Kage Baker loved Christmas. A little cautiously, because she had a low tolerance for cute or sentimental: but deeply. Hers was a midnight-by-starlight love, a candles-through-stained-glass love, an ancient memories love.
In her heart, Kage was always out standing on a cold hillside, the light of a new star on her brow like sacred oil and divinity rising on the night wind to fill the hollows of her bones. Gods walk at midwinter, are born and die and rise again.
Kage was into that.
Our Christmases had gotten pretty comfy, by our 50’s. We had a regular series of rites and customs – the lights went up, the tree was brought home and decorated, presents were hidden (badly) and then wrapped and brought out in triumph. She addressed all the tags, in Gothic uncials; I wrapped all the presents to our family, because I have a mild charisma over tape and ribbon. There was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding on Christmas Eve. There was a (small) flaming plum pudding, accompanied by a recitation of the pudding hysteria scene from A Christmas Carol. We stuffed enormous silly stockings for one another and hung them out at dinner time, to torment the other until midnight.
It was middle-class and middle-aged, and that made it a victory over the cold.cruel world.
Of course … it was offset and balanced by Extreme Christmas. After a month spent racing up and down I-5 in the dark, spending all our weekends 200 years ago in London, some solid warm comfiness was an even greater pleasure. Especially for Kage, whose taste for running around in the dark was thoroughly satisfied earlier in the year by Halloween. By the time Dickens hit its last glorious weekend, she was ready to settle down for a month or two.
I spent many a last night of Dickens racing the sunrise South to Pismo Beach, with Kage asleep in her seat. And many an ere-dawn heading further South to Los Angeles, with Kage asleep again after a fast shower and a two-hour nap. I usually managed to hit LA with the Christmas morning sun …
This is the last weekend of Dickens, now coming upon us. Tomorrow, I shall load up the last delivery of lemonade, marzipan and ginger cookies for my cast, and head North with nephew Michael. Kind friends will take us in for a couple of nights, while we celebrate Christmas in London with the last of our brain cells and strength.
Old friends who couldn’t make the run will be coming for these last 2 days; folks as dear as blood to me, making their own wild journeys to spend Midwinter with their families. I’ve missed 2 of our 5 weekends myself, so I’ll be throwing myself into this weekend with extra fervour. I’m not best pleased with my record this year, but I’m still on my feet and I will see the season out!
And then … there will be our private frenzy, as my cast and I begin the breakdown of the set. Everything smaller than an actual wall gets taken down and packed up; the mirrors, tables, bric-a-brac and dishes we’ve borrowed from our mothers will be stuffed into our cars to go home ASAP. In a week, between Christmas and New Year’s, we’ll be back for the bigger stuff, to haul it away and into storage for another year. But first – the grand take down.
It’s a hilarious time, usually. We’re eating the last of the sweets and drinking anything that didn’t get gulped during the day; we’re exclaiming over weird things found in the kitchen and improvising daft costumes with bits of garland and doilies and stag antlers … taking down yards of wallpaper with a butter-knife to lever out the push pins. Figuring out which black topper belongs to whom, or which pair of inappropriate stockings, or which sleepy, cranky child.
Awfully strange things get left at the Green Man Inn.
But within a couple of hours, we’ll get to the point where we can all finally go home. Or partway home, anyway – I’ll be setting out, as usual, to see how far I can get down I-5 before I start hallucinating giant pineapples beside the road. But I’ve reserved a hotel room only 2 hours down the way, so I guess Mike and Harry and I will make it before I drive us into the Aqueduct … I have every other year. We’ll be up again at dawn to speed the rest of the way home. We’ll be hoping for enough snow to look pretty in the Tejon Pass, but not enough to close the Grapevine. And home is all the sweeter when you come to it straight off the winter road, to where the lights are lit and the tree is adorned and the fatted calf is (literally) waiting for you!
But first – that drive through the dark: my private, sacred journey. By starlight and moonlight and the fey sheen of frost on the silver hills; through the shining black heart of Winter, where white bulls wait in caves for boys born of maidens to save the world. Balanced on the silver spike of the solstice, where dark and light waltz together through the longest night.
Down to the wire, in the holy dark.
Down to the wire, and the light, and the sun.
That was mighty nice! Oddly enough we were up and back in the day time mostly. We left on Monday morning ish. Our wonder and mystery was why many of our companions on the road had not been crushed by trucks or acquired another sort of flaming death that automotive Darwinism decreed. The daylight trip allows for the glorious oblique sunlight and deep shadows on on all the truly Plein Aire California beauty from Gilroy up and over. To see cows on those hills among the oaks and sycamores is a special gift of the California lang sine. But even better, a couple of the little ranchos have red and white longhorns! My blessings on your house for putting up with our random coming and goings. Please thank them for their grace while we were under foot. It seemed a very busy two days, and not sufficient for my visiting. Perhaps we need three days to accomplish it. It would appear that the crew of the Hatefish will continue on into the foreseeable future Calling at London for shoreleave in the winter and SanPedro in the Summer. A floating memorial to our absent shipmates. With all the crew assembled in Tavistock House it reminded me of Andrew Jackson’s inaugural. No furnishings were broken and all the silver was accounted for. “The Famous Author” came in the house thru the Service entrance I believe.
If you are able to cut your self some slack you should really see the Fra. Sera exhibit as well as the Ren paintings (A really excellent piece of Art History thinking) There is another Hans Memling on loan from a private collection just put up. These are his versions of the face of christ and how they became the archetype for western painting. This should be done soon, at least one of them comes down shortly after the New Year, I forget.
It seems a shame that the two weekends of faux-London you couldn’t make this year were the only two my family obligations would allow me to attend…
Seeing you at workshops was lovely, but darn it all, I wanted to teach you (and your staff) the very 19th century “Bell and Hammer” and gamble with rock candy and dinner mints. (which is of higher value?) I suppose there is always next year…if the fates allow. Have yourself a Happy Christmas, and may the stars along I-5 watch over your perambulations.
Mints over rock candy. Unless the rock candy is very pretty.
Oooh, yes, dinner mints over rock candy! You’re absolutely right, Neassa. Sugar is cheap since the Bahamas and West Indies were planted in cane, and rock candy can be made easily in the kitchen. But dinner mints require caster’s sugar, and butter, and cream … and should be made in the butter molds, to look really at their best. So they take the prize!
so much beauty you have put into this world . . .
Ah, thank you all, gentlemen! This is a peculiarly hard December for me, this year, and you cheer me up no end.
And yes, Steven, I must get out and see those paintings – I need to get out more anyway. Also, I have three tree boughs for you …
Extreme Christmas sounds lovely. Dickens Faire seems like the sort of place where you’d find someone who knows the words to the naughty version of ‘Twas Christmas Eve in the Workhouse.
And “Some awfully strange things get left at the Green Man Inn” would be a brilliant opening sentence for a short story. Just sayin’.
Oh Miz Kizzle:
Yes: and not only that, but quite a few other carol ‘variants’ you’ll never get out of your head again. Oh my goodness, I’m not grinning from ear to ear! 😉
Oh pooh! Can’t edit comment. Meant “I am NOW grinning from ear to …”
Oh you all knew that, right?
Oh Kathleen: thank you for those wonderful closing paragraphs. They speak, not only of Christmas Journeys Past, but of Renaissance Travels, and sacred times, too.
Better than The Bus Stories.
(And that’s saying a lot.)
Cockles of my heart officially warmed. I can’t get up for Christmas this year, but when I read about yours, past and present, I have something wonderful to imagine, remember, and hang on to. Sacred times indeed.