a place in mind where I wanted to go to spend this morning and even though it was hard to pick out landmarks with everything wearing a new white coat, I managed to steer Skipper to our destination.
As the sun was just beginning to cast out it's first weak rays upon this changed earth, I left the thick forest and entered a small clearing. Rocky creek lay just below me. The clearing I was in ended in a bluff bank which sloped downward about ten feet to the edge of the stream. Just upstream from this spot was a small waterfall. I say small for it only fell about four or five feet to a small pool below.
The water was not flowing....everything was frozen. The morning sun reflected off the water, frozen in mid-fall and onto a pool of ice below it. That light reflection off the ice was the most beautiful thing I think I had ever seen up to that day.
I sat quietly in the saddle, my breath fogging out of my nose and mouth. I was in awe of the beauty of the land around me. Soft, silent and white; frozen not only in the moment of cold, but also in my memory forevermore. I almost cried at the beauty of the landscape as I sat astride my horse and felt so very small and insignificant amid this wonder of nature.
I was about to climb off Skipper and go down for a closer look at the frozen waterfall when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. I sat perfectly still and waited. Within a few moments my patience was rewarded. A doe and a young yearling deer came walking into the clearing, nosing the ground in search of something to eat. I watched their soft, tan bodies as they walked about trying to graze. The deer ignored me because I was still on my horse and to them I was a part of that animal and they had no idea of the danger they were in.
As I continued to watch them they were suddenly joined by a large buck with a massive rack of horns adorning his head. He too began to forage for a meal after giving me and Skipper the slightest of glances.
My hand eased, ever so slowly down to the scabbard which rested against the saddle and under my leg. Inside that scabbard I carried a loaded 30-30 rifle...my saddle gun. I had eased the gun half-way out of the scabbard when I stopped. Suddenly it just wasn't right. I didn't want to kill these beautiful creatures below me, peacefully grazing in the dim, cold morning sun.
I just wanted to watch them live. I wanted more than anything else to cherish their freedom and their surroundings in this magical, white fairy-land the snow had made of my forest.
I gently replaced the gun in it's scabbard and settled back on the saddle and enjoyed the scene....my heart soared at such beauty. There would be time enough for killing another day, this day was magical and to be enjoyed by man and beast alike.
Besides, the deer was not what had brought me to this particular place. No, this place had been shown to me when I was ten years old. My older brother had brought me there as a special treat....just me and him. He had wanted me to know that waterfall and the land around it for it was special to him too. It had become my secret place, my special spot to go to whenever I needed to refresh my soul, or just to feel better.
It was the place I always went to after my 12th birthday when I wanted to be near my brother again. Mom always said he was in Heaven but to me he was always there, at that waterfall, in that forest.
I knew, when I first saw the snow that I had to be there in order to, in some way share this special Christmas with my brother. I stayed there a long time, watching the deer and other animals which ventured down the water's edge. Finally I turned Skipper around and made my way home.
I arrived in time to greet the successful hunters who were just arriving back from their hunt and I took some good natured ribbing for coming home empty handed. I didn't mind at all for you see I was not empty handed....my heart was full. I got to spend Christmas with my brother, what more could a kid ask for.