It's quiet around here in the afterglow of Christmas. The seed packages are all already in hand and organized in a plastic box. I've made preliminary contact with the compost/potting mix purveyor in Wisconsin to anticipate my order for the greenhouse, and even the chicken supplies -- treats of various descriptions and feed -- are reorganized into galvanized pails to better functionalize them through the winter. The dogs -- never over-taxed with activity save that of their own making -- have been spending willing but languid hours beneath the tree and near the stairs; hopeful but not optimistic about imminent excitement. Even the chickens have been calling it a day at the first sign of dusk. And as for the two of us, the fireplace flames, the nearby Christmas tree, and the adjacent sofas pretty well circumscribe our world. We read there, we catch up on social media there, we dream and process there and occasionally nap there; we even eat there after brief forays into the kitchen. Even the holiday music emanating from the stereo is less jovial and jaunty, having almost spontaneously recognized the time for something quieter and more soulful.
I'm a tragic sentimentalist, tearing up at the least provocation, which means these days stuffed full of remembering and savoring are labored through with a chronic lump in my throat. Good stuff, but no one confuses me with the life of any party. Already I can smell the approach of box time for the decorations -- my least favorite day of the year.
Perhaps that's why I drifted over to the barn late in the afternoon, ostensibly to play through a new song on the piano still resting dormant there since the party earlier in the month. I had help carrying it up from the basement and across the driveway, but I didn't have the heart to ask guests to stay after and lug it back. So there it remains beside the Christmas tree, the nativity scene and the lighted paper star, in front of the tractor, the brush mower, the wood chipper and pickup. It's not your usual assortment, but ours isn't a typical barn. I plugged in the star, the nativity light and the Christmas tree, plus a few other decorations, and with a satisfied smile wedged my way onto the piano bench and warmed up with a few favorite holiday songs. The season isn't really complete without a run through “White Christmas”, “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” and “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” and until this afternoon I hadn't had -- or taken -- the time. Satisfied -- or perhaps sated -- I spread out the pages of the new song.
It's actually an old one that I heard for the first time watching an old Andy Williams Christmas Special from 1966 on YouTube several days ago (I already acknowledged my sentimentality. See above.). Perry Como, it turns out, also included it on a Christmas album once upon a time, and various others have recorded it along the way, but it originated in the 1956 Broadway musical adaptation of the comic strip Lil Abner, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Since I, too, originated in 1956, I feel a double connection with the song. But it's the words, themselves, that wrap their arms around me and hold me in their embrace.
When my paternal grandparents left their home in Berclair,TX where they had lived the entirety of their lives, raised three sons and embraced daughters-in-law and grandchildren to move closer to family and increasingly necessary extra care, they sold the house to a wealthy neighbor who said she valued it because “it had always been a happy house.” I can't think of a nicer compliment -- and it's one to which Lori and I have always aspired: creating a home filled with joy, hospitality and welcome, and palpable love.
It's an aspiration to which the song gives tender expression...
You can tell when you open the door,
You can tell when there's love in a home.
Ev'ry picture you see seems to say,
Where you been, you been too long away?
The laughter rings and the tea kettle sings
Like the people who live in the room.
And the clock seems to chime come again anytime
You'll be welcome wherever you roam.
You can tell when there's love in a home.
I played it, best I could, and sang it, best I could through the teary mist, and then sat there on the bench, in the glow of the decorations.
Newly resolved, I switched off the tree, the nativity and the rest, locked up the barn and returned across the driveway to the other tree, the fireplace and the dogs, and that other set of eyes that never fail to brighten my own; and gave thanks for the quiet evening, and the palpable sense...
In this home.