My aunt and uncle lived the hill from Martins Ferry, Ohio, high above the river. My uncle ran a used car – Snezek – so it was understood that they had little money and a house larger than the rest of the family in the valley.
We used to drive there every year at Christmas, the first two and a half hours to Martins Ferry, stop at my grandmothers, then jumped over the forest that covered the winding upper roads like a dark cloud. These family gatherings were before the distractions, before everyone carried their lives with them in their pocket, so you had to prepare.
I always brought some books or some Christmas gifts to play with. One year I brought all the cells and dragons in an attempt to learn how to play – although I had no one to play with.
We were shivering in the back seat when we reached the top of the hill. We encountered the windows of the house, the candles subsided. The white reindeer and the glittering sleds caught up among the pine trees. At home, we were racing in the corridor and pouring into the crystal cold. A few more steps and we will be warm.
Walking to this house through the door next to the garage, to the warmth of the house that was launched with cooking and laughter, is one of my most cherished memories. The family made the Pirogi and Lasagna, two main pillars in the rotation of luck in those ancient coal and steel cities. There will be plates of cookies and lots of ginger beer BoxThe best dessert on earth. There was a jar of biscuits and nuts here and there, a spray of gumdrops or hard candy for old people. There was fried chicken made by my mother's wedding soup. When I entered this warm place I heard the sounds of billiard balls and the bustle of the game in the other room. My father cracked the beer. I got a kiss by my aunt several times and then I hid, maybe in a corner or maybe on the top floor of a big tree in a dark room just lit by a wasted light on a tube TV.
That was the peak of the interaction, then: a direct fire on the TV (or, more likely, a winding fire). I imagined what it should be at the other end of that picture, how much technology you need to make something and the inevitability shown on a glass tube. It was as if we had passed the space in a strange plane equipped with home comforts and nothing of harassment. I enjoyed the couch, the TV crackling, I was in a safe and space station, and it was a self-contained place where the memories of the cold are so far away.
They broadcast the first yule log In 1966 from the Graysi Palace in New York. At the time I was watching it was about twenty years ago. It was one of the first days of airtime, when the air was dead if no one was playing in front of the cameras. Within a few years, these traditions will disappear, but in 2001, in the wake of the events of September 11, it came back, a reminder of simpler times.
There was something about it that could change your look. The faraway bush fires were almost as good as one at home and much less than work. I jump, read, and take out the voices of adults who imitate sleep.
Now we carry things that burn brightly in our pockets. We do not need these camera tricks to see fires everywhere. We do not pay attention to hum magnet for cathode ray tube and small throbbing and pop of fax records. We are beyond that.
Maybe we are not. Perhaps there is still a cozy place, and the pleasure to get there is a crystalline moment between the back seat of the car and a warm room downstairs. Perhaps on the top floor, there is a stupid child watching the last drops of Christmas burning in the dark country.
I think it is still there. I hope there is still.