Come back with me this Christmas season to a place in Kentucky where a young boy once sat on a log in a thicket of red cedars, watching and listeningâ€”but mostly listeningâ€”as snowflakes tumbled in peaceful profusion from a misty gray sky. The boy, who couldn’t have been more than 12, had been to this place before, but never when snow was falling so softly upon the cedars.
The boy was me.
My ears were good back then. Not ringing as they are today. So the silence, broken only by the hushed percussion of snowflakes coming to rest upon each other, left with me a memory that has lasted all these years.
I didn’t realize at the time that those few moments of winter solitude in God’s snowscape on a hillside above a creek would never be duplicated. Though I tried to go back there later, when the snow fell again, there was never another time when I found nature in such perfect harmony: the wind so calm, the light a mellow haze upon the valley of canebrakes and fence rows that I loved, the snowflakes of the right design to produce a gentle rustling, as though a thousand tiny gifts were being unwrapped under the cedars.
How odd that among my trophy memories of Christmas seasons come and gone, the ones with no bells and whistles are my favorites.
These memories are Father Time’s gifts to me as I grow older.
If I had left the cedar thicket that snowy day and followed the creek most of a mile downstream, I’d have come to an old stock barn, long since vanished, that held an even warmer memory of the season.
Late one afternoon when I must have been about 5 years old and the snow was maybe ankle deep, I followed in my dad’s tracks down to the barn when we walked through the fields to feed the cattle. The barn was a pretty good walk from our farmhouse, and by the time we got there, I told Dad that my toes were really cold.
He sat me down on a bale of hay, knelt on his knee in front of me, took off my boots and socks, rubbed my toes, looked a bit worried, then did something I would never have expected.
He opened his old coat, unbuttoned his shirt, cradled my cold feet in his callused hands, and drew them inside his shirt, then pressed them against his belly to warm.
In that little moment, maybe for the first time in my young life, I remember thinking, “Daddy must really love me a lot to put my cold feet against his belly.”
My toes may have gotten cold again that afternoon, but my heart was warmed for life.
This Christmas, my wish for you and those you love is that Father Time has brought you enough warm memories to last long after this year’s gifts are forgotten.
BYRON CRAWFORD is Kentucky’s storyteller—a veteran television and newspaper journalist known for his colorful essays about life in Kentucky. E-mail him at bcrawford@KentuckyLiving.com.