Gazing Into the Darkness…

I recall a crispy cold post-Christmas evening with strong Northwest winds, single-digit temperatures, snow on the ground, and an imagination long on imagination.  One thought always led to another when I was 12. I couldn’t stop dreaming about the future. I couldn’t wait to grow up.  I’d gaze into the winter dusk deep in thought as our neighborhood descended into darkness.

The heat in our home would come on – whistling a wavering tune from my closed vent. It is a sound that will never be forgotten for long as I live. The vent in my room was always closed because my sisters who shared a room downstairs needed warmth. My folks never knew how to properly adjust the furnace damper.

As darkness ensued and strong winds blew, music of the period was playing on my portable photograph.  I grew up appreciating all kinds of music.  My father exposed me to jazz and Louis Armstrong.  My mother loved classical music and opera.  She loved vocalists of the era like Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis.

She’d be doing dishes singing the songs of her time.

Most of us remember portable phonographs and stereos.  Seems they all had lids and a single volume control whether you had two speakers or one. You could close them up and take them anywhere.  Tone arms had twin needles—one for LPs and one for 78s. When the LP needle wore out, I tried the 78 which ruined a lot of records. Sound quality from these low-buck phonographs was debatable—always on a par with a drive-in movie car speaker.      

As night settled in, I wondered of the world beyond my bedroom window.  There was a big world out there waiting to be discovered and I couldn’t wait to get out there and see it.  Although half of us were into the darkness of night, I couldn’t grasp half the planet being in daylight.  How could it be dark here and light somewhere else? Dawn always intrigued me as did dusk. I’d stare at the horizon and watch the sun disappear and reappear hours later. I’d look at the pre-dawn darkness and hear music in my head. Dusk always brought the peace of the night.

Night brought with it a mystique I cannot explain even to this day.

As old-fashioned shaded incandescent streetlights came on, I wondered who turned them on.  Was there a man at the electric company flipping switches?  If there was, he had a huge task and blisters on his fingertips to show for it.  I didn’t understand the concept of photocells and automatic timers.  I didn’t understand how streetlights just turned themselves on. I only knew if you flipped a wall switch, the lamp came on.  I couldn’t know at that age how light came from a wall switch to a lamp sitting on the table.  I’d learn about that later when I stuck my finger in a live light socket and felt the miserable intense tingle of alternating current.    

That’s the sweet naive innocence of childhood.  It was something on the order of Santa Claus.  I’d wonder how he traveled the world and get all those toys in his sleigh for millions of kids around the world.  My analytical mind just couldn’t let go of that question.  When my mother told me Santa was a myth and wasn’t real, I felt a huge element of sadness.  A dreamy fantasy that was never realistic was gone. 

To this day, I refuse to believe Santa is just imagination. 

The magic of a cold night intrigued me.  My bedroom window was frosty.  I’d breathe against the cold glass and wonder why it fogged—then, cleared up.  I had to wander outside and feel the cold air and take in the sweet aroma of woodsmoke.  The frigidness of winter stirred my imagination wondering where everything went.  It still does.  Where were all the birds?  Why did I not hear the sound of crickets?  What made sounds so muffled when temperatures neared zero? 

In winter, everything went to sleep only to awaken in the spring.  I wondered where fresh leaves came from when a tree had been bare for months.  I wondered where all those leaves we raked from last fall went.  They just seemed to have vanished in the wind.  There was the same kind of magic in spring that there was in autumn.  Transitional seasons yielded a rush of euphoria. 

Fall meant the holidays were coming.  The magic of Halloween night when neighborhood kids and their parents came calling—one of those rare occasions when friends knocked on the door and you could catch up.  Spring was always an awakening with renewed hope.  It was time to wear a light jacket and enjoy the sweet aroma of honeysuckle and fresh clover.  The sound of lawnmowers and edgers.  The smell of fresh cut grass. 

These sweet childhood memories never leave you for as long as you live. The olfactory nerves gather the aroma and the brain stores memories from more than a half-century ago – returning like an old friend you made memories with so long ago. Sometimes, it’s music from the time that grabs you by the emotional throat. Whatever it is – it is good to close one’s eyes and bask in such sweet memories.

5 thoughts on “Gazing Into the Darkness…”

  1. I kept my window cracked open. Learned about photocell lights on my paper route. You get a minute you should read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams”. The games we won, when we saved the day, when Ellen whatshername thought we were cool when she didn’t…


  2. “Transitional seasons yielded a rush of euphoria.” Oh my goodness James, how do you do it? Capture the essence of that time and place? Thank you. And please, never stop writing.


  3. I can still recall the time I saw a light sweeping the sky after dark and thought it was the eye of God watching us, later to find out it was a spotlight shining to announce the opening of a new car dealership. Amazing thoughts children have!


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