I fretted that I should have started earlier. The July sun sizzled, yet I was determined to accomplish my goal of downsizing the contents in the backyard storage shed. Christmas decorations wrapped carefully in tissue and packed neatly in containers occupied the strong little structure. Purchased from a local discount store, the shed snapped together and brought to mind "The Three Little Pigs." Defying winds had huffed and puffed, yet it remained in place.
As I unwrapped each decoration, I pondered what to keep or donate. Downsizing 65 years' worth of items presented challenges. Though cherished memories lingered, I convinced myself that the necessity for room trumped nostalgia. The task progressed. I managed my emotions until I uncovered a box marked "old." Inside I found the electric candles from my childhood that I had brought from New York. An instant flashback ushered a chill into the little shed.
I recalled the roar of the school bus tires as they crunched over packed snow on a narrow rural road. A small, frail 6-year-old, I had sat on that vehicle each day enduring the long ride home. The last remaining passenger, I knew it would be dark when I got there.
The memories came flooding back. In that upstate New York back country, night came early. I remember how the storm's intensity increased that day. Strong winds blew blinding sheets of freezing snow against the windshield and the wipers had to struggle to keep up.
Bill, the driver, had grown quiet as he battled a defiant steering wheel to keep the bus on the road. Thinking back, I realize the huge responsibility that man faced. He had to make a living in a desperate place. I'm sure he probably wondered if he would find himself stranded on a country road where he and I might freeze to death.
Finally, the bus creaked around a bend and I remember the cozy feeling that comforted me when I spotted the electric candles in our living room windows. Mom had always put one in each front window and plugged them in at sunset. I can still feel the frigid wind that blew in when the lumbering yellow vehicle's doors swung open.
"Watch your step, Carol," Bill would call. "See you tomorrow."
I recall Mother, never revealing the extent of her worry, standing on the porch and waving to Bill as she watched me trudge up that long driveway filled with snow drifts. The aroma of fresh-baked bread greeted me as I entered our warm house.
Not uncommon for that neck of the woods, the storm's intensity eventually increased during the night. A week later, when I returned to school, all that was visible from the windows of the school bus were snowdrifts that nearly reached the power lines.
But I knew those candles would be waiting for me when I returned — pointing the way to safety and love.
Now, as I looked at them, I knew they were keepers. I moved them into the cedar chest that was meant for my little granddaughter. This story would go with them. When she's older, perhaps she'll return to visit my childhood home and visualize the electric candles glistening on a dark snowy night and remember the comfort they gave a small, frightened child.