A holiday-rush respite falls from the sky

Snowstorm. I peer through flocked windows to see gray tree branches dance on white, wailing wind. Snow swirls across the fields and rippled drifts obscure the street. It's time to curl up in Grandma's afghan and snuggle down with a good book. I will keep no appointments today. Even Max, my cat, has deserted his usual lookout beside the cold window to lie before the fire.

A storm can bring this season's most elusive gift - a day of respite from shopping, wondering who wants what, toting packages to the post office, writing cards to names on a list. Today, even baking is out. Necessary ingredients are still at the store. Thankful for home, warmth, and safety, I permit myself to savor a few quiet hours.

There's time to set up the old Nativity scene, lay the baby Jesus in a manger almost stripped of straw, run my fingers over the angel's chipped wing, examine the donkey and camel to see if their legs will endure one more child's taking them on clip-clopping journeys across the coffee table.

Lingering in the day's hushed solitude, I dig photo albums out of the cupboard. Each picture trips the wire for other pictures to reel past: a girl in a swing, blond hair flying; a father steadying a bike for his son; a grandmother cradling the first baby of the fourth generation.

I lift my head from old photos to see that the snow has stopped falling; the wind has died down. Looking out at the scene behind my house, I catch sight of a flock of pheasants venturing forth. They skim - like tiptoeing dancers - across the snow-crested hill in their search for left-behind grain. A cardinal streaks scarlet to the now quiet branches.

A scrape of metal on cement startles me. The street is being cleared. Soon I hear the newspaper carrier as she crunches her way through snowdrifts. The spell of my small snowbound world is broken. I lay aside the photo albums and go to bring in my newspaper. Before opening the door, I mentally add a wish for all this season - maybe not a snowstorm, but a little quiet "snuggle down" time.

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