"I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams."
This old black and white photograph shows where my husband, Dean, started his life. The house is an iconic picture of an American home. It sits on West 7th Street in Plainfield, New Jersey on two-and-a-half acres, among streets of architecturally interesting Victorian houses both small and roomy - mostly roomy, built for the large Victorian families that once lived there. Plainfield was, in those days, a safe and beautiful place to live. And convenient. The train took its residence into New York City. The Gilbreths of Cheaper by the Dozen had lived in Plainfield, I believe.
The house was Grandpa and Grandma's triumph. They worked and saved for years and years until they could afford to move out of the apartment above their hair-dresser's shop on Main Street. A large garden of vegetables, flowers and apple trees (in the photograph) beyond the archway, was tended with enthusiasm. Grandma and Grandpa lived on the first floor. Dean lived on the second floor, that was made into an apartment for his parents.
Another old photograph is of Dean on Christmas Day happily sitting astride a new tricycle. He has fond memories of wheeling round and round the paved circle driveway at the back this house.
The ideal picture of a warm, secure, loving home seems never more in the forefront of our minds than at Christmastime. Moms and dads who experienced homes without secure relationships, warm togetherness and a strong faith in God, have had to start from scratch with their own families. Some of these people are my friends. I have had the privilege of meeting them in the various places where I've lived. They hold my esteem. I sympathize with their endeavors to create the kind of loving home that they wished they had had when young.
Call it parental neglect, preoccupation, laziness, ignorance, or what you will. It can be a depressing thought - a lonely thought - perhaps even a loneliness akin to the childhood of Ebenezer Scrooge. Yet it is past. And carrying a grudge is the heaviest burden to carry. Looking to God, rather, who authors and finishes our faith, moms and dads set their sites to creating the kind of home that fills their dreams and follows their convictions. I've seen such a home sought after and elaborately described in the life of homeschooling families. I've seen it laid out detail by detail. It is worked out day by day, hour by hour.
The result is a new creation, an honest-to-goodness happy home where family members work together, learn together, play together and worship together. Yes, there is need for the unpleasant correction of immature, or selfish, thoughtless acts among the children. This a necessary part of a labor of love. And sometimes we moms and dads need to say we're sorry, too. Overall, such families are a light to an ailing society (and the extended family). Oh, if society would only care to take a good look.
At the heart of a person is the longing for home. This is especially felt at Christmastime. Such yearnings for love are really a yearning for God and heaven. A warm and secure earthly home is the next best thing. It points to God and heaven. He is not far away but is near to anyone who seeks Him.
Home For Christmas - Two Films
I unpacked some DVDs from my Christmas closet. With hours of extra holiday cooking, decorating, gift wrapping, etc., it is nice to relax with a Christmas film. In the next paragraphs I talk about two stories that reveal a deep longing for home, love, and family togetherness. The scripts are a mix of humor and pathos. Therefore, I recommend keeping the tissue box nearby.
"Prancer" is a family film that has plenty of crunchy mid-western snow. It is a beautiful story. Dean photographed my DVD on a snowy bush out our back door. Cute-as-pie and something of a Pollyanna, eight-year-old Jessica Riggs loves Christmas. Her mother loved Christmas, too. But Jessica's mother dies during the year (before the opening of the film) and the family is left to cope without her. Dad has difficulty managing the homestead without his lovely wife (the homemaker). He is sullen in his grieving, understandably. But his dark-cloud-of-an-outlook makes him gruff and impatient. Jessica soothes herself with Christmas hopes and joys. She clings (for dear life) to her faith in the unseen world. There has to be a Santa (who is unseen). There has to be a God (who is unseen) and a heaven (that is unseen). Otherwise, in Jessica's words to her doubting friend, "Where's my mother, then?"
We click with the Christian overtones in this film, the church service of sorts, and a Christmas hymns sung reverently by its characters. The story, although placed in a realistic setting, has a conflict resolution that incorporates fantasy. Its theme also speaks of holding onto - or reviving - one's faith, hope, and love.
On a snowy night Jessica discovers an injured reindeer who wanders through the woods onto the farm. She coaxes the hungry, hurt animal into a shed with Christmas cookies and in the morning skips school to search for the vet. She begs him to help her and also keep the reindeer, she believes to be Santa's Prancer, a secret, at least for a few days. The vet removes a bullet from the reindeer's leg and Jessica tries to nurse the deer back to health. She doesn't want anyone to discover Prancer, especially her father who she thinks would probably shoot it. She must think of a way to get Prancer back to Santa in time for Christmas Eve. Meanwhile she overhears her father talking about her. He thinks his daughter might be better raised by an aunt. The idea of being sent away from home and separated from her father is distressing.
The acting is excellent and played by some well-knowns. Faith, hope and love make things happen in this film. I think this is one reason you will enjoy it. I love the ending.
Remember the Night
The film "Remember the Night" is for grown ups. My DVD was a Christmas present to me last year. I must have let slip out how I liked this unusual love story. Released in 1940 in black and white, the (too skinny) Barbara Stanwyck and gentlemanly Fred MacMurray give a convincing performance. But I can't figure out why it is titled "Remember the Night." Never mind.
Miss Leander is a fashionable shoplifter. It is how she survives living alone "respectfully" in New York City. Caught stealing a jeweled bracelet she is arrested. Her court trial is to be continued and held over Christmas. The handsome attorney Mr. Sargent, is to blame for the postponement. He wants to head out of town straightaway to spend the holiday week with his mother in Indiana. But when confronted by his guilty conscience he bails Miss Leander out of jail, admitting to himself that his clever move in court would result in the young lady spending Christmas behind bars. An unforeseen circumstance throws them together. And when Mr. Sargent discovers that they are both from Indiana the idea crosses his mind to invite Miss Leander to join him in going west. This way, she may go home for Christmas and see her mother on the way to Mr. Sargent going home for Christmas to see his.
"Home" is the thing to notice. The main characters were brought up in strikingly different homes. Both families were poor (probably having their beginnings in the Great Depression). But only Mr. Sargent had loving discipline, patient understanding, and forgiveness. It is the kind of home that Miss Leander always wanted.
There is nothing overtly Christian about this Christmas classic. The characters may just as well be agnostics. The songs sung around the piano are of the blessings of home, and are sweet but strangely do not celebrate Christmas. Nevertheless, these friendly characters have a moral conscience that is uncommon today. Standards of "right and wrong" are even important to the plot. Where these standards originate is a mystery. Christian viewers, however, can appreciate the film because we are apt to fill in the blanks nicely to our own bias satisfaction. We can do what we want with the background of a story, can't we? Perhaps the couple do not exemplify tip-top form (the very fact that they travel alone together). Yet, there is no hanky-panky, just tears and kisses, nothing more. It is the far-sighted and far-reaching value of home, with its honest and unselfish characters, that go into making this a touching film.
Have you seen either of these?
Decorating is behind schedule in our house. I'm taking my time and telling myself that this is okay. But it is a good feeling knowing my homemade gifts got their finishing touches with my needle on the first of the month, were wrapped and mailed. And the Christmas cards are sent. It is joy to be hearing and singing Christmas carols again.
My blog friend Martina, who lives in Germany, sent me a photograph of her Lavender Strawberry Sachets. Aren't they cute? She told me that she opened her kit to sew them on a day that was "enveloped in fog and Mendelssohn." Thank you, Martina.
I know my blog friends and I would like to see your finished Lavender Strawberries. I invite you to send a photograph to my email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paintings are by Courier and Ives.