Christmas Mysteries

There’s a fire and a tree and candles, this Christmas morning – and I’m caught up in the mystery of some childhood memories.

What were your favorite gifts, as a child? And what do you think about them now?  Do you ever wonder why your parents chose that gift, at that moment, for you? And did you ever ask them? For me, two come to mind as I sit here in the quiet dark of this snowfall morning; both surprises at the time and, because I did not have the foresight to ask my parents while they were still with me, these particular gifts remain quite poignant mysteries.

I don’t remember asking for a puppy. I do remember, after church and breakfast and when all the savaged wrapping paper was tossed and ribbons and bows saved, my Dad saying, “One more present.  Get your coat.” as he handed me a bath towel. I don’t remember walking down the long street to Mr. Gilchrist’s house, or even remember my Dad, with his one war-shattered and other wooden leg, walking  with me. I do remember, and can still feel the warm wriggle of the blond, cocker spaniel runt of the litter in my arms as we walked back home.  I was eight, and ‘Drifty’, as I called him – because he was the same color as a satiny driftwood branch Mom had placed on the hearth as a decoration – became my confidant and best friend that year I began to feel the difference between me and all the other kids in school.

The other present called to mind this morning, as Apollo’s Fire’s Celtic Christmas spills into the room through my fancy Sonos wireless speaker, is the small RCA stereo console that appeared on my 14th Christmas. And the Joan Sutherland LP sent by my Godmother, who had taken me to see the colouratura diva in Lucia di Lammermoor when the Metropolitan Opera was in town earlier that year. For years afterward that console played Copland and Mahler, Puccini and Orff. It went with me to art school where I tortured the downstairs apartment dwellers with Nielsen and Bernstein.

We were not a classical music family. Growing up there was a small radio in the kitchen – just for news and weather and school closings. The closest we came was a set of 45 rpm records with all Richard Rogers’ Victory at Sea music. My Dad must have bought those in the ‘50s when that series was on TV.  He’d always wanted to join the Navy during the war, but was color blind so was rejected and went into the Army instead.

But when I was younger, the basement had an old Victrola and dozens of 78 rpm records; the original cast recordings of Oklahoma! and The Student Prince. And one mysterious, very large vinyl record; Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which I played until it was worn out.  I don’t remember what orchestra, but the record jacket was the exact shade of vibrant green of the winter coat I insisted my Mother buy me one year.

No one played these records but me. As a child, I would spend hours marching around the big, octopus-armed Rheem  furnace, conducting and twirling to these recordings. I still know the words to every song in Oklahoma! and I still would give anything to play Ado Annie and sing “I Cain’t Say No.” 

I didn’t know why or how we came to have these wonderful things, or why I got a puppy I didn’t even know I wanted – or needed.  I desperately wish, now, that I had asked.

* * * *

Here’s a poem about Twirling.


In the basement’s blue-heart furnace world
beneath the Atlas-arms of heat
the banner of myself unfurls.

Victrola’s ancient voices turn
the gyroscope within. I meet
myself in basement’s furnace world.

The hem of my skirt, my arms and curls
fly up and out. Centrifugal beat
releases me and I unfurl.

Thready tenors croon and stir
the places where my sex first feels
its blue heat in this twirling world.

Perpetual motion stirs the pearl
of knowing; unselfconscious I’m revealed,
and blue heat rises as I twirl.

I vibrate. I’m a whirling girl;
a dervish, centered and complete.
The basement’s blue-heart furnace world
releases me. And I unfurl.

Kathleen Cerveny © 2013



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