I have awaken early this morning, the first morning of a long over due vacation. No one is awake yet, at my father’s house. The kids are still asleep. I fumble with the coffee maker, making as little noise as I can, appreciating every moment of the solitude. Slowly I make my way out the front door. Slipping on my shoes, I casually walk down a dirt drive, in the early morning’s twilight. The house itself sits on the southside of a large mound.
Standing upon the hill, gives me an opportunity, to appreciate what the day has in store for me. The morning sun is breaking the plain of the horizon. A cascade of lavenders and blues, mix with browns and beige’s, as the morning light filters through the last lingering bit of the cloud cover from last nights storm.
Rolling hills and farm land take up my entire view as I scan a full 360 degrees. To the west, there are pastures in the distance. Prairie grass is growing, with patches of rich blood red dirt trying to poke through. I see the western edge of the property, and the creek that serves as its boundary. Horses gather under a lean to, stirring in the damp morning, slowly waking, and taking in the hay laid before them. To the north, more pastures, but my view is obstructed by the remnants of an old creek bed, which has long ago run dry. Cottonwoods line both banks, bare of leaves, standing like forgotten sentries. The sandy bed gives a slight contrast. In some areas the trees have been overturned and mangled, intertwined with each other, from a past storm, a tornado, giving the section, an almost foreboding aura.
To the East of my vantage point, lies a more wooded area. The trees are bare of any leaves, like the others this winter. The area still appears cluttered, providing plenty of cover, for the deer, turkey, and other wildlife that also call this place home. It is a dense growth that seems encapsulating; the ground is a patchwork of fallen leaves, covering the cold ground.
Behind me to the south is additional pasture, although it cannot be seen due to the tree line running east-west. A necessity in this dust bowl region, but a hindrance in terms of the view it overshadows.
I take all of this in, and the weariness of the night leaves me. The air is cold and the hot mug of coffee, steams between my hands, its vapors mixing with my breath as I exhale. It is cold this morning. A stiff breeze comes from the west chilling me. To my ears come sounds from all around me, I can hear the whinny of horses, the cries from the hawk, the muffled grunt of the bull to my left. Nature is waking up as am I.
The sun is now exploding into its full being, as its entire body now is in full view. I feel slight warmth, as the few rays that burst through the clouds radiate my face. A covey of turkeys, breaks from the woods, and begins scavenging for its breakfast. A family of rabbits break from the brush, starting and stopping, as they make there way across the hilltop.
Today is a special day. For some it is not looked upon, but for other’s it is the day marking the birth of our savior. I know soon that the morning will be filled with the clanking of silverware, the hustle and bustle in the kitchen, and the manic opening of gifts, from children, who cherish this day more than any other. But right now, at this very moment, as I stand here looking at the corrals, and the horses, the birds and the trees, the sun and the clouds, and the grass, and the rich red dirt, I know that I have all that I need. It is a tranquility that I surely need to escape the challenges of the world today. Whatever gifts befall me this morning will bring joy, they will bring happiness, but they will be immaterial. Nothing could take the place of the canvas, that god has painted for me this morning.
As I drink from my mug, and exhale a cold breath, my thoughts drift to the family members that have gathered today, and then they go further to the family that no longer can attend. I wish what it would be like to see them again, to hold them again, and for just once be able to talk to them again. For one moment, one brief passage of time, be able to surround myself with there love. For one minute have everyone I have ever held dear be with me at once, together.
I begin to think of the list of things I need to do today, when suddenly I catch a ray of sunlight, sparkle as it drives through the moisture of a lingering cloud. An eerie sense of déjà vu hits me, and for that one instance I flash back to my great-grandmother. It is a summer’s afternoon; I am a child, playing at her house. It is a small house, in the country. There is a massive cottonwood tree that I am climbing in the far corner of the yard. A small white wooden rail runs the circumference of her front yard, and my little brother is balancing upon it, as Lucky, the dog sniffs at him. She is calling us for dinner, and with a smile that only a grandmother can have, I feel her love and I see the same sparkle in her eye.
I hear a cackle come from down on the dry creek bed, an animal of sort calling to another. Again with a flash of déjà vu, I am twelve years old, tackling my brother, in the same front lawn of my grandparent’s house. My old great-grandpa, is sitting on the porch, waving a cane at us. Age has taking its toll, but his spirit is stronger than ever, and a laugh similar to what I had heard is coming from his lips.
I continue to scan the countryside, and notice that the patchwork of sectioned land mixed with the landscape at a broad view, looks just like the quilts my other great-grandfather would sit and make. I see a mare bonding with her foal, and the love and generosity makes me think back to the hugs my other great-grandmother would give me when we had the chance to see her. Each experience is different, but they prove to be contagious, my mind’s eye searching my memory finding a match for what my eyes see.
In a far off pasture I see horses frolicking, snorting and kicking one other, working out the kinks, while they play in the cold morning, and I think off my own children. I smell the smells of breakfast now coming from the house, and my mother, step-mother, and grandmother, instantly cross my mind. I look at the corrals built, the roads dragged, the barb wire stretched, and the hard work that my father and his father instilled in me, overwhelms me. I look above and see two hawks, flying side by side, each one mirroring the other, everything in unison, each one depending on the other and I think of my wife and myself.
From every corner of my peripheral something reminds me of someone, my brother, my sister, and like an epiphany it dawns on me. My wish has been granted. For that one brief shining moment, in total clarity, I felt my entire family together again. It felt like 25 years ago, when everyone I loved was still alive, before I knew what death was. Before I knew the toll life can put you through, honestly I felt like a child. The way a child feels no responsibility and no one is depending on you, no pressure, and no stress.
Something else suddenly occurs to me. Thinking of all my departed relatives makes me appreciate how long the land upon which I am standing has been in my family. I notice that if you take away the house, the corrals, the livestock, the fencing, it is quite possible, that the view I am taking in on this cloudy, sunny Christmas morning, may very well be the sights that my great great grandfather would have seen. Did he feel the same as I? Was the view, no less breathtaking over a hundred years ago? Did he yearn for family that he no longer could see, and cherish the ones he could? Do my struggles pale in comparison to his?
No longer did my Christmas morning feel immaterial, it felt majestic. I had traveled far but not too far to be with my father, at his ranch for this holiday. The feelings I was feeling, would not happen where I live, they would not reveal themselves standing from my own front porch. The history of my family was alive in every fabric of the landscape I was standing. Every tree, every creek, every field, held something, a memory, an emotion, a lovingness.
From inside I can hear the family stirring, the kids anxious to open gifts, breakfast being made. I take a sip, and my coffee is cold, but my heart is warm. I stretch my back and legs, working out the stiffness, and I turn back to my father’s house. It is Christmas morning at his ranch in Oklahoma, a place where I do not live, but from where my family comes from.
Walking back to the house I know that regardless of what the day may bring, I had all the gifts I could ever need. I only had to open my eyes, and heart to receive them. As I walk up to the porch, I wonder, if the people I love who are no longer with us know what just happened. Was this there handiwork? There way of telling me that they are still with me. I have no idea what heaven looks like, and I am just as religious as the next man, although I do not wear it on my sleeve. Could it be possible that this was there gift to me? Could they all be gathered together looking down upon us?
My last thought this Christmas morning, as I walk into the house, is of my two sets of great grandparents, the four of them part of my life until I was 18 and lost the first one. Simple people, who lived in a harder time. People, who valued wealth in terms of love, not money. People, who knew the true meaning of family, of fighting the good fight, and of one for all. I can just imagine all four of them sitting together. Each one with a brush, gathered around a canvas, laughing away, as with each stroke, they painted the picture that I woke to this morning.