Christmas in the Village
It’s Christmas Eve in the Village. Above the Grange Hall a lone streetlight casts an incandescent glow on the fork in the road. It is an eyesore, but some things can be forgiven. The millpond is no longer the mirrored admirer of the mountain, it’s dam boards let out reduce it to a lurking black serpent in the dark.
The small church on the hill is as it ever was, despite having burnt down in the 1820s, and again a half a century later. Wood heat, oil lamps, no electricity or plumbing; a wavy glow in the windows as we approach.
The old caretaker Ronnie passes out a paper program and candle as we enter. He might have muttered “Merry Christmas”, but you can never be too sure. He is the same permanently-frowned but well-meaning old man as he was when I entered here as a kid, 30 years ago, and the same no doubt as when my parents walked down the isle here in the 70’s. People never change in the village, until they do, finally and forever.
A stream of cold follows us in like a ghost, and settles in silence on the jackets that everyone keep on. The hard old pews creak as the few children wriggle in Christmas anticipation. A cough, a sniffle, coarse hands thumbing the hymn book.
The pastor, who is sincere enough but always strikes me as clearly not from here, orates briefly, then announces the first hymn. The pump organist, well known for playing at a cadence too slow and an octave too high, leaves the singer—me at least—struggling for breath.
After the 2nd or 3rd hymn I relinquish to conspicuously humming the tune. My mind, freed from concentration, turns to the black windows and the silent graves beyond. The ghosts of Christmas past.
Sprawling under the naked maples are hundreds of graves with a handful of names spanning two centuries, but ending abruptly, apparently to be continued in scattered suburban plots across the country. Those that left and now will never be back. One grave marks a child who came and never left, a victim of an accidental gun discharge back in the lumber camp days… up until recently his gravestone didn’t have a name.
My great gram lays in the back corner, next to her husband and brother, but oceans away from the rest of her family. I can hear her accented voice echo the pastor’s as clear as if I was still a boy… “Caesar Agoos-toos”… “Bayt-lahem”.
Nearby, Grampy grows roots too, no doubt donning his trademark, closed-eyed and tight-lipped, “who me?” smile, just like the time he gave my grandmother moose turd jewelry for Christmas.
Captain Cook isn’t buried here, but rather up on the opposite hill, at the edge of his barnyard beneath the mountain. I remember the tears on his sons face when the bell above us rang as they lowered him into the ground.
Christmas is about birth, but as with everything, death is forever observing. He was born in a manger, died on the cross, and was resurrected. But we will become ghosts soon enough, lying out back, humming along to Silent Night, flickering the candles in the pews.
Fall on your knees, hear the angel voices.