When the Last Candle was Lit

By Michael Morse

They’re in my rafters, silent and dark, in the boxes that I stored them in last January. I’m sitting here, quiet and tired, wondering if this is the year that they stay where they are, and what they are; inanimate objects gathering dust in a place that nobody goes. I see in my mind what I could create with those things, bushes illuminated, doorways made festive, windows lit with a soft glow from a candle bought in a different time, in a different home.

The problem is I just don’t feel like doing the work needed to pull it off. When the reward for doing a job no longer makes doing the work worth the trouble, many jobs just don’t get done.

A giant house with all the things that go with it just wasn’t worth the effort after our kids established lives of their own, so we moved into a smaller house, with less work to do. When the kids visit Mom and Dad’s house now, they no longer think of it as their own. I had to remind them they don’t need to knock before entering. Without memories a house is just a place to live, and we hope that the magic we created a lifetime ago won’t be as forgotten as the candles in a box in the rafters.

It seems like yesterday that I lived in my parents’ home. When Christmastime was truly magical it was up to me to make sure all of the candles were lit in our windows. The bulbs were orange then, the candle sticks colored ivory with plastic wax dripping down the sides. They were placed between the real windows and the storm windows, the heat they produced enough to melt the frost and sometimes ice that lived between the glass, creating a halo of orange light surrounded by almost surreal whiteness.

I couldn’t wait for sunset most days, and as the last traces of light receded to darkness I would begin my work, first downstairs, plugging the ends of the electric cords into the outlets that turned them on. There were five windows on the ground floor of the colonial, and it didn’t take long for me to plug all five in. The effect was okay, but lost with the everyday lighting and the racket from my brother and sisters, and the noise in the kitchen from my mother’s meal preparations.

It was upstairs where the true Christmas Spirit resided, in the bedrooms. Only during Christmastime was I allowed access into my parent’s room without an invite, and my sister’s room without being chased into it. It was quiet up there, nobody but me, and I took my time, basking in the orange glow in each room before moving on to the next.

I saved the room I shared with my brother for last, and after the final candle was lit would lie in my bunk bed and let the serenity I created fill me with happiness. I wouldn’t spend long up there. I didn’t want to miss what was happening downstairs: some treat to gobble or game to play. But for perhaps five minutes I would lie there feeling connected to something far bigger than myself, or anything I could imagine.

I close my eyes and bring the memories back. Before long I’m off the chair, eyes wide open, coat on, hat and gloves in the pocket and out the door, into the garage and up the ladder. The boxes are right where I left them last year. A few candles wouldn’t hurt, I think, and before long every last snowman, elf, Santa and wreath is on the garage floor, waiting for me to create something magnificent.

You can take away the things we accumulate as our lives unfold, but nothing can deprive us of the memories forged by doing the work needed to create them. A little hard work never killed anybody, and I’ll be damned if I let memories yet to be experienced die before they have a chance to come alive in my family’s continuing story.

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