At this time of year, I feel a yearning to return to childhood. I long to smell the cedar tree decorated with a string of large multi-colored lights and icicles; to taste the cherries in my aunt’s paper-thin cookies; to feel the rush of being in the basement of Rose’s Dime Store looking at my hoped-for toys. The house in the picture reminds me of our two-story farmhouse and my view from my upstairs bedroom window. The small sleigh transports me back to my journey to Vermont.
When I took that trip a couple of summers ago, I visited Shelburne Museum in the western part of the state. I was fascinated by their display of sleighs. Growing up in the South, and not a family who skied or took cold weather vacations, I’d never ridden in a sleigh. Like the iconic images of Santa and his reindeer, as a child, I thought Currier and Ives winter scenes were like fairytales. People didn’t ride in sleighs because you never had that much snow — at least not in central North Carolina.
Now, what strikes me about the sleigh in the picture, is that it’s not like Santa and his reindeer, magically ascending into the sky. Instead, this one looks like an everyday sleigh that would have actually been used to move quickly through the snow.
In the museum, there were all kinds– those that were for formal events and those like workhorses. The one that captured my attention was a school bus sleigh used to transport children from rural areas of Vermont in the late 1800s. I could imagine it traveling down the narrow lanes I’d seen on my drive from White River Junction. Those children were like me, riding home on a school bus. How beautiful the countryside would be with a blanket of white, that makes the daytime stark and the nighttime mysterious.
Like other journeys, I wished I could experience Vermont in seasons besides summer. That would give me a fuller picture of what life was like in that part of the country. It reminded me how my eyes had been opened on a journey to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. There I saw a display of a horse-drawn mail carriage. Inside, I was surprised to find a small pot-bellied stove. My Granddaddy Smith had been a rural mail carrier in North Carolina in the early 1900s. He would have needed that warmth in the frigid January days in remote areas of Chatham County.
This discovery from the past seemed to provide a small connection with my grandfather, who died before I was born. Now I have another way to imagine him that is a gift from one of the places on my journeys.
Both my childhood Christmas memories and discoveries about the past made on my journeys, make me want to return to those times and places. That’s a universal sadness we all feel. I guess the best we can do is to travel there in our mind’s eye, savor that memory, and move forward to new places and moments of discovery.
How about you?
When are the times that you feel a yearning to go back?
What do you do with those feelings?