A Snowy Evening by the Fire Filled by the Music of Memory

The snow has fallen steadily all day. By late afternoon the bird feeder and picket fence assume grotesque and unfamiliar shapes as the early dusk of a February day closes in.

Outside my windows, dark branches etch their lacy pattern against a somber gray sky. As I turn from this pristine whiteness, my eyes are attracted to the embers burning low in the fireplace. Slowly the warmth and coziness of the room envelop me, and I sit down in the nearest chair.

As I settle back, indulging that sense of security one enjoys when fortified by the elements, I lapse into reverie.

In this familiar room, lit only by the dying embers as winter twilight deepened, my eyes move from one cherished object to another and finally rest on the Swiss music box that occupies a place of honor among the books and objets d'art on the open shelves adjoining the fireplace.

Once the pride and joy of my maternal grandmother, it washes the music of remembrance over me whenever I lift its lid and wind (by hand, of course) its antiquated movements.

Now as the metal cylinders begin to turn, sweet, tinkling sound fills the air and carries me back a half century or more when time seemed less tense and life less complex.

The fact that it has to be wound by pushing a lever back and forth, requiring some effort on my part, makes the music all the more delectable.

Attached to the inside of its lid, the repertory of ''eight airs'' is listed in French on ornately decorated parchment, brittle and yellow with the passage of time. Just above the list of the various selections appears the dignified title, ''Harp Harmonique.''

The songs conjure up the memory of a more gracious era: ''La Petite Mariee Mazurka''; ''What Are the Waves Saying?''; ''Don Giovanni Minuet,'' by Mozart; ''Duet from Norma,'' by Bellini; the march from ''La Fille du Regiment,'' by Donizetti, which was popular light opera in my mother's day.

''Home Sweet Home,'' last on the list, seems the perfect finale for my music-box concert. As the strains of that familiar air fade, I wistfully expect that mystical cylinder to continue its revolutions indefinitely with such old favorites as ''The Blue Danube Waltz,'' or perhaps ''Tales from the Vienna Woods''.

Was not the waltz the epitome of the late 19th century, when dancers whirled beneath crystal chandeliers until dawn dispelled the night, the music faded, and the dancers disappeared into the morning mists?

As a child, I eagerly anticipated the annual visit to my grandmother's house where I would again hear the hauntingly melodic tones of the beloved music box that, I confess, held a strong fascination for me and claimed my immediate attention upon arrival.

As a flower draws a hummingbird, so the music box attracted me. Just to lift the lid (after being granted permission) and hear its lovely, tinkling music was all that I needed to enter a make-believe world of my own.

Instantly, I would be transformed into a prima ballerina gracefully raising my arms, pointing my toe, and pirouetting round and round to the lilting strains of that marvelous music box in Grandmother's parlor.

Fondly, I run my hand over its smooth, satin-like surface that has acquired a scratch or two along with a patina only time can bestow, and wonder if it still remembers a little girl with bobbing brown curls dancing to its sweet, tinkling melodies at the turn of the century.

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