Wednesday, April 13, 2005


Orion has come out tonight, after the snow finished, dodging clouds that seemed to want to get home faster than I. He is a memorable man, perhaps the most well known man in the world. He is the only honest-to-God hunter that most people know. Everyone knows that he is a hunter, and everyone knows him, and that makes him very proud. There is nothing like being known by everyone for being what you most love to be. He is very glad that they point to him and say “There is the great hunter Orion, a mighty hunter before the Lord”, rather than “There is the Great Home Appliance Repair Man”, or “There is the Great Pee-wee League Soccer Game Spectator”, two things that he seemed to do quite much more than he would have wished. He is very glad that those things have faded from everyone else's minds and that it is only his hunting that anyone can remember.

But he is not a hunter. He has not been one for many, many years. Every year he brings out his belt and his sword and his dogs, and marches about as if he could finally bring down that bear and her cub, or that bull that he has always seemed to be one step ahead of. He is certain that this may be the year, although he is not sure what would happen if it finally was. His grandchildren love it- they love to look at his sword and hear about his chariot and play with his dogs. Major and Miner they call them, not at all certain what mining has to do with hunting or even being a dog. This does not trouble them. These children love these dogs, and they love their grandfather, and they love his pride. It hurts him and his dogs to think that they do not care for hunting or bows or chariots, and that they have no fear of him or his once mighty dogs. They are always being scolded for trying to touch his sword and bow. They cannot keep their hands of the dogs: trying to ride them like horses or pull their ears or dress them up in boots and coat. These children have manhandled the vigor and viciousness right out of those two old hounds. And they have done the same to the old hunter. They climb on him and wrestle him and love him. They cannot sit still, even when he tells them about his hunts.

“You see, my children, that I was once a mighty hunter before the Lord. That is why I have this sword on my belt that you may not touch. For it is a dangerous hunting weapon.”

They giggle. “But grampa, nobody goes hunting with a sword! Where is your gun?”

The oldest child, a pretty girl of nine who feels that she must know so much more than anyone else precisely because she is nine, loves to roll her eyes and ask him why he never caught anything, just to hear his protests that it is not easy, and besides when you go hunting you do not “catch” anything. You may bag a bird, or harvest a deer, (or even kill one), but never “catch”. This is not fishing, this is hunting, he explains. The children laugh.

But these children do enjoy hearing his stories. Their innocent and childish love for the old man helps them to feel the beauty of the thing, and to make a connection in their simple sentimentality that the more analytical and competitive mind of their parents has lost some years ago already. There is not much wonder in his stories (because after all he never did catch anything), but there is the hearty childhood joy of hearing about a thing you've heard about a thousand times before. When you are a child, you can love a thing just for that reason- that it is familiar and is the way things always have been and always will be. That man will get his sword out and his dogs and go marching about every February forever, and they know it and they love it.

There is one thing that they know, that they feel in their hearts, that makes them remember and love these stories and their old grandfather. They know that when the old man gets out his sword and his belt and his chariot and his tired old dogs and goes marching across the sky, that it is the end of the winter. It is the end of darkness and the cold and the stars, a love for which these young children, so delicate and fragile as they are, have not yet replaced with the adult hunger for perpetual comfort. They cannot go out in the winter without a piece of knit clothing on every part of their body (by maternal decree), but this does not keep them in, especially not now in March. They know that, even if it has only happened to them three or four or nine times, that very soon the stars will be removed from sight and mind and give way to perpetual light. When they arise in the morning, even very early, the sun will be up. When they are forced by Mother to come in and bathe up and go to bed, he will still be awake. And it will be this way until they have long forgotten that there is even such a thing as a star. It will be this way for years, for lifetimes, for ever. When the summer has arrived, winter and night is not even a thing you can imagine, or would want to. Endless weeks are soon to arrive of playing in the dirt and throwing the baseball and staying up later than they should (and never seeing it get dark!). The children love the summer, and are deeply pleased to realize that it is here. But each one of them has just the slightest sadness in their souls to think that they will not see their proud grandfather out for a long time, and nor will they see any other stars, or feel the cold, or watch the sun rise. These are things that they love, and although the Lord is about to give them the greatest joy of their little lives, they do love what they have now, and are very content with the winter as it has been. Winter has been around for time out of mind, it is familiar, and they love it because of that.

But it is never the same in the fall. When the leaves take the first tinge of color, and the dark finally seems to creep back into the sky come October, these children will feel a different emotion than the one they feel now. They will not love the winter in October, not at all, at least at first. It will bring that feeling that they hate- that sad loneliness in your stomach that makes you want to stay out just a little bit later each night, because tomorrow there might not be any light, and you might not see the sun again for another lifetime. Your mother may tell you that you cannot go out to play after dinner any more, or that you may have go to school. This is a thing which dulls the love of beauty in a child, the ability to love everything and anything just because it is and there must be some way to make a game out of it. This process will happen every year, and before long, perhaps by the time they are eleven, they will no longer love the winter, even in March. They will complain about the snow and the cold and talk about Florida as if Ponce de Leon really was on to something, and they will act like their jaded parents do, they who have seen too many falls to love winter.

The old man knows this. Old Orion, he knows that his many grandchildren will soon be like this- that they will grow old and bored and tired and will complain bitterly about how late the spring is right when he is out doing the thing that he loves the most- marching across the sky in his proud hunting outfit with his happy tired dogs bounding at this feet. This hurts him, although he has come to expect it because he has seen it many times before. But he is glad that they are still too young to be like this, and that they love him and his stories and his dogs and his domain, the winter, at least for now.

The Dollhouse

Once upon a time, there was a man. He was very old, and very poor, and consequently very dirty. Dirty because he was poor, not because he was old, that is. His hair was mostly gray, and somewhat thin, and he had many wrinkles. He had these wrinkles not because he was poor and full of worries, but because he was old, and he had smiled and laughed very often in his many years.

The reason for his many smiles was that he had a daughter. She was very little, and very dirty, both because she was young and because she too was poor. She did not mind. She had a bright and curly yellow hair and a face that beamed like the sun on the first golden day of April. She did not have many toys, because she was poor, but her old father gave her everything she could want, and she was very thankful. She had a mopey old dog who did not mind when she rode on his back like the Lord riding into Jerusalem, or when she dressed him in her Sunday best. She had a bicycle that she was rather afraid of, and many books, full of pictures of ponies and princesses and castles and other delightful things.

But her favorite toy was the one thing that she owned that no other little girl anywhere in the world owned. It was a dollhouse. The reason that no one else in the world had one was because no other little girl had a father like hers. He had made this dollhouse with his own hands, just for her. It stood as tall as she did, with three stories and eight rooms and a kitchen and a yard with real grass. It was a log cabin, like their own house, except this one didn't look like any poor people lived there. This dollhouse was the home of a successful and happy family, with many doll children and animals, and a great oaken table where they all sat and dined (including the animals). It was full of the most delightful decorations, like a grandfather clock that really worked (it didn't even need winding, and made a real chime!) and little candles that burned with a tiny flame when supper was on, and a full set of fancy silverware, made of real silver. If any other little girl would have had this dollhouse, she would have said that it was a magic dollhouse, but this little girl did not know about magic, but only about her father. She was very happy. The baby dolls and animals must have been very happy as well, for they were served many abundant feasts at the hand of their beaming mistress, who imagined her grown up life providing such splendor for her own children.

So it went with this dirty little girl, all the years of her little life. Her father gave her chores to do, but they were not toilsome, and many of them were useful and beautiful things that she loved to do, like setting the table or folding the laundry. She had very few rules to obey- obey adults, feed the dog, and put the dolls away at bedtime. These things took up very little time, and so she was free to play at dolls as much as any little girl would want.

But before long, her old father took ill. This is to be expected in our world, especially with very old men. The little girl did not understand this, because he had never been ill before, and she had never been ill, and neither had any of the dolls in her house. He did not get up for many days, but instead called to his daughter for his meager supper, until he stopped eating altogether. Then one day he called her to his side and told her that he loved her and wished her the very best and may her sunbeams never go out, and that he was being gathered to his people. Then he smiled at her and put his hand on her head and he died. She cried for many days.

Now because that old man was very poor, and because the friends and brothers of the very poor abandon them, there was no relative to take care of his little daughter. So, one day a strange man came and took the little girl, with all her things (the mopey dog and the books, and of course the dollhouse), and took her to a new house. He said that it was his job to make sure that orphans were looked after, and that he was going to be her new daddy. Things were going to change he said, because she had wasted so much time. She was going to have new rules and chores (there were very many of these, more than she could remember) and she was now going to go to school instead of playing with dolls. This was for her good, he explained, so that she could go to a good college. Of course, she did not like the rules or the chores very much, and she did not like school at all. But she did as she was told, because she was a good little girl.

One day she came home and ran to her room, as she was wont to do. It was not nice to be around her new daddy, for he did not smile often (he had no wrinkles, and his hair was not gray), but he talked very often and very loudly and his talk made very little sense. Well, on this particular day she ran to her room, threw off her coat and knelt down to serve supper to her dolls.

To her absolute horror, her dollhouse was gone. Rather, it was not gone, but changed, reconfigured, destroyed! The beautiful logs were replaced with a blank white on the inside and a shiny gray on the outside. Where there used to be walls decorated with happy pictures and windows there were now awful white partitions that were low enough to look over, with papers tacked to them covered with words like “annuity” and “strategy” and “policy” which terrified her. Gone was the grandfather clock, and in its place a horrible black thing with bright red blinking digits that made a buzz on the hour. Gone was the silverware, replaced with little calculators pencils and more papers. And gone too was the giant oaken table. Her dolls were seated in desks, heads bent over.

This was too awful. She buried her face in her hands and turned away, just to find her new daddy sitting behind her.

“Now honey, do not cry. Why do you not like what I have done with your dollhouse?”

“Because it's so awful! Where did my house go?” she cried.

“Oh, do be sensible. Your dollhouse is right here. Are not all your dolls here? I have simply made your dollhouse a little more realistic, so that you may learn more about what the real world is like.”

“But it is awful!”, she said. “I want my things back!”

“Look here, my girl. I have taken away your table and the grandfather clock and your old walls because I love you and I want you to grow up proper. You see, we do not sit at an oaken table in our family, because I do not always get home from work in time for supper. We do not have babies or animals, because it would put a strain on our careers and finances. You see, once upon a time little girls had nothing more to look forward to than endless cooking and cleaning and slaving away in the house. But now you have so many possibilities that you must learn to dream big. This is the modern world, where dreams that you have never even thought of dreaming will come true. That is why I have turned your dollhouse into an office- because this is your future, the glorious life that you have to look forward to. Now go do your homework.”

Now because the little girl had been taught (by her poor dead father, not by her teacher) to always do what she was told, she went and did her homework and did not play with her dolls any more that day. In fact, she never played with them again. And she went back to school the next day, and for the years to come. And soon she grew up, and when she turned fourteen she suddenly stopped being a little girl and turned into a big girl. And she promptly got pregnant by her boyfriend and was sent away, never to be heard from again.