What Snow’s Made For

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Jane said she’d never heard of anyone liking fogs before but she didn’t mind trying. …

“That’s why Camilla and I got married,” said Denniston as they drove off. “We both like Weather. Not this or that kind of weather, but just Weather. It’s a useful taste if one lives in England.”

“How ever did you learn to do that, Mr. Denniston?” said Jane. “I don’t think I should ever learn to like rain and snow.”

“It’s the other way round,” said Denniston. “Everyone begins as a child by liking Weather. You learn the art of disliking it as you grow up. Haven’t you ever noticed it on a snowy day? The grown-ups are all going about with long faces, but look at the children—and the dogs? They know what snow’s made for.”

~ C.S. Lewis in That Hideous Strength

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My grandchildren providing the illustration

Saying Thank You Before Opening Gifts

William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_A_Little_Coaxing_(1890)I read a passage from The Approaching Storm in September which has taken up residence in my thoughts. It describes a Czech Christmas in 1937.

This was a feudal Christmas. Castle and estate people joined in its celebration, as has always been the custom here. They were all Czech. They came to the tree gorgeously dressed in silk and satin of lovely colors, finely embroidered. The men and boys were as handsomely garbed as the girls and women. There was no servility in these people. I liked their quiet self-assurance.

The celebrations were opened by the children going up to their parents and thanking them for their love and care since last Christmas. The eldest, a son of fifteen, spoke first. He was followed by his brother and sister. This is an annual custom.  […] Then we had the presents.

My first instinct on reading this was to clap my hands together and plan a new custom in our family. Then I paused. This Czech annual custom was rooted in generations of thankful attitudes. Can we turn that around with a simple prelude to opening gifts? No, I debate myself, that is not the way to change a culture. Just another band aid fix.  It’s hard enough to get some of our kiddos to say “thank you” after they’ve opened gifts!

I’ve mulled this over. Thankfulness has to be inculcated in kids from the get go. I’ve seen parents teach thankful habits in tiny tots using Baby Sign Language. Long before they can talk, they sign “Please” and “Thank you”, the cornerstones of good manners.

I’m still pondering, still admiring this custom. Wanting the heart felt version, not the formulaic one. Thoughts, anyone?

E. Goudge’s Island Magic

0848813421When Hope at Worthwhile Books reviewed Elizabeth Goudge’s first novel, I wanted to read it.  The setting is St. Pierre, the capital of Guernsey, a channel island between England and France. Island Magic quenches two of my current fascinations: island culture and late 19th century rural life.

André and Rachell du Frocq are barely eeking out a living on a farm called Bon Repos (“Good Rest” or, as I like to translate it, “Sweet Tranquility”), a place that comes with a benediction written on stone outside the farmhouse:

Harbour and good rest to those who enter here,
courage to those who go forth.
Let those who go and those who stay forget not God.

The characters of André, Rachell, their five children, Grandpapa, and the stranger Ranulph— who is taken in after a shipwreck—, are vivid and unique; they linger in my thoughts days after I finished the book. Among the five siblings are a humanitarian, a poet, a failed academic, an adventurer, and a joyspring.

The story is sad and yet not without hope. The children have individual minor tragedies, they also have the confidence and security of being part of a bustling family. The tension resides between husband and wife as they begin to think about conceding failure at farming. The stranger’s assistance is helping the bottom line, but brings more marital conflict.

Typical of Goudge, there is a fairy element in the story. Themes of faith, bitterness, the value of beauty, hard work, service, gratitude, grief and sacrifice make the story shimmer. One point of the plot beggars belief. Of course I can’t identify it without giving away part of the story.

Rarely—and happily— I come across a sentence, with which I can fully relate, and about something I’ve never before seen in literature. Island Magic delivered! This is used to be me!!

How thankful she was for her one great gift—the gift of making her nose bleed at will.

Here is a great Christmas quote:

Christmas Day at Bon Repos was something terrific. The du Frocqs took the whole of December preparing for it and the whole of January recovering from it.

Goudge’s mother was a native of Guernsey; summer visits to the grandparents were part of Goudge’s childhood. Her final thoughts on island living in this book are a bit idealistic, but they reflect some of the necessities of interpersonal relationships in a closed society.

You can’t be an individualist on our Island. There’s so much magic packed into so small a space. With the sea flung round us and holding us so tightly we are all thrown into each other’s arms—souls and seasons and birds and flowers and running water. People understand unity who live on an island. And peace. Unity is such peace.