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Christmas Near Paradise, 2018

After a series of dark and rain splattered days topped off by a drenching storm on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day dawned clear and golden from first light. He’d read her from the Bible as well as The Polar Express and How the Grinch Stole Christmas in her room at the rehabilitation hospital on the eastern city limits of Chico; out near where the firestorm of November flowed down from the ridge and tried to enter the town.

He came back on Christmas morning and found her doing much better than on the days before. Outside the bright day beckoned and so he put on her warm coat and scarf and took her out into the courtyard. There they sat in the unseasonably warm sunshine under a sky washed clean of ash and smoke and soot. They breathed in crisp air smelling like freshly laundered sheets hung on the line to dry. Even the breeze when it came and went and came back again was gentle, almost warm. They had coffee and remarked what a fine fine Christmas day it was.

Once again she regretted that she had “ruined Christmas.”

Once again he reminded her of the fact that in October one of her sons had a motorcycle accident and a concussion and yet survived and was feeling fairly good again.

Once again he reminded her that in November another of her three sons had had his house in Paradise burned to ashes along with the whole town.

Once again he pointed out that in December she, in the 104th year of her age, had fallen and sustained a concussion and yet here she was again on the mend.

“It’s Christmas Day and all three of us are still here and still standing. I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a very merry Christmas if ever there was one.”

She laughed and allowed how that had to be the case. Then they had some more coffee in the courtyard next to the ravines running down from Paradise where the burned zones still blotched the hillside with charred soil and scorched trees like vast pools of shadow with no source of light.

INTO my heart on air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content, 
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.   — Housman

Later, as he drove west back into town, the sunset in front of him grew more and more intense until it held all the colors of a raging wildfire cast up from behind the coast range. He stopped by the side of the road and watched this singular sunset burning brighter and brighter until its colors became as incendiary as the Light of All the World, born this day, long ago, in Bethlehem.

[Christmas Day, 2018]

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anon December 25, 2018, 10:29 PM

    Tu es un buen hombre, Geraldo

  • Suburbanbanshee December 25, 2018, 10:55 PM

    Best Christmas wishes to you, your family, and your mom!

  • John Venlet December 26, 2018, 5:07 AM

    A blessed Christmas indeed.

  • Sam L. December 26, 2018, 8:22 AM

    Still hanging on is an accomplishment is not to be diminished.

  • Glenn Wiese December 26, 2018, 10:10 AM

    Happy Birthday, thank you for sharing your amazing gift with us. God bless you.

  • La December 26, 2018, 6:11 PM

    well written, lovely .

  • Kristin December 26, 2020, 4:01 PM

    Beautiful. A day well remembered. One for the book.

  • Anonymous December 26, 2021, 8:36 AM

    Growing up I was never much of a fan of poetry and when I was in the 5th or 6th grade my teacher conducted a weekly poetry contest. I think that 1st prize was being at the head of the lunch line for a whole week and God only knew how much I wanted that position, that honor, that accomplishment.

    I was so ADHD I made a swarm of flies look tame and that learning disability still plagues me; you should be privy to my prayers. Anyway, in my lust for being 1st in the lunch line, I found an old ‘Jack & Jill’ magazine and tucked neatly in its pages that I never read, was a poem called “Let’s Have A Valentine Party”. That thing was my golden ticket and I copied it word for word on my tablet with a chewed No. 2 pencil and proudly handed it to my teacher who right before lunch on Monday morning read everyone’s poems out loud to the class.

    With a look from my teacher that could have leached the light from our classroom I led the lunch line that entire week but I knew, she knew and I knew she knew that I was a desperate little lying thief. I think we had meatloaf that day.

    So for years I shunned poetry except limericks that could get a laugh out of someone and then while watching the funeral scene of Denys Finch Hatton in Out of Africa I discovered “To An Athlete Dying Young’ from A. E. Housman’s “A Shropshire Lad” and I realized just what I had been missing.

    ‘Into My Heart An Air That Kills’ is a genuine and gentle comment to remind us that we cannot return but we can look back and remember with all that is within us.

  • Sam L. December 26, 2021, 8:58 AM

    I got 2 years on ya!