The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Small consolations

Back home from Christmas wanderings, I just listened to a song that was shared this year by an author friend whose heart is deeply sweet and whose words are silky and rhythmic on the tongue:  As I listened, what I thought about…again…was losing the Christmas box in the flood of 1997.  When we threw away the soggy ornaments we’d collected during those years our kids were little–when we threw away the things they’d made in school…the handprints, the rock-and-roll angel–I lost a chunk of Christmas tree love.  Now it’s all just memory.

Today is Ethiopian Christmas.  More memory.

In Ethiopia, my dad would head out in mid-December to survey the cedar trees that stood in a circle in the compound where our family, a nurse, and a teacher lived, the only English-speakers of my world.  He’d find a branch and saw it off.  That was the Christmas tree.  My sisters and I helped Mom put on the same glass ornaments, one or two crinkling on the concrete floor into a pile of glass splinters.  We’d use the same silvery icicles each year.  They got shorter and more crumped each year.  Dad would put a mirror in the middle of the table and pile cotton around it and bend pipe cleaners to create skaters.

Skaters weren’t part of our world.  They were from his childhood…the frozen rivers and ponds of eastern Oregon where he and his brothers would slip and slide and warm up by the flaming barrels.

My sisters and I read about ice and snow.

It made us scoop up handfuls of dried grass that the school boys left lying when they took the small scythes to the long grasses in the compound.   We polished slabs of cardboard with that grass.  When the slabs were shiny, we took more grass and created paths down the hillside.  We spent hours zipping down the paths.

Was this what it was like to ride a sled down the snow hills like in the books?

One of my sisters ended up settling in Minnesota.  My dad loved to visit during winter time and help her kids create snow paths down the hill.  In those years in Maji, though, snow was only a dream, only something to read about, only something that seemed magical and amazing and always far, far away.

The year I was seven and we spent one year in Boise, Idaho, I got to experience snow.  Somehow it wasn’t like the snow of my dreams, the snow of the books.

Snow came to stand for not fitting in, the awkwardness of life in the United States when we visited.

I was thinking about all of this in a book discussion group this morning, talking about the luminous book Cutting for Stone. 

“We come unbidden into this life,” Abraham Verghese writes, “and if we are lucky we find a purpose beyond starvation, misery, and early death which, lest we forget, is the common lot.”

There is purpose to awkwardness.

There is purpose to isolation and feeling out of place and ill at ease.



there is the dream of a different way.

Sometimes there are words and songs and speeches and the other small consolations.  May we all find the small consolations…and the dreams.

2 thoughts on “Small consolations”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.