Christmas during difficult times. “Lantern in Her Hand” by Bess Streeter Aldrich (Dec. 2007)

Susan's Thursday morning note December 20, 2007
A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich
Good morning!  So many emotions come with the week before Christmas.  No matter what we go through, within each of us (I believe) there is a desire to look forward – to not spend the holiday season with only the memories that might pain us…the desire to find beauty, to find life, to find our souls, to give to others, to see our children singing & laughing.  I have had a hard time finding words to write that are going to give your mind something to ponder this week, so I have decided to type for you out of a Christmas book of short stories I’ve been reading this week by our Nebraska author, Bess Streeter Aldrich, Journey Into Christmas.  I hope that you will see why I underlined these parts & hope that they give you something to focus on as you go into this holiday week, regardless of what your personal circumstances are.  We must continue to strive for celebration, for renewing our minds, for hearing the music.  I loved the Latin line below – Music is a gift from God. The gift that we never have to fear losing!  I can’t resist (even though this will get too long!) another Latin line I read this morning:
Arbor eram vilis quondam sed viva tacebam, Nunc bene si tangor mortua dulce sono” – “I was once an ordinary tree, although living I was silent; now though dead, if I am well played, I sound sweetly.”  (Latin motto from the 17th century on a harpsichord)
Christmas on the Prairie (Excerpt from A Lantern in Her Hand):

Everyone was in want that year of 1874...They were beaten.  One could stand a few disappointments and failures, but when everything turned against one, there was no use trying to fight . "Nebraska hasn't turned against us," Will would argue stubbornly . "It's the finest, blackest land on the face of the earth.  The folks that will just stick it out...You'll see the climate change,...more rains and not so much wind...when the trees grow.  We've got to keep at the trees.  Some day this is going to be the richest state in the union...the most productive.  I'll bet anything next year..." Always "next year"!  It was a mirage, thought Abbie, an apparition that vanished when one came to it.  Six times now they had said, "Next year, the crops will be fine." And so she could not throw off the blue mood that had descended upon her, a horde of worries that had come upon her even as the horde of grasshoppers had come upon the land.  The thought that there was nothing to do with; that they could scarcely keep body and soul together; that she probably would never be able now to do anything with her voice; that another child was coming, - they all harassed and tormented her...

(Then a barrel & box arrived from the east...) broke something in Abbie, some tight-bound band around her heart and throat, which had not been loosed for months...She mustn't let youth slip away and her voice go with it. She was ashamed of herself that she had not sung for months...  The coming of the barrel seemed to put something back into Abbie which had been gone temporarily, - laughter and hope, courage and faith.  She began planning right away for Christmas.  "You know, Sarah, I think every mother owes it to her children to give them happy times at Christmas.  They'll remember them all their lives."

Historians say, 'The winter of '74 to '75 was a time of deep depression." But historians do not take little children into consideration.  Deep depression? To three children on the prairie it was a time of glamour.  There was not much to eat in the cupboard.  There was little or no money in the father's flat old pocketbook.  The presents were pitifully homely and meager.  And all in a tiny house, - a mere shell of a house, on a new raw acreage of the wild, bleak prairie . How could a little rude cabin hold so much white magic? How could a little sod house know such enchantment? And how could a little hut like that eventually give to the Midwest so many influential men and women? How, indeed? Unless,...unless, perchance, the star did stop over the house. 

(The writing then moves forward to when the children were adults & back for Christmas.)...Far into the evening they sat around the old coal burner, talking and laughing, with tears not far behind the laughter, - the state legislator and the banker, the artist, the singer, and the college teacher.  And in their midst, rocking and smiling, sat the little old lady who had brought them up with a song upon her lips and a lantern in her hand.

Then, to begin a different short story she penned a paragraph that I love to read and picture - can't leave this one out of the e-mail (grin!)
Bellfield is similar to a hundred other small Midwestern towns . From the air its buildings look like so many dishes clustered together on a flat table.  The covered soup tureen is the community hall. The red vase in the center is the courthouse.  The silver-tipped salt shaker is the water tank.  There are few changes in the ensemble from year to year.  Only the tablecloth is different . There is a vivid green one for spring, a checkered green-and-tan one for summer, a mottled yellow-red-and-brown one for autumn . Just now - the day before Christmas - Nature, the busy housekeeper, had dressed the table in a snow-white cloth for the first time.  It was thin, however, with bare brown places showing through, as though she must patch it soon with more white.  In one of the red-brick dish-no, houses - lived the Lannings.......
I really do hope that you all have time to reflect on what has made you who you are.  The good in you.  Bring into your life something (if not a barrel from the east!) – something that brings you laughter and hope, courage and faith.  We have so much in our blood that has the ability to make us truly LIVE.  What picture in your mind do you want to have in your scene – when you are the “old lady (or man) who brought them up….” – your choices now will inherently find their way into the way our children make decisions in the future.  Let’s continue to have “a song on our lips and a lantern in our hand regardless of whether the song is for children in our home, or for those we love that are not our relatives, or for those we want to sing to that need us.  God bless your season!  Thank you so much for your part in our store and in my song.  Susan
Latin phrase for this week: 
Musica Donum Dei "Music is a Gift from God"

Works Cited:
Aldrich, Bess Streeter.  A Lantern in Her Hand.  1994.  University of NE Press.  Lincoln.