“I will live in the past, the present, and the future.” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol is a performance my daughter and I see every year in the rushed month of December. Sure, we know every scene and all of the songs by heart. We probably keep coming back for just that reason–bringing our changing lives and priority-shifting perspectives. Last week, as I questioned my ticket purchase, I realized that what I love the most about the play at our favorite local theatre Music Mountain Theatre –and the work by Charles Dickens –is the temporal integration of past, present and future as a literary concept–and as a way to think about and process our own lives.
This year I’ve been hanging out in the past with my great-grandmother, Theresa Hacker Mostny for time-travel journal sessions through sheath-thin journal papers transcribed into Google Docs my mom has helped me with. In the Christmas season of 1967 (Lyndon B. Johnson was president) Theresa takes me with a fragile elderly hand into her reflections about both of us learning to walk at the same time (me for the first time, her with a walker at the age of 78)
Because she kept a journal, I know that my mom and she swapped floor polisher recommendations and talked about authors with child-rearing philosophies (Two she writes about are: John Holt and Haim Ginott.) I know that Theresa was reading the Chaim Potok’s The Chosen right before Christmas that year and wanted to like it more than she actually did. On the other hand, she had just finished William Styron’s Confessions of Nat Turner and loved it. She writes; “A very great book. The tragedy of hatred, justified or not, destroys everybody and everything, it destroys even God in a very religious man.” In between books and gift choices, Theresa talked worriedly about the news headlines with reports about Vietnam.
In contrast to her worries, Theresa pondered about the sensation of love she felt holding her daughter, Helga, my father’s mother. The above portrait shows them together when Helga–who died at the age of 38 in 1953–was four months old. That sense of mutual care and adoration became the same sense of harmony she later felt with me on her lap over that 1967 Christmas celebration. A couple of weeks after that party, my mom sent a photo of us sitting together to Theresa, which moved her enough to write in her journal of all of the small and meaningful ways love occurs.
Theresa is my very loving (and bookish) ghost of Christmas past, who cherished good writing. Here is what she wrote in her 1967 journal about this picture of me with her–a gift across the generations to share.
“A rare existential happening at Christmas Eve 1967: Two human beings in full harmony with each other and thus … with their existence. In old fashioned terms, short: A loving great grandmother with her beloved – loving great grandchild.”
No matter what traditions you follow, who is your muse of Decembers long ago? Where do the generations meet–and love–in your family?
In the meantime, I wish you the happiest of holidays!