There was a Christmas Eve a long time ago that comes to mind from time to time. It was one of those years when everyone met at my grandparent's house in Midland. With all of us there, the place was full to bursting. Every bedroom had family sleeping in it, and the kids were stuffed in the attic.
It was a beautiful night, clear, with huge snowflakes and an as yet undisturbed blanket over everything. It was snowing steadily, and the streets had not been plowed-likely would not be till late on Christmas if not the day after. I cannot recall who suggested it- likely my cousin Michele-but almost all of us went outside for a snowball fight and to make snow angels. Cold and silent except for us. As I remember it, the silence is what started it. In a lull in our activity we noticed just how quiet, clear, and impossibly beautiful it was.
We all started strolling down the middle of the street, aunts, uncles, cousins, arm in arm, scuffing fresh snow and singing Christmas carols-not loudly, but clearly and uncharacteristically on key-as we walked around the block. We came back to my grandparent's warm and familiar smelling house; coffee, cider and wine, laughing as we shed our coats and boots.
It was, of course, far too sentimental-almost a caricature. And yet the taste of that night-so long ago-remains with me still.
Years have passed. Death, divorce, and careers have scattered us to the winds. I have found it difficult to summon the energy to stay involved with them. This is perhaps a response to the tragedy of my father's early death. He was, as near as I can tell, the driving force behind much of the family get-together. Perhaps it is merely a reflection of my own self-imposed isolation.
But on some nights, with an ache so deep it seems I may never recover, what I want more than anything else is what I had for those few hours.
Dale Austin, November 2008
All images and text Copyright Dale Austin, 1962-2008