Down To The Wire

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.