Chicken Steps

Although legally blind, Mom knew me when I walked into the living room. Macular degeneration hadn’t destroyed her peripheral vision. She said, “You shouldn’t have come today. I heard on the radio that the roads are slippery.”

I glanced at the rosary in my 95 year-old mother’s hands and wondered how many times her continual prayers had assisted my six siblings and me through stressful times. Sitting down on a dining room chair across from where she was ensconced in her mauve recliner, I said, “The roads were a little slippery, but I was safe because I drove slowly and didn’t take chances.”

Every Friday I reloaded Mom’s pill box, helped her bathe and did other chores like change the bedding and pay bills. I did this year in and year out. It didn’t matter if I was leaving for a week’s vacation, or that Christmas had been four days earlier and a New Year’s Eve celebration was night after-next. Mom, who lived with my two bachelor brothers in the farmhouse where I had spent my childhood, needed help.

Mom complained, “They’ve stopped playing Christmas carols on the radio.” I nodded. My family celebrates Christmas the old fashioned way. The four weeks that precede December 25th are Advent, a time of prayerful longing for the coming of the Lord. December 26th through January 6th (Three Kings Day, also called Little Christmas) are the 12 days of Christmas, celebrated with joy for His arrival.

Despite Mom’s assertion that the radio station wasn’t playing Christmas music anymore, I heard the soft strains of the song, ‘Do you Hear What I Hear?’ Glancing around, I discovered the sound was coming from my brother’s Bose stereo. On the other side of the room, the Christmas tree glittered prettily with all the ornaments I remembered from growing up. A piece of angel food candy in the Christmas candy dish on the table nearby tempted me. I popped it into my mouth. As it melted, ‘Adeste Fideles’ began to play.

I felt as if I was caught in a time warp. All the sights, tastes and sounds of my childhood were here, despite it being a modern day where my mother was old and I an adult. Then I had a sense of time passing so quickly that the wind from its passage whistled in my ears. I recognized that this was a moment of grace; a moment in time that would soon change forever and never come back.

One of my brothers walked into the room and sat down on the sofa. Rubbing his hands together, he said, “It’s getting colder outside. Did you see the blue shadows around the snow drifts?”

I said, “The blue shadows are beautiful, but chilly looking.”

Wrapping the lap-robe around her legs more snugly, Mom commented, “Not only are the days short at this time of the year, but each day lengthens by only chicken steps.” My brother and I chuckled. She was right. At the time of winter solstice, the hours of daylight shorten and lengthen very slowly.

During a recent early evening winter sunset, Mom’s phrase about days lengthening only by ‘chicken steps’ popped into my mind. I knew that ordinarily days shorten and lengthen by a whopping three minutes a day. Wondering how much it slows down during winter solstice, I looked up a daylight duration chart. I discovered that during the week before and after the solstice, the amount of light actually stops changing and stays static at 8 hours and 49 minutes. When it changes in the weeks before and after, it is by only a minute every day at the most.

During the summer there is a summer solstice. I wondered if the time change rate changed then, also. It does, but no one thinks to complain. The weather is nice then and everyone is happy to play or work longer in the sunshine.

Right now the roads are icy and will stay that way for another month. With the winter nights so long, I am cheered by the Christmas music coming from the stereo, my glowing, glittering tree topped with an angel, the sweet treats of the season and Mom’s image of time passing as slowly as a chicken walks.



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