“… if someone knocks on your door, invite them in, and it’ll be Christmas.” – Garrison Keillor
It’s December already and I spent the month of November trying to write an essay that never quite happened. Opening the blinds on this first weekend morning of the new month, the sky is a pastel and hazy blue and the sun is shining intermittently. A gentle breeze animates the chimes as seven mourning doves line the fence waiting for a turn at a bird feeder. Some hesitant leaves still remain on trees, although the Rose of Sharon finally shed its last leaf and its barren limbs reveal abandoned bird nests that we never knew were there. A cardinal perches in a tree above the doves, awaiting a free space at the feeder, where the bird seed is damp, but still edible, apparently. I’ll replenish it in a while.
Earlier in the week, we went to the cemetery to exchange fall decorations for Christmas at the grave of my father and other family. My father’s parents and his brother who was killed in the Korean Conflict are buried across the sprawling urban cemetery from my dad. Just down from their graves is the grave of a Union soldier who fought for the 27th Massachusetts Infantry in the Civil War before this city even existed.
Based on the marker, James Wallace served in the war as a young man and died and was buried in Birmingham in 1933. The ground under his stone has sunk; I tried to reset the stone for years. Now, I’ve given up and it lies on the ground, but we always keep a fresh American flag there, a habit begun by my brother years ago.
I’m afraid the waning daylight hours of autumn dampen my spirits – I’m a warm weather, long days guy – but the holidays provide an effort and energy that help to sustain me. And I know that by the time winter and Christmas come, the daylight will slowly, minute by minute, begin to extend on its trudge to spring.
Little things brighten the days. While shopping for my Christmas wreath at a favorite garden shop, a group was busily working to decorate trees for the shop’s Christmas decoration and delivery service. The infectious beats of Latin urbano music, mixed with animated chatter and frequent laughter, couldn’t help but bring a smile.
My Christmas cards went out right on schedule and my annual escape to Mobile Bay for a few days of rest is scheduled for a week from now. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that circumstances will permit me to go.
I’ve written about my Christmas card ritual for many years. The photo of a historic Alabama church – usually rural, wooden, and white – has been the standard for my cards for a couple of decades now. I suspect there are some, who don’t pay a lot of attention, who might think that I send the exact same card every year, but for those who care, I know it’s appreciated.
A few times I have tried to bend the tradition a little. I sent a card with a live oak one year, with a dock on Mobile Bay another (maybe my favorite of all my photos), and, once, with the ornate interior of a cathedral. Each time, I got feedback along the lines of The card was nice but I prefer your little white country churches.
This year’s card has an interesting backstory. On my first morning of retreat in Baldwin County in December of ’21, I went looking for historic churches to photograph. On the way back to the hotel from Swift Presbyterian Church near Foley, my car suddenly sent up alarms and ran hot. After a call to AAA and a tow to a mechanic, I had to take a half hour cab ride through the Baldwin County countryside to the hotel and wait until the next day to take the hotel shuttle to Foley to pick up my car. The shuttle driver turned out to be an actor and we ended up talking about movies on the drive back to the garage; the shuttle drive seemed much shorter than the previous day’s cab ride.
So this year’s card will always make me recall a challenging day that turned out fine. This year has been a challenge, too, but there’s hope that it will all turn out fine.
So we beat on …