Friday, February 15, 2008

The Evening Ritual [CCR]

The aged man sat gently in his old wooden rocking chair using both his canes to balance himself. The pillows barely cushioned his arched back as he positioned himself for an evening ritual. His grandchildren lay on the floor by the fireplace careful to distance themselves from the popping embers that intermittently project themselves to gently glow and dim on the hearth.

The elderly man reaches beside him for the book with tattered pages and a soft bind displaying its years of service. He thumbs through the pages looking for the right place that satisfies the yearnings of his soul. Alas his fingers, crumpled with age and the pain of arthritis, reach the words that express his feelings. He adjusts his bifocals carefully such that the shapes show clearly in the dim lamplight.

The children adjust themselves so they may listen in amazement as their grandfather finds the sounds of the notes before him. He sings the notes in rhythm, “Doe fa ray ray me fa doe.” The children stare closely as the old man studies the page and rubs the gray whiskers from the evening shadow that has fell on his wrinkled face. Once he has sung a verse of notes and discerned the tune he quietly adds the words. It seems he can almost close his eyes and sing the song as if he had sung them many times over, which he has. The gentle gospel melody almost lulls the children to sleep.

After a couple of songs and maybe a moment of reading from the worn Bible laying upon the mantle the elder looks to the little eyes watching in amazement. They woke from their gentle hypnosis as if anticipating something new. He thinks for a moment and then the smile upon his thin lips seems to reflect his joy in sharing. And he begins.

Most of his stories told by the glowing fire would be hard for a young mind to envision if it weren’t for the enthusiasm. He told of the time he walked all the way from Mountain Springs to Tuscumbia to take a month’s earnings and purchase something special for his family back home. Now the story may seem bland to some at first. But then he begins telling of the walk home after dark. Envision a day when there was little light and who knows who you might meet on the seldom traveled wagon path. Other stories told of his childhood adventures with names some easily recognize today, such as Denton, Hester, McCullough, and many others.

As the story is told sleepiness finds its way back to the young adventurers who lay near the fireplace. The story ends and the children wander back to their bed snuggling deep under the pile of homemade quilts to dream about the stories they heard. The old man reaches for his two canes to help pull him up. His back has stiffened slightly in the chair, but the smile on the little ones’ faces made it worth his time. He too must crawl beneath the covers. Tomorrow a house full of grandchildren will fulfill his day and rekindle his childhood memories when he too lay by the fire to hear stories from years gone by.

Of course the stories were told by my own Granddaddy Daily and those sleepyheads by the fireplace were my sister and me. People of his generation didn’t depend on electronic gadgetry to bring entertainment to their evenings. The stories told by the crackling fire nurtured vivid imaginations and brought much excitement to those who listened. Today this tradition lives only in story telling clubs or contests and is no longer celebrated by the fireplace. Such is a loss to our own children.