On Christmas Eve, I encouraged folks to relax, close their eyes and use their imagination as I shared the following thoughts:
Think your way back to when were really little. Did you have a place to hide, a secret place where you could go and just be you? I grew up in an old farmhouse that had been encircled by the Pittsburgh suburbs. It had two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor. My two brothers and I shared one bedroom, while the luxury suit belonged to my sister. She was so lucky (spoiled!), because she had access to an outdoor porch and a long narrow attic filled with all kinds of cool stuff, including my Dad’s Navy trunk. My sister ruled her room like a queen, but when she wasn’t around, I would sneak into the attic to a spot I carved out by the Navy trunk. I put on my Dad’s Navy cap and dreamt of being an admiral. It was my first of two hiding places in that old house. The other one was two stories down.
The basement in that old house was not really a basement as it was on the same level as the backyard. The downstairs had a big play area, a bar that was off limits to kids, a renovated bedroom/bath combination that was my Grandma Holt’s living quarters and a coal cellar that was to be used only in the case of nuclear disaster. My second hiding place was in the coal cellar, behind some unpacked moving boxes. Since no atomic bombs were ever dropped on Pittsburgh, nobody ever thought to look for me in the coal cellar. I could think my thoughts there without commercial interruption.
I loved that old farmhouse on 162 Richmond Circle. I even remember our party-line telephone number: Forest 4-6064. What I loved the best, however, was not IN the house. In the backyard, down a steep hill that had plum and apple trees planted on it, was a summerhouse. It was a remnant of the old farm. It was made of rough, squared timber beams, darkened by age. It was wide open on two sides, while the other two sides consisted of animal feeding and watering troughs and a huge stone fireplace with a concrete bin to store wood next to it. My parents also installed a bench swing and a picnic table that turned what had once been a small stable into a summer gathering place for family reunions. The times we spent at the summerhouse eating, swinging and laughing at my Dad and my Uncles’ antics are some of my happiest memories.
The summerhouse was also the location of my third and favorite hiding place. I could easily climb up the rough stone side of the fireplace chimney and gain access to the roof. The branches of a huge cherry tree hung over part of the roof. When in leaf, there was a space just big enough for me to fit between the roof and the branches. It was there that I thought my own thoughts and dreamt my own dreams, until the snow and cold of winter forced me back into the attic and coal cellar in the old farmhouse.
I loved my hiding places, but as I look back on it now, what I loved most was the simplicity of my life. Kids don’t tend to complicate things. A few friends to play with, a peanut butter sandwich or two and a hiding place are all most kids need in order to affirm that life is good. Maybe it would be a good idea for aging kids like us to re-capture this sense of simplicity. Perhaps life is really good with not much more than a few friends, a burger and a good hiding place in which we can think our own thoughts and dream our dreams.
As I wrote in an earlier post, religion is not particularly complex. Love God and love one another. If we do, then God lives in us and is alive in our world. My very simple New Year’s wish for you is that you will find a good hiding place to think your own thoughts and dream your dreams, that you will be surrounded by good friends and munch down a burger (or two) once in awhile (If vegetarian, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich still works!) AND that you will always know that God lives in you, and that because God lives in you, God is alive and well in our world.
John E. Holt, Cotuit, MA.