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July 20th, 2003

A sense of accomplishment

I love going to sleep with an arduous task ahead of me, then waking up at dawn and just doing it. I like to know that once in a while, I can just do the work.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

I love the taste of hot chocolate served in a huge Thermos, after a day or night of biting cold. During Christmas breaks, my father twice put my brother and two cousins on a bit of timberland he owned near Chidester, Arkansas, to plant pine trees.

The tool for planting is called a "divot", which looks like a metal bar with a foot rest, which tapers into a kind of vortex point. One places foot on foot-rest, pushes down, pulls back, and a hole for tree-dropping is created. We'd plant on days that could range from 20 degrees to 70 degrees. I remember sitting on breaks in a toasty-warm vehicle, when the hot chocolate tasted like Heaven. At meal times, my brother and I had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, with potato chips, a banana, and perhaps chocolate chip cookies. We'd plant the pine trees in long rows, tree after tree after tree. The understory trees and shrubs included holly trees in holiday berry. I remember once on a warmish day resting on pine straw beside some established trees, while the sun filtered in. We planted thousands upon thousands of trees--I can still remember the scent of pine seedlings.

Some evenings, I'd participate in the "living Nativity", standing on the ascending church steps, wearing the garb of a felt-clothed shepherd with a fake beard. We'd stand for twenty or thirty minutes at a time, frozen like statues, and then drink thermos of hot chocolate as if they were ambrosia.

The coolest kids got to play Jesus or Mary or Magi. I was among the lesser "shepherd class". Baby Jesus was played by a plastic doll with a polyurethane head.

I loved sugar cookies shaped like reindeer, gingerbread men, watching "White Christmas" on late Friday nights on a black and white TV upstairs, and the sight of lights, blinking on, off, on, off, as my childhood ebbed away.