The light is slow to come on these winter mornings. The biting cold presses in from the outside causing the old house to groan and crack as the cold seeks to compress it into a smaller colder space. Standing at the kitchen sink I wait for the coffee pot to boil and feel the cold’s frigid touch pressing against window glass, frosting its way onto the inside without asking permission, making beautiful snowflake landscapes in thick ‘Jack Frost’ patterns.
Even in my woolen socks and slippers I feel the chill of the wooden floor under my feet causing them and my calves to itch and I shift my weight from one foot to the other patiently waiting for the little percolator to sputter and drip my coffee, filling the small chilly kitchen with the aroma of fresh coffee and candle wax.
The electricity is off again. The storm that blew in Friday and stayed through most of the weekend took care of that. It is not uncommon for us living so far out in the country, even in summer to lose power once or twice a month. With winter, outages are more frequent and for my old bones, more inconvenient. Thankfully I still have gas in the LP tank out in back of the house so the stove still works. Taking a cup down from the cupboard I pour coffee and the dogs follow me as I shuffle to the front room where the fireplace fire crackles cheerfully filling the room with welcome warmth and the pleasant faint smell of wood smoke.
The darkness of the early winter morning creates a sense of warmth and coziness in the comfortable little room. With the electricity off the fireplace is the only source of heat in the house unless you count the dogs, both of whom throw themselves down on the hearth with a thump and a sigh. Pulling an afghan blanket off the back of the recliner I wrap it around my shoulders and ease my aching knees down into the high-backed wing chair close to the fireplace careful not to spill the coffee. Cradling the cup between my hands I lean forward and stare into the fire.
I am an old man now. Aged by the mileage of experience and the erosion that years bring. The frenetic energy that fueled my life has finally burned itself out. My body, the vehicle that I have used all these years has arrived at this point broken and patched, only now at the far end of my life appreciated for its former abilities and accomplishments. The end is much closer than the beginning and I marvel at the dependability this body provided and wish as all old men do that, I had taken better care of it. The doctors smile and tell me that I am doing ‘just fine’ but the look in their eyes tells a different story and I understand.
We are alone now, the dogs and I, both of us too old and worn for any more adventure and hopefully too smart as well. My children, grown and gone to lives of their own making, call on Father’s Day. She too has been gone many years now and the passing of time has softened my memory of the hard years that we spent together and have brightened those memories of the good ones. I stare into the fire and reflect, turning back through the chapters of memory. I recall the different lives that I have lived, and the lives that I have touched all in this one lifetime. The memories arrive unbidden; random and not in ordered sequence but instead each one connected to the next by the emotion it stirs and triggering the progression to the next one. They are not sequenced by time or date and yet they are not random but related at a deeper level. I try to recount these lessons and victories that came with cost. I recognize that every person’s journey is storied with tragedy and love, sorrow, pain and joy and mine has been no different in that regard. I think about the people that have passed through my life and the impression they have left on me, and consciously give thanks—for all of them, the good and the bad.
I take a mouthful of my too hot coffee, setting the cup down, I lean forward toward the fire and rest my elbows on my aching knees. The dancing flame, hypnotic in its ability to conjure past experiences and their lessons. I remember those more vital times, sorry and glad at the same time that they are no more.