Publisher's note: Please join me in welcoming Author Michele Rhem, who presents us with her poignant memoirs of the Rabbit Patch, where her diaries weave tales of a simpler, expressive life lost to many, but gathered together in her most familiar environs - the Rabbit Patch.
I arrived in Elizabeth City, early in the afternoon, on Wednesday. It had rained the whole day. When I crossed the three rivers, it was impossible to see where the rivers ended and the sky started, on the horizon.
How good it felt to turn in to the familiar Riverside Village, by the laughing river. It had been close to a fortnight, since my last visit. Trees have shed their leaves and now, front doors are adorned with wreaths. Windows donned twinkling lights, from the little cottages to the stately manors, making the drive a "merry and bright" occasion.
It was a sweet reunion for me. Lyla ran to the door saying "Honeybee is back!" We hugged for a long time in silence. She showed me her Christmas tree, not long after I got there. Will and Jenny are having their kitchen remodeled and I was eager to see the progress, on that too. The kitchen is absolutely beautiful, but not yet functional-of course, I brought several meals with me to help out.
On Thursday, which was "the longest evening of the year", Lyla and I were able to stroll through the village. Lyla had some jingle bells and she would ring them at the sight of people, dogs and cats-and say "merry Christmas!" She missed two people in a row, and so I stopped to ask her why . . .she was fast asleep, clutching her bells.
Will was stopping by his moms', Miss Claudia, in the afternoon, and so I sent her some old fashioned Christmas candies and a holiday towel for the kitchen. I have a few more small gifts for her, but they could wait, as I was hoping for a visit with her, myself, during my stay. Jenny and I wrapped presents and how pretty they looked under the tree. We stopped just before Will came home. Will had a large gift with him, that he placed around the tree. . . I found out later, it was for me!
Miss Claudia sent me a luggage set-I had not had a new one in twenty years! The one I use now is really, Kyles'. The set is a lovely shade of turquoise and I am quite thrilled with it. What a surprise for me and it touched me deeply that Miss Claudia was so generous.
Friday, was the day Jenny and I set aside, to shop. Both of us had some "loose ends" to tie up. Our lists were minimal and quite precise. We got up early and were out and about by shortly after nine. The expedition was quite successful and we made good time. By mid afternoon, the gifts were under the tree and there was no sign of our grand production.
With the kitchen out of commission, we have had to forego such things as baking cookies and constructing gingerbread houses. I will practice baking cookies after Christmas Maybe we will start those traditions next year. (when Lyla is old enough to know not to eat the roof of a gingerbread house)
Christmas evokes memories of traditions and people, too. Often, traditions are born without intent. I know I always buy apples and oranges at Christmas-enough that you smell them when you walk in the door, at the rabbit patch. I do so because, my parents did. I remember waking to the delightful smell, and knowing Santa had been. My parents did, because their parents did so. Traditions, remind us that in an ever changing world, some things do remain the same. This is of great comfort to me, as there are less and less familiar circumstances now.
I remember my people at Christmas. People like Aunt Agnes, who played the piano jauntily-no matter the song. She played Christmas carols and flashed a smile throughout every one of them. I remember Aunt Josie- and Pop and Grandma. I remember the year, that Grandma "ordered" a Christmas tree, instead of finding one in the woods. It was unheard of and we were quite curious to see it. We all went over, the day it arrived to see "the aluminum tree". What a horrible shock it was for me, to see a silver stick with branches. The "tree" looked as unreal, as anything I had ever seen-because it was. Grandma said people in Florida had these trees and I reckoned then, that Florida was not an ordinary land.
I remember "Mama Hodges", my great grandmother. She handed her great grandchildren an envelope every year,with five dollars inside. She made pound cakes regularly-and the kitchen always smelled of them.
I have especially thought about my dads' mother, my grandmama- Ruth Arlean Warren. Grandmama lived to almost ninety-three. She has been gone just under ten years-and is still missed.
Christmas is a time to remember, the gifts "of a lifetime" given by those before us-gifts, that helped form us, into who we are, right now. . . unlike tea sets and trains, the gifts of loved ones, do not "break their main springs or clockworks" thus becoming useless or uninteresting. Gifts of loved ones "happen" to us . . .bestowed naturally and habitually. I wish now, I had thanked them, for teaching me to love a garden, songbirds and flowers. Beyond those things, I learned how to be resourceful and to deplore wastefulness. I was taught the value of work
I learned to be grateful and to pray. These things still sustain me and have been just the tools, I have needed, thus far.
Christmas is a time to remember.