by Timothy W. Tron, Nov. 2020
As the coming holidays approach, Thanksgiving and Christmas, there seems to be a sense of melancholy that has begun to permeate through the din of the incessant roar of this tumult our society has become. In my mind, there is a desire to reach back in my memories and dwell upon a time when life was simpler when the so-called advances in technology had yet to be developed. Because of the threat of lockdowns restricting these beloved reunions, those distant memories have become even more cherished. One such date that comes to mind coincides with a memory that our family holds dear to their heart.
It was the late 1960’s. Back then, we survived without non-stop news coverage, without updates from our social media accounts, and without the fear of dying from a virus, let alone anything else that existed at the time. It’s not to say there wasn’t death nor dying, for there had yet to be the advances we have today in the fields of heart disease and cancer. Both of these maladies took many lives before their time, and still do today, but not nearly as severely as in those days. No, we feared not because we had a faith that was the bedrock of our existence.
That faith was taught to us through our elders, passed down from one generation to the next – a thread of belief that was built upon an unending truth – Christ is indeed the Savior of the world. So, it is in this vein that once more my heart reaches for a well-worn story that is based on an actual event whose legacy has lasted for many years in our family. It is like the cup of an instant drink, void of the liquid to make it real – once the hot water is added, the story being recalled becomes the sustenance that warms our being. Like that beverage, the Spirit enters into our soul, and we are warmed from within to that which is without. Herein lies the beauty.
Looking back through the shadowy fog of time, those distant memories are like the passing clouds overhead. They are here but for a moment, and then cross over the mountaintops before we realize they are gone. As we near the season of holidays and family gatherings, it seems that those ancient days of yesteryear are ever more treasured. Like the value of a tattered cloth that once was held in the dying grasp of a loved one, its price to most would be nothing, but to those who knew its connection to the soul of the other – it becomes a priceless object.
That year when the snow fell around Christmas would become one such moment in time for me.
The classic event which unfolded is still known to this day, by all that attended, as the Sled Hill Christmas. Of all my childhood holiday experiences, it will forever be the most memorable in my mind. To read the entirety of the original story, you can find it online at https://timothywtron.dreamhosters.com/sled-hill-life-more-abundantly/ But this article looks at that event from a different perspective; one of how the warmth of a loving family and faith carried us through what may have been considered just another dark winter.
Like a revival, a truly epic event can only unfold when it is least expected. So it was that overcast December day so many decades ago. Several of us grandkids were staying at Grandpa and Grandma Tron’s house, there on the outskirts of New Harmony, Indiana. The town itself was in the season of slumber. Farming was still the driving industry, and the fields were now silent in their winter sleep. The hay had all been stored in the barns and the silos were filled to capacity with grains and silage to last until the next growing season began. A feeling of hibernation overtook one’s soul, making those opportunities to warm by the woodstove or to huddle close around a cup of hot chocolate all the more permanent upon the creature within. Gathering with others was the only natural thing to do in a time such as this – it was who we were, it was what we were. In those precious slices of time, we fellowshipped without knowing that’s what it was called. Visiting with others when the work in the fields slowed was just as natural as splitting your firewood by hand – we all did it.
When those first few snowflakes began falling the night before what would become the day to remember, we went to bed not expecting anything more than just a typical Midwest December dusting. When we awoke the next morning to the sounds of someone rattling around downstairs in the kitchen, it was as if Christmas had come early. Jumping from underneath the multiple layers of quilts, which weighed nearly as much as another cousin, we raced down the icy narrow stairs from the unheated upstairs bedrooms down to the kitchen where the pot-belly woodstove in Grandma’s kitchen was already red hot. We shivered and shook the remnants of chill from our bones, as our bare feet fought to find the warmth emanating from the scant linoleum floor by the stove. Excitedly, we peeked through the threadbare kitchen curtains that hung over the sink. The window faced grandma’s kitchen garden. Outside, the world was no longer the muddled gray of winter, but instead, was a brilliant whiteness, even in the pre-dawn, early morning hours.
About the time we had settled down around the table, after getting out of our bedclothes, Grandpa came in from the morning milking. We could hear the creaky old porch door slam behind him as he walked down the long back porch, from the barn end, up to the door of the kitchen, where he paused and took off his boots. The confines of that narrow passage clothed in clear plastic, a feeble attempt to thwart the cold winds of winter. The repurposed material was clouded with age, giving off a soft sheer grayness within the tomb of the veranda’s confines. The oft sound of rippling plastic slapping the screen made thoughts of warm summer nights, fresh tomatoes, and fireflies come to mind. Needless to say, those were but a distant rumor as the snow continued to fall.
With all eyes upon his entry, the vacuum of anticipation cut the air, like the cold wind that followed him inside. Snowflakes fell off his outer coat confirming what we already knew. Before he had time to take note of his unexpected audience, the questions began to roll off our lips.
“How deep is it grandpa?”
“Does it look like more’s coming?
“Where are the sleds?”
“Were the cows cold?”
He turned and smiled, looking toward grandma. Victor Tron never was a man of many words, So, when he replied with, “It looks like it’s gonna be good,” rest assured, that was all we needed to know. Grandma already had his breakfast ready, along with ours, and we sat down for an unusually early start of our day. We all instantly grew silent when grandpa bowed his head and reached his hand over to grandma. She grabbed his outstretched weathered hand with hers and we all joined hands and bowed our heads as grandpa said the blessing for the breakfast meal. In my mind, I can still hear that strained voice, barely above a whisper, thank God for what grandpa said was an abundance of blessings. Before us was a meager meal by worldly standards, but to us, it was Heaven sent. For we knew, even as children that every bit of it was from those two pair of withered hands that grasped one another in a love that never ended, even upon their death.
Grandpa’s first milking was at 3:00 AM and he usually finished up around 5:00 AM. His second milking was at 3:00 PM, every day of his life. He never took a vacation that I could remember. Usually exhausted from rising early, he would routinely drift off to sleep no matter where he sat, so finding time to talk with him was rare. He milked the cows until that night he died peacefully in his sleep, never to milk again. What we didn’t know as children, was how precious those few moments were with him when we were able to visit, especially that snowy morning on a cold December day so many years ago.
As soon as we were able to clear the table and bundle up, we were headed out the door. Eventually, someone asked if we could check out sled hill. An okay was given and like a herd of young calves heading for new pasture, we bolted out the back gate. Past the woodpile where grandpa’s ax and splitting log were shrouded in snow we raced. Heading for the opening to the lane, we quickly found ourselves wading through the knee-deep snow toward the iconic destination; Sled Hill. Past the milking barn, the bullpen, and Ms. Wolf’s house we trudged. Each one of these structures held a plethora of memories and stories that one could sit for hours and share. Like a life of living, their collections, like the holdings of stockpiled hay for the winter, waiting for one to return and use for the giving.
The bushes along the Labyrinth were blanketed in a sweet frosting of white. Our panted breaths billowed before us and were quickly whisked away in the falling snow. In our rush to find out how well the sledding was going to be, we didn’t realize how hard the snow was continuing to fall. Nor did we realize how deep the snow had already gotten since sunrise. In the overcast grayness of the day, it all seemed like a dream, even when it was live.
As the story, “Sled Hill: Life More Abundantly,” conveys, the rest of the day was a multitude of adventures and excitement. With each passing moment, the tempo of the day’s delight reached a fevered pitch. The enthusiasm of the children soon bubbled over into those of the adults, igniting in them the feelings of youth. Gone were the aches and pains of age. The adrenaline of living purged those boundaries of limitations that had kept them hostage. Soon, parents, Aunts, and Uncles were joining in the merriment of sliding down the hill so aptly named.
As the sky began to darken as night approached, the thrill of the day and the feeling of being one with something greater than ourselves overwhelmed us. Fearing that it would end in darkness, the men created torches on the fly from used old tin cans (which we also used as drinking vessels), nailing them to poles and placing them along the sled run, all the way to the top of the hill. What started out as child’s play quickly turned into a major production. In essence, a cow pasture had turned into our own ski-slope far removed from any mountaintop.
When the last vestiges of daylight gave way to darkness, there along the sled run was a perfect row of home-made flaming lights shedding an ambient glow of warmth. Off to the side, a pile of wood was set afire and a massive bonfire became the gathering spot between runs down the hill. There we regained strength to carry on from food and drink the family had brought in at a moment’s notice. There, the entire family that was able to make it collected. The sentinel image that remains with me to this day was seeing both grandpa and grandma’s faces glowing in the reflection of the firelight. To know that grandpa had a milking coming at 03:00 AM, and yet, he was here foregoing precious sleep, standing alongside us kids around the bonfire said something more that than words could fathom. Even then, the whispers of the children could be heard, “Look, even grandpa and grandma are here.” The statement was a confirmation of the significance of that moment in time, one that made a profound statement on all that were present.
That night, once our bodies had been worn to a frazzle. There was barely enough strength to make it back to the house. As we pulled off our wet, nearly frozen clothing and briefly warmed by the fire, a numbness of exhaustion began to overtake us. The enormous featherbed never looked so welcoming. Shortly thereafter, after our bedtime prayers were said, there was little more than the sweet, “Goodnight children,” from grandma as she tucked us under the pile of quilts before we fell asleep.
For once in a lifetime, there was no sweeter sleep.
As the snow continued to fall outside that night, there was a warmth within that was more than physical – a love that transcends all understanding. There was something created that day that would last forever in the hearts of those who had been privileged to experience it. It became an inexplicable thread of life that would weave its way into our souls which would become part of who we were. The similarity of a feeling such as this can only compare to that of Christ’s disciples.
Like those followers of Jesus who had walked and talked with Christ after his resurrection, they too had a story to share. One that was so inexplicable, so earth-shattering that they would live the rest of their lives pursuing the mission to share it with all that would hear, even unto the point of death. It was who they were.
As we go forward in this holiday season, let us come together as a family, and may the hope of Christ, and Christmas be with you, until the end of time. May it someday become who you are as well.
Thanks be to God.