December 25, 2023
This is my son’s annual holiday story, which he has written in this space for many seasons. This year it is culled from favorites.
By Arthur H. Gunther IV
There was too much science. Too much math. There was too much thinking in absolutes and definitives. There were men and women with no patience, no imagination, no faith, who knew it was far easier to paint everything in good and evil, black and white, rather than calling attention to the shades of gray that truly inhabited humanity. There were those who had forgotten how to take a deep breath, how to slow down, how to ponder, how to think. Or maybe it wasn’t so purposeful. Maybe they didn’t know how. Maybe they were just afraid. And then, on top of it all, there was the weather.
Tommy tried not to care as he put on shorts and a long sleeve t-shirt and, sadly, nothing else. No hat, no gloves, no thermal pants. His run right before he went to bed Christmas Eve had accidently evolved into a tradition and, now, many years after it had started, was one of Tommy’s favorites. He knew the weather really shouldn’t affect his mood, that it truly didn’t matter, and that no amount of thinking about it would change the fact that even at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve the thermometer still hovered at 55 degrees. So Tommy grimaced his face into a smile and headed out the door. He usually ran toward town and the lights. This year the village had found the money to not only illuminate the town with strings of white color, but to actually extend the lights off the two main streets into a few of the less-trafficked roads. As Tommy turned off the street where he lived, he headed in this direction, only to have a second thought and abruptly turn around several strides into his run. Maybe the air would be a bit colder if he headed north, away from town toward the river. A few degrees might actually make a difference. He would take anything he could get.
A few minutes later, Tommy’s stride fell into a familiar rhythm, and his thoughts began to wander. This was only helped by the darkness and quiet that enveloped the streets. A few houses had left their Christmas lights on, but mostly there was calm. Despite the unseasonably rapid-rising warmth in Tommy’s body, this solitude felt right. Soon he reached the end of the road that descended into the park. The moonless night left it too dark to run along the river. Tommy’s impulse was to turn around and head back, but he didn’t feel like going home yet. Without pausing, Tommy made a right turn and ascended the hill that bordered the property kept by a local order of nuns. Despite the fact that he hadn’t gained much altitude, Tommy felt himself shiver a bit as he climbed. Getting to the top of the rise he turned around and paused to take in the view of the river at night. His heart beat in his head as he shivered once more.
That’s when he saw it. Looking right, toward the cliffs that bordered the nun’s property, his vision went white. The fields were lit up with snow. Everything was so bright that it looked like sunrise. This is impossible, Tommy thought. The temperature hasn’t been below 50 degrees since November. He turned into the nun’s access road and began to run once again. The path led toward the main house where the nuns lived. Tommy had never been down this way before, but he knew there were still several nuns left who lived on the land. He was suddenly freezing. Coming up to the house, Tommy could see it was all lit up inside. He was trying to make out the familiar music wafting out when the front door opened. A woman dressed in snow gear waved and wordlessly gestured Tommy inside.
Stepping into the house, the woman began to speak, “Little late for a run, isn’t it? I’ve seen you out on the roads. My name’s Mary! The other sisters and I just finished with the snow, and now we’re warming up with some hot chocolate.”
Tommy, previously startled, suddenly was aware of his surroundings. There were five other women, nuns, Tommy supposed, all dressed in winter clothes like Mary. The music, louder now that Tommy was inside, was instantly recognizable: It was the Beatles. The closing sounds of the plane landing at the end of “Back in the USSR” was segueing into the chiming notes that began “Dear Prudence.” Mary saw Tommy staring at the record player.
“The White Album.” Mary announced. “We play it every Christmas Eve. Came out right before Christmas in 1968, the year I became a nun. Always reminds me of Christmas. Imagine 1968, being blessed with not one, but two Beatles albums at once! And the cover, white as Christmas snow! Nothing on it. The Beatles daring you to use your own imagination.”
Tommy was speechless. Here he was standing surrounded by nuns dressed for skiing, listening to the White Album on Christmas Eve. As he was handed a mug of hot chocolate, Tommy finally got it a bit together.
“I don’t understand? Where did the snow come from? Did I miss something?”
Mary just laughed. Tommy stared at her eyes. The quiet confidence in her gaze was a bit disconcerting.
“Have you seen the filming crew that’s been here for the last couple of months? We’ve been renting our property to them. They’re on a break now, but after the new year they’ll be back to film some more. We’re not even sure what the movie is about. Last week, before they left on vacation, a bunch of snow-making machines were dropped off. I guess they got tired of waiting for the snow for their movie and are going to make some when they get back. Well, the sisters and I were sitting around this afternoon, looking at the thermometer and staring at those snow machines. I guess you can figure out what happened next. You know any kids? Spread the word that there will be sledding tomorrow.”
Tommy, speechless once more, though grinning pretty widely now, just nodded.
“You realize,” Mary said, winking, “that we’re all not here bobbing along for the ride. Sometimes God needs a little help.”
The writer is a teacher and lives in Upper Nyack, N.Y., not far from the very giving Marydell Sisters, wouldn’t you know.