the shoes by the door

i call today little christmas. but really it’s the feast of st. nick. the only saint–except for valentine, and i mostly forget that he’s saintly, what with all the chocolate and pink foil hearts, and all those lobster-and-steak coupon dinners, heck, even boxers besotted by heart-slinging cupids–the only saintly saint, then, that i stop to make much of a fuss over.
oh, but nick, he’s different. he and i go way back. i seem to recall something about shoes and oranges left by the door of my bedroom when i was little. it wasn’t an every year thing. although it might have planted a seed.
no, nick and i really got going when i, magically, woke up a mother one long-ago wintry morn.
okay, so maybe it wasn’t so magic, maybe there was a good dash of science, and a few thumb-twiddling months, besides. but, geez, this is the month of starry-eyed thinking, and today is a starry-eyed day. so excuse me for going starry-eyed there in the thick of my telling this tale.
really, the unstarry-eyed truth is that back early on in my mothering days i was groping my way through a woods i was finding enchanting, yes, but thick with trees and trails that zig-zagged in dizzying ways.
somehow though, pulled my heart, which always has been my best girl-scout compass, and lit by a few wise candleholders who held up their flickering flames, i found a way deep through a part of the forest that really isn’t too trampled.
it was a quiet meandering sort of a trail. it stopped to take in glimpses of magic, and all sorts of bits of enchantment. i don’t really know whose make-believe might have been more, mine or my curly-haired boy.
really, i was pretending i’d been born in an earlier century, and maybe a whole other continent.
i wanted little of the modern-day childhood, the one plugged-in and battery-charged.
blessedly, not far from my old city house, there sat a shop that fed my deepest enchantments. it was a place of fine books, and toys carved from wood, spun from the wool of a lamb, or maybe a cotton dyed with the oozings of petals and berries.
the door to the shop had a bell, so it tinkled whenever i or anyone else–especially a child–gave it a bit of a push. come december, that sweet little shop, a shop the size of a cottage, it spilled with christmasy magic. a squat pine, a real one, perched up on a table in the heart of the small little room. it was hung, always, with brown sugar cookies, cookies in shapes mostly of hearts, hearts tied with red ribbons.
baskets of wee tiny things lined the counter. and it was there, i am certain, that the magic of nick, the kind-hearted woodsman, the one who wandered from village to village, with his fat sack of oranges and treats, wholly bore its way into my heart.
i saw, there in the shop where the old-world felt present, felt possible, the one priceless gift i could offer my child: a christmas that tiptoed, not one that tromped and trampled and stomped on all of the wrappings, looking for more one minute after the last.
a christmas that worked its charm in small simple ways. in the magic of waking up to a shoe by the door, a shoe filled with an orange, a foil-wrapped snowman, maybe a cane of striped candy, or a bear the size of a little boy’s fist.
a christmas that unfolded on christmas itself with one extraordinary something–a gnome hut carved from a tree branch, perhaps, or a kaleidoscope that spilled with gem-colored stones, stones of ruby and sapphire and emerald–and, of course, a stocking quite stuffed. and that was more than enough.
and so, i learned from my shopkeeper friend, the beauty of the sixth of december.
it’s a day the world doesn’t much notice. you put out your shoes? people ask, a little bewildered. well, yes, as a matter of fact.
yes, it’s a day that unfolds with just enough of the magic and story to carry me and my boys through the ever-darkening days and lengthening nights, while we count down toward christmas.
it’s a day with just the right sprinkling of hop-out-of-bed, round-the-bend, go-find-a-something-that’s-otherwise-lost, even if that something comes with raggedy laces.
in my book, any occasion that adds ceremony to bedtime is one i wholly endorse. and every fifth of december, going on 13 years here, we go to bed only after picking just the right shoe to leave out in the hall, just to the side of the door to the bedroom.
once i finally hear the breathing of sleep, i tiptoe to off where my tucked-away bags are.
the delight for me begins, days earlier, when i mosey around to the sorts of shops that might have a bit of an old-world feel. i find candies, little ones, in wintry shapes. and peppermint sticks, and always, a clementine.
there is something, too, of keeping watch of the shoes, over the years, as they grow and they grow and they grow.
back when i started, the manchild was two. his shoes, were probably toddler 4. now his boots are solid 12-1/2s, “past noon,” as a shoe man on state street downtown once pointed out to the big-footed father of manchild.
no wonder his poor little brother left out a whole pair of his first-grader nikes last night. it’s hard to keep up with the shoes of a giant.
and so, as i type, as i wait for the sound of the feets that will run to the shoes, i sit here practically sparkling. there was barely a sound to this making of magic. just a shoe. and a hope that it would be filled, come the morning.
and it is that, the quiet that fills me with christmas, that i, most of all, count as the very best trail i ever did find there in the snow-covered woods.

first of all, a big thank you to sandra, my shopkeeper teacher. and now a question or two. tell me, what are the ways you find quiet at christmas? and who were the ones who guided you through the woods, no matter what part of your life you found yourself a little bit all turned around?