- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 18, 2004

The snow wouldn’t stop falling that year. It was Christmas Eve 1976. Before the snow came, my mother, father, grandmother and sisters piled into the station wagon to make the long drive to my aunt’s house for our annual gathering.

My aunt Cece threw the party that year. She lived in the country 30 miles from my parents’ house, and getting there was a journey. So along the way we listened to carols on the radio and asked our grandmother questions about the past.

When we got there, there was a festive spirit in the air. My mother has three sisters and two brothers. They have 26 children among them. The party was overflowing with people and numerous conversations broke out.

I usually joined my father and my uncles, who talked about the Pittsburgh Steelers, the latest automobiles and politics. And then I would join my mother and my aunts, who laughed as they told stories about their children, siblings or relatives who were no longer with us.

And then the snow began.

It was a sudden snow. It came on thick and made the dark, cold air white, and we knew it wouldn’t let up any time soon.

My father gathered us up and got us on the road. The journey home would be long — even dangerous — but wonderful.

As we got onto the highway, everything was already blanketed. We were no longer in a car, but on a sleigh and quietly floating along the hills and valleys of gorgeous western Pennsylvania.

The snow brought a calm over us. People often think they have more control over the world than they do. Actually, we have very little control over most things. The snow makes us remember this, makes us realize how small we really are.

My father turned on the radio, and old-time radio broadcasts were playing. Don Ameche and Frances Langford were performing in “The Bickersons,” a 1940s show in which a married couple got into hilarious arguments. I remember one line in which the wife asked if he’d had breakfast and he said he just ate the oatmeal on the stove. “That isn’t oatmeal,” she said. “I’m wallpapering.”

And we laughed. I felt then the way families must have felt back in the 1940s. They joined together in front of the radio, while brilliant performers painted vivid pictures in their imagination, and they laughed hard.

Though I didn’t understand it that night, I understand it now. God rode along with us in that car. I know our society discourages saying such things these days, but it was so.

That night in the car was a respite from this complicated world. It was a night of clarity and simplicity. While we floated over the snow, one of few cars on the highway that night, we were all at peace.

We all sensed then the fleeting nature of time. I didn’t know it, but it would only be another 16 years before my grandmother was taken. There would be many days ahead in which I would doubt that beauty and clarity — or even God — existed. But on that night, it was crystal clear.

And here we are in the holiday season almost 30 years later. People are caught up in the season’s busy materialism, as always. So right when we need to refocus on the meaning behind it all — that it is God most Americans are celebrating — we’re going out of our way to whitewash the historical beauty of Hanukkah and Christmas, lest we offend anyone who may hold a different faith or none at all.

We humans are doing it again, you see. We’re thinking too hard. Perhaps we need a nice big snowstorm this year to restore some clarity and perspective.


Mr. Purcell is a free-lance writer based in Mt. Lebanon, PA.


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