By Julie Horner
While most seemed snug and expectantly quiet on Christmas Eve, well heated and well fed, we castaway wanderers traveled by unexpected invitation through rural northeast county to the church on the Summit. Reluctant and unsure in a dark parking lot, the ragged sound of working man’s hand-bells chimed dimly from within. Forced by the chill we tiptoed inside. A score of stragglers and strangers still bundled in their beanies and down jackets sang in watery unison under the hasty direction of an itinerant salesman in a vintage frock coat. The room echoed with eternal hollowness, leaders suddenly stricken voiceless and vulnerable, dry mouths clicking. Heads were bowed in awkward indifference; some making peace, others openly checking the hand-held. At last Silent Night’s somber manifest forced all to their feet and the weirdness was banished long enough to briefly unify those within as brothers – a reason, finally, to glance, nod, and look away – the redemption in the scent of cheap white candles shakily lit and just as quickly snuffed.
Without a word, we slipped from the warmth into the night to join Mary and her companion under crisp December stars. Only yards from the glowing holiday windows, living rooms filled with laughter, and the church with its burned-out soul and grocery store Danish, the native forest embraced the travelers in thankful silence. A flask of whisky passed from lip to lip, silhouettes round a rusty dryer drum warming fire. Home and hearth had no roof, no walls, no doors. The Heavens stretched, winking.
Copyright 2018 Julie Horner for the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin
Originally published in print in the January/February issue: www.santacruzmountainbulletin.net