Janet Sheridan: We were home
The Christmas homes of my childhood and adolescence were never the glossy homes of Christmas advertising: imposing structures lit by evenly-spaced lights filled with artistically decorated rooms inhabited by smiling families with color-coordinated clothing and perfect teeth.
Our pioneer-era house in Lake Shore, Utah, had elusive drafts, cranky doors, freezing bedrooms and a bathroom made hazardous by the ongoing battle between its faulty plumbing and our frustrated father. But it offered us the comforts of sitting sleepy-eyed in the morning by the living-room oil heater, crawling into the freshness of line-dried sheets on wash-day and listening to the ticking of the grandfather clock that echoed through the rooms like a heartbeat.
At Christmastime, glowing multi-colored bulbs lit the ornaments we carried home from school to hang on our tree and shimmered on the tinsel we dutifully hung strand by strand until, discouraged by the task’s endless nature, we decided tinsel looked best when tossed on by the handful. The smells of Mom’s baking and the sounds of the Christmas carols we pumped out on our player piano drifted through our days; and at night, the moon reflected softly off the smoothness of the surrounding snow-covered fields.
When we moved from Lake Shore, Mom and Dad said they’d bought a place in Spanish Fork, the nearby town where Lake Shore students attended junior high and high school. I didn’t want to move, but losing my status as a bus-riding country bumpkin eased my pain. So when we drove through Spanish Fork and two miles beyond, my teenaged eyes gazed with dismay at the sparsely-populated, rural area where our new house sat: no sidewalks, no corner grocery store, no ice cream truck tinkling by and no leisurely strolls to the movies, the Dairy Queen or the junior high. I’d still live with three cows in a field behind the house waiting to be milked, a school bus with a pecking order to dictate seating and no way to get to town other than whining until someone agreed to give me a ride.
But the new home held the beauty of my mother’s creations: bright quilts, colorful braided rugs, the wood-glow of refinished furniture and the sparkle of fanciful tree ornaments cut from tin cans. It also had the convenience and warmth of a coal-fired furnace. True, the furnace sometimes burped smoke and gave up, but Dad always managed to coax it back to work by banging its pieces about and using his steel-mill words.
After we moved in, Mom and Dad became hardworking partners, developing an area for a large garden plot and preparing the soil along the perimeter of the property for the fruit trees they planned to plant. After Mom went to bed on Christmas Eve, Dad sneaked her present into the living room. The next morning, cries of surprise and delight from Mom and pleased laughter from Dad awakened us. In his words, “Lesser women would have been dismayed, but Myrl thought the best present I ever gave her was that wheelbarrow.” The memory still makes me happy.
When I was in college, my parents followed a job to Lander, Wyoming, and the house in which they would live out their lives. It had an extensive living room with a wood-burning stove, warm lamps and sit-awhile chairs and couches that welcomed their adult children home. When we entered to the warmth of Dad’s fire, the smells of Mom’s cooking and the smiles on their faces, the love that flowed through our childhood Christmases enveloped us again.
We were home.
Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on the 1st and 15th of every month.
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Steamboat Springs part-time resident David Dennis is approaching the third-year mark from when his right leg was amputated below the knee.