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CHRISTMAS LETTERS
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Christmas Letter 2008

December 16, 2008

Merry Christmas from Marion Station - one of the few places where Maryland is south of Virginia.

Dan and I still love it here on the Eastern Shore, and are in our seventh year in this old Victorian house. Our children have all moved away and live in 5 different states – the closest being three hours away. My son Danny asks me every time we speak when I’ll move off the Shore and come back to civilization. I always say, “You’re the one who moved away. Don’t complain about the distance.” Truthfully, I only say this to keep my motherly “guilt imposing” skills sharp. Dan and I know that each of our children must find his and her life, and make their own homes. We have found ours here in Somerset County. Earlier this summer Dan took me out on his fishing skiff. As I surveyed my surroundings - the murky blue-green water of the Big Annemessex River, the Laughing gulls and Caspian terns, the grassy shoreline, the smells of the marsh, the loblolly pines on the horizon – I knew I was home. And though I sometime fantasize about moving to places we’ve visited like Ireland, Montana, Maine and Nova Scotia– I belong to this place … and just as our children want to wake up in their own homes on Christmas morning, we’re happiest to wake up here in our Marion Station home this Christmas morning – and every morning.

Our children remain well though all are stressed with the recent financial recession. Becky, Harry, Benjamin and Connor are in New Jersey and doing well spending time with the boy scouts and soccer. Kelley is in Maine and just had a baby girl – Hannah Grace. Dominic lives in Columbia and is excited to be working in the new Maple Lawn community near where we used to live. Lara and David moved off the Eastern Shore after David graduated from Salisbury University last December. They moved into an apartment not far from Dominic. Danny and Amber bought their first home and moved to Front Royal, Virginia. Their new house sits on the top of a mountain at the end of a three mile dirt road. Albert and Ruth had a baby girl in January – Bailea May - who is as cute as a baby girl can be. Dan and I visited them in Florida last April and were able to see Bailea again in July at Becky’s house just before Dan left to go out west. Little Daniel is has started school. Mia and Grace continue to enchant us – in stereo - with every visit.

2008 has been a tough year for us. We’ve suffered losses of loved ones, job loss, and sickness. For most of the year, Dan has been working out of state. When his job in Ocean City was completed in March he couldn’t find any work in Maryland. Through the Iron Workers Union he found short-term jobs in West Virginia, Ohio and Philadelphia. This became increasing difficult with on-again-off-again schedules, travel and strenuous work. Opting for better pay and more long-term work, Dan set out for a job in Wyoming in July - then ended up working on a wind turbine farm in Kansas. He’s been living out there since, with only one 4-day visit home in September for our anniversary. Thankfully he’ll be home for Christmas.

This is the first time in my life I’ve lived alone. And, I’ve developed some interesting skills in Dan’s absence – like how to … manage a flock of free-range chickens, battle an infestation of poultry mites, relocate – not kill - black snakes, discard dead animal carcasses, fix and maintain an electric fence, balance the eco-system of a pond, repair a sump pump, jump start a car battery, take metal to the scrap yard – and get paid for it!, add a phone jack, and start the truck with a screwdriver. I learned how many roosters are TOO many (more than one). I’ve also learned why people who live alone become eccentric about animals, talking about them like they’re people, and fussing over them too much. In solitude one becomes more aware of the actions and responses of creatures. The animals have been great company for me, but I realized after a friend said, “You sure talk a lot about your dogs” that I may be in danger of becoming eccentric. I secretly wondered if naming all the chickens after French literary heroes or making home-made broth for dog-food gravy was too over the top for a normal person.

Burgoyne Christmas Card - 2008 (Click for Larger View)In the past our Christmas card picture was taken on that year’s vacation. Since times were tough this year, we took no vacation. So I decided to use a photo from the trip I took to Ireland in 2007. As you can see, I added a caption - a quote by Taylor Caldwell. Sadly, being separated from Dan also means I’m separated from my proofreader. I still swear I’m dyslexic. My writing is always marred with typos. Dan usually finds them. I emailed this card to the printer having proofed it FIVE separate times in the course of eight hours.

That night when I was describing the card to Dan on the phone, I read the quote to him and noticed that I had typed Taylor Cladwell instead of Taylor Caldwell, transposing the 2nd and 3rd letters of the last name. I shrieked and was so mortified – having a typo on the cover of the Christmas card!!! Dan tried to comfort me with this amusing statement …. “Well, Taylors should be CLAD well.” Please forgive the typo – It would have cost $160 to fix.

I took the photo on the cover of this card one dreary February afternoon on the Beara Peninsula in County Kerry. The place is known as Cashelkeelty stone circle, and it stands on the summit of an ancient trackway known as the “Old Green Road.” Talk about being alone! Traveling by myself, I trekked a mile off the main road, straight up the mountain to find this stone circle. Nary a soul was on the path. Standing on the summit, the landscape stretched out for miles with views of the Slieve Misk Mountains, random villages and the Kenmare River. The only sound was the wind sweeping across the summit and whistling through the mountains.

I chose this photo for our Christmas card because I recall how I felt just after snapping it. I was miles from anyone I knew suddenly awash with the awareness of being alone – but not alone. It was later that I found the Caldwell quote and it seemed so fitting. Not so because it matched how I felt on Cashelkeelty … but fitting because of what it says about Christmas. If we look deep into the season of Christmas, we find that which dispels darkness, defeats loneliness and conquers the loss we feel with human separation. We find love. With love we can never be alone.

In April my mother died. She followed her brother Bob who had died just four months earlier. My mother and Uncle Bob were named for my grandmother’s sister and brother - Robert and Elizabeth - who died in 1914 just weeks apart at the ages of 16 and 18. It’s strange to ponder that coincidental repetition of another Elizabeth following her brother Robert as time circles around us. Several friends and family members have also suffered losses this year, and this will be their “first” Christmas without that loved one. We think of them with special fondness this year.

In doing my research for the book I’m currently writing, Thin Places – Celtic Doorways to the Otherworld – I read this quote by the late Celtic mystic, John O’Donohue. He said …

If you could interview a baby in the womb, and it asks you, “what’s going to happen to me?” You’d say “you’re going to go through a dark channel. You’re going to be pushed out. You’ll arrive into a vacant world of open air and light. The cord that connects you to your mother is going to be cut. You going to be on your own forevermore and regardless of how close you come to anyone, you’ll never be able to belong in the way that you’ve belonged here.” The baby would have no choice by to conclude that it was going to die. … when in actual fact .. it’s being born.

As we navigate through the revolutions of the passing years, Christmas is a time when we pause. We stop and reflect on birth, beginning, light coming into the darkness – a light that the darkness cannot overcome. We look forward to another year and hope for blessings. It’s a time we remember everything we ever loved, when joys and sorrows are magnified and felt stronger than other times of the year. Love is what knits the Christmases of our past into a garment of memory that warms us and cloaks future Christmases. It’s that love that pushes us year after year to make this season special.

I have a Christmas card on my desk my brother Mickey sent me last year. In it he wrote, “thanks for your Christmas card and letter. I don’t know where you find the time.” One thing every human being on earth has an equal share of is time. We all get 24 hours in a day. And though the extra pressure of Christmas preparation challenges my abilities to get this card and letter out - there’s no task that supersedes connecting with you – to let you know that you matter to us.

Dan and I are blessed to have lives connected to so many people. .. and it is to those of you that have made a difference in our lives that we send this card. It may be the subtle difference made by a business acquaintance or neighbor. Or it may be a huge difference made by a close friend or family member… but that difference you make in our lives - subtle or deep - is such that without you, there would be a vacancy. And yes … my house is dirty, my shopping isn’t done, my gifts aren’t wrapped, my preparations not yet complete … but our Christmas memories rarely include the clean house and the gifts. We remember people and the times we shared. We remember you this Christmas. We thank God for you and pray that your Christmas is happy and full of joy.

May God bless you and those whom you love.

   

Copyright 2006 -2017 by Mindie Burgoyne  All Rights Reserved. 
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