Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Saturday, December 24, 2005

In the magical Christmas-tree forest. Rose's cookies. Light. Pax tecum.

As a small child, I did not own many books, but several of the ones that I possessed have continued to possess me. About the time I moved from Gramercy to Baton Rouge, before first grade, I was given the Alice books. They were hardcovers in a slipcase with the Tenniel illustrations, and I still have a strong love for Carroll. I don't know what happened to the books; perhaps they are still around, tucked in a box. Other Alices are on my shelf, but not those.

But I still have my childhood copy of another book I loved, The Snow Queen and Other Stories, an oversize Golden Book illustrated by Adrienne Segur, with an image from "The Nutcracker" on the cover. I believe that this was given to me at Christmas when I was in third grade. We had moved from gorgeous, rich, marvelous Louisiana to an alien place of flat, severe beauty, and all that I had lost seemed to find some kind of echo in these tales and pictures. Glimmers of them--particularly "Winter's Promised Bride," "The Nutcracker," and "The Snow Queen"--have lit odd corners of my stories and poems. And I'm sure that "Tall Jorinda" borrowed her name from "Jorinda and Joringel." The book is in my writing room, propped on top of a bookcase...

I'm not alone in having fantastical memories of a book that Segur illustrated--Terri Windling talks about writers and artists with a childhood passion for Adrienne Segur's pictures (http://www.greenmanreview.com/windling.html), and there are many mentions of Segur at Endicott Studio. I spent hours with The Snow Queen, reading the stories and poring over the illustrations, wandering through the cruel snows and the magical Christmas-tree forest.

* * *

Friends and strangers who have written me a note or left a comment or simply come by and passed on to other pages--a joyful Christmas to you. As there is not one Day but Twelve, I'll be back during Christmas, but now I have many things to do. The castle of home has that lovely smell of warm spices, and the best cookie cookbook in the world, Rose Levy Beranbaum's Christmas Cookies, is seeing hard use. (These days you can write Rose at her web site, Real Baking with Rose.) This year My Man Who Bakes (and Cooks) is working his way through chocolate-pistachio marzipan spirals, coconut kisses, Rose's crescents, cashew chewy puffs, chocolate madeleines, mahogany toffee crunch, and buchettes de Noel. (Later will come gingerbread people and terriers and other animals, elaborately painted with royal icing by the whole crew.) Most of the cookies fly out the door on Christmas Eve, landing on our neighbor's tables in the heart of the village--in the oldest residence in Templeton, in the house that's hard by the hanging ground and made of bricks from Fenimore Cooper's Otsego hall, in the two townhouses (we have just two), in the stone house with the herringbone pattern, and in other colorful and sometimes ghost-ridden houses. I always like to peep in the haunted mirror across the street to try and catch a glimpse of the ghost.

The snow is crisp and hard over the graves of Fenimore Cooper and Susan Cooper, and in the dark afternoon we will be out in the cold, lighting luminaires on the walkway that swoops past their names. And that's just the start.

Christmas approaches, glimmering...

* * *

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.
~Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

7 comments:

  1. Several people have reported that the 'comments' aren't working properly. Please do not try to publish from the colored preview box but from the "Leave your comment" column.

    And now, back to cleaning up the feast.

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  2. I just Googled 'Winter's Promised Bride' and up came your page...it is such a simple tale but contains all one needs to know about the Laws of Attraction and how to be a success in this life.

    I received "The Snow Queen and Other Tales" for my 6th birthday. I had seen it in the window of our loca bookstore and was enthralled with the cover illustration. I learned to love every tale wihin and treasure that book still today, just as you do.

    Oddly, I live between two castles, also, on the North Shore of Long Island overlooking Huntington Harbor. I am a native, though.

    Nice to know there's someone out there with whom I share an affinity!

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  3. Loretta,

    I think Terri Windling has written a piece about how many writers have been influenced by that book--maybe on her Endicott Studio blog. There's a link to the blog and to the Studio web site on my blog list if you go to the home page (click on the title at the top.)

    Glad you came by--yes, Segur and fairy tale addicts had a wonderful dream in common as children.

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  4. Hi, Marly,

    Can you believe my Mom had a heart attack, probably as I was writing my last blog!!!? I haven't checked in since. (She survived and is recovering.)

    I will check out Terri Windling...sometimes there is real comfort and a sense of security in a shared dream...

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  5. Loretta,

    Oh, I'm sorry to hear about your mother. I hope she has many more years of strength ahead.

    Childhood dreams hold their magic and can shed a little stardust still. Sometimes that's just the sprinkling we need.

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  6. Wow, you write beautifully...that should be a published quote about dreams!

    My mom is doing much better, thanks. Last week was my birthday, as always, I think about 'the Snow Queen & Other Tales' around this time. I am very grateful to have my mother still and wonderful family and friends.

    Are you a writer?

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  7. Hi Loretta,

    Yes, indeed I am. Right now I'm off at Yaddo, the writer's retreat in Saratoga Springs.

    Interesting that you pop by when you think of that book... And I'm glad that your mama is better.

    About my writing: you can go to the home page for this blog and see a little bit, and from there you can also go on to my regular web site.

    Happy Birthday!

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.