Sunday, December 9, 2007

Hamlin Garland's Christmas Gift to Us

I had some gift suggestions on the Wild West blog yesterday, and I mentioned shopping at second-hand shops and other odd places for gifts. As my friends and family know, I love thrift stores because you never know the treasures you will find. This week I was perusing the Disabled Veterans Store when I found a copy of Clarence Andrews's Christmas in the Midwest for only a quarter. This little volume of stories from the Heartland is absolutely priceless. Through this work I discovered Hamlin Garland. Born in Wisconsin in 1860, Garland had a long and successful literary career, which included a serialized biography of U. S. Grant for McClure's Magazine. The following is taken from his story, "A Pioneer Christmas," which first appeared in Ladies Home Journal in 1893, and was reprinted in Christmas in the Midwest, published in 1984. Ask your library to find this book so you can read the entire piece. It touched me on so many levels, as I am sure it will you:

The first Christmas that I seem to remember fully has a wonderful quality to me. Like a picture by Rembrandt it has but one side defined, the other melts away into shadow--luminous shadow, where faint light pulses across and lures the wistful gaze on and on into the unfathomable, where beginnings lie hidden.

The first I recall of my first Christmas I am riding behind my parents in a huge sleigh, amid high snowdrifts, sculptured into strange forms by the prairie winds. It is growing dusk. Before us in a similar sleigh my young uncle, a giant in size, leads the way. I can see him outlined against the dull orange sky. He stands erect, holding the reins of his swiftly moving horses in one of his powerful hands; occasionally he shouts back to my father, who is buried in a thick buffalo hide coat. My mother is only another figure wrapped in shawls.

My sister and brother are beside me under the blankets on the straw. My brother is asleep, but I am on my knees looking ahead. I see now my uncle silhouetted on the dull orange notch between two deep purple banks of trees. That is the place where the road pierces the woods. Suddenly, with rush of wind and jingle of bells, we enter the darkness of the forest, and the road begins to climb.

I cannot remember much after that; I suppose I grew sleepy. I have a dim memory of climbing hills, of the squall of sleigh-runners over bridges, and of the gurgle of ice-bound water, but it is all fused with dreams. . . .

What a wonderful mind and heart to put such words to paper! The author, pictured at left, led a life of wonderful adventure that included researching Indians in the West and journeying to the Klondike. If you cannot find the volume containing this story, let me know and I will copy the entire piece. In the meantime, visit the society dedicated to Hamlin Garland's life and work,

The image at the top of the page, Sleigh Ride, was painted by German artist Fritz van der Venne (1873-1936) and is for sale on Ebay. What a wonderful Christmas present. . . .

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