It started as a brisk cold morning, a dreary December day as predictable as any almanac forecast. The winter solstice clearly upon us, any warmth from the sun had abated throughout the cloudy afternoon. The sun was now setting in the darkness, adding a raw bite to the night’s air.
I exited my car onto the slippery driveway. There was a rustling in the evening’s breeze, almost a crackling sound as the fallen leaves were whisking along the pavement.
The house on Brick Kiln Road remains our family home, still occupied by my paternal grandmother. I go there to have dinner at least once a week; I walk past the car-less garage, my shoes the only sound tapping the bricks as I approach the back door.
As I enter I am greeted by the savory smell of a hearty beef stew cooking on the stovetop. I cannot resist lifting the lid and taking a sample, and it is always as yummy tasting as the aroma filling the kitchen.
Then I peer around the doorway into the dining room, announcing my arrival, so as not to startle my Nana. Being 94, she is the only remaining occupant in the rambling, shingled tomb.
Yet there is warmth that still envelops me within these walls. My grandmother keeps the sense of family alive. This house had been the family gathering place for many decades and a flood of memories fills the now-empty rooms.
In these rooms my memory gets a click, a flash, a picture from the past; a table carefully set with Rosenthal china and good silver. There would be holiday decorations of leafy greens, bunches of crimson and sparkling silver dangling from the arches. Classic renditions of “Deck the Halls,” “Little Drummer Boy,” and “White Christmas” playing in the background, along with the flicker of dancing candles lighting the festive table filled with home-cooked meals of our favorite foods.
In the center foyer all were greeted with the Christmas tree piled waist-high with gifts, each wrapped in crisp gold and silver paper adorned with giant red velvet ribbons. Every inch of the tree was lighted by the twinkle of carefully placed tiny white lights.
These are some of my favorite memories that come back to me as a snapshot in time as I pass through the hall. And then I hear Nana’s melodic voice call “ M. J.,” as she calls me now. “I am here in the den.”
Once again I am comforted. She is okay; she’s waiting for me to come so we can have our weekly dinner. I feel relieved, knowing that for at least this visit, I’m home again. We have shared so many happy memories here and often on these visits we will reminisce and recall special moments.
One of my earliest memories is of a Christmas Eve when all of the other guests had gone for the night. We were tucked into our beds by about 8 p.m., filled with excitement at the anticipation of Christmas and the magic of the next morning.
Surely, the elves would be needed to help Santa deliver the packages and treats piled under the tree, each to be stacked with our names clearly tagged. I knew that I had been really good that year, and I was betting I would be rewarded for my best behavior. It was easier to keep us together on Christmas Eve, so my younger sister Kaye and I would be put to bed in the end bedroom, the only room in the house with twin beds. There we would quietly thrill each other by sharing visions of the morning’s loot.
But this Christmas Eve, I remember my Nana coming into our bedroom and gently waking Kaye and me from our sleep, “Children, wake up. I have a surprise for you; come with me,” she said softly.
Rubbing our eyes, still sleepy and dazed, we searched for our slippers, then, scuffling down the hall, we entered the master bedroom. There, nestled under the covers, was our grandfather. Gramps was rolled over facing the wall and still fast asleep.
I knew he was still sleeping as we could hear a whisper of a snore coming from his side of the bed. Nana had the bed propped with five or more pillows and the overstuffed comforter rolled down so we could tuck our little feet under to keep warm. Once we were nestled in this comfy bed, Nana turned the television on, then slid onto the bed next to us, her finger to her lips,
“Shhh,” she said. “Now children, this is a Christmas morning treat.” She seemed excited, pulling the covers up. Then all three of us watched as the movie started, hearing the song, “Babes in Toyland.”
It was Oliver and Hardy’s “The March of the Wooden Soldiers.” This movie had our favorite storybook characters coming alive: oversized six-foot wooden soldiers, the old lady in the shoe, the three little pigs, Tom-Tom — all there in Toyland, and Santa too.
We were thrilled with every minute and each character, delighted with the idea that there was a Santa, and sure now that he would soon be coming to our house. So as the movie ended we scurried out of the bed and, racing down the hall, jumped into our beds with the “Babes in Toyland” music dancing in our heads.
There’s magic in these memories and of being a child and dreams of Toyland. Toyland: “Once you cross its borders you can never return again.”
I will be having dinner tonight with Nana, and I am home again one more time.
Ryan Matthews, a Bridgehampton resident, is semiretired from a mortgage banking career.