I grew up in Minnesota.
There’s still some debate as to whether I have actually “grown up” even at this late date, so let’s just say that I spent my childhood there in the Northstar state. My earliest memories of the Winter Solstice were of snow and cold and the world hunkering down against the elements. The quintessential Christmas image for me is a house – more like a cottage, really – huddled at dusk amid snow-covered pine trees. Smoke from a fireplace curls from the chimney, a golden light flickers in the windows, and snow is falling. The roof and ground are already white with the stuff, the walkway only a vague wrinkle in the soft blanket. The picture is soundless, muffled by the snow. There’s a pine wreath on the door. This image speaks peace and coziness to me. When I am inside this house, I have no concerns but to let the fire warm me and the love surround me.
Those who live in the upper midwest know what a sappy, unrealistic image this is, but I can’t help it: I’m hostage to a nostalgia for something that never was, an idyllic world of peace and tranquility that exists only in my memory. But it’s as real as any of the “real” things in my past.
I was a child when I left the north country, so what did I know of frozen crankcases, heating bills, shoveling sidewalks and the expense of acquiring a protective wardrobe for an entire family? These were worries for my parents, but not for me. All I knew was snowball fights, diving into snowbanks, sledding, skating on the lake and the crystalline beauty of the landscape after a snowfall.
Now that I live in Los Angeles I am haunted by my snowy past. Every year at Christmas I hear the snow songs: White Christmas, Let It Snow, Sleigh Ride, Jingle Bells, Baby It’s Cold Outside, Frosty the Snowman, etc. ad infinitum, or so it seems. I hear them and the images flash in my head and I feel a disjointed melancholy as I make my way around sunny Southern California, shivering in the 50-degree evenings like some effete lotus-eating beach-dweller, which in some ways I guess I am.
But in other ways I’m still that skinny kid on a sled, racing down that steep, bumpy hill at the edge of the park again and again, oblivious to the cold, the snow that gets inside my coat and down my neck only a momentary distraction from the fun I am having, which is making me feel exactly as if I am in heaven. School is out, snow is on the ground, the sun is shining, the hill is steep and I am flying!
I can’t go home again, of course. I won’t go looking, not awake. I’ll just enjoy the palm trees in the sunshine. We have Christmas lights that hang from the eaves of the houses. We think they look like icicles. And we have inflatable snowmen with lights inside them. Sometimes we put them on our roofs, because none of us knows for sure where snowmen come from, or where they belong.