My dear friend, author Beth Hoffman, whose latest novel LOOKING FOR ME is a New YorkTimes bestseller, thinks back on winters with her family in Kentucky.
Stories of the Good Old Days
by Beth Hoffman
The early days of my youth were lived on my grandparents’ farm. Winters were often harsh, and I remember times when the wind whipped the snow into great drifts that reached the eaves of the barn. On brutally cold nights I’d wear thermals and pull a flannel nightgown over my head. Then I’d go into the kitchen and stand on the floor grate by the stove. While the heated air billowed my nightgown, I would talk with my mom and grandma while they prepared supper.
It was just such an evening when I heard my dad on the back porch stomping snow from his boots. He came in the door, pulled off his cap and said, “It’s bitter out there!” That simple statement prompted a conversation about the winters of his youth, and soon the whole family had gathered at the kitchen table to hear winter stories and look at old photographs that my dad had pulled from a box.
One of my favorites was a black-and-white photo of a team of horses pulling a giant sled. It was taken of neighboring farmers when my dad was just a boy, and it tells a story of how three robust youngsters, undaunted by a snowstorm, were about to host an outdoor apple cider party. All they needed was a keg full of cider (made on their farm), a cauldron to heat it over a fire, and the spirit of Christmas.
There was no mistaking the nostalgia in my dad’s eyes when he said, “Those were the days …”
And suddenly I was there—transported into the photo until I could see the warm steam rising from the horses’ flanks and feel the bite of winter’s breath on my face. I tasted the hot, cinnamon-spiced cider and heard Christmas carols rise above the open field. That’s the kind of storyteller he was; with his words and his old box of photos, my dad could take me anywhere.
My dad is gone now, but his stories of farm life, and his photos, live on. I have often wondered who I would be without all his wonderful stories. For without stories, be they factual or embellished or a combination of both, what do we really have to build our lives upon? To quote from Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: “What’s the first thing a kid says when he learns how to talk? ‘Tell me a story.’ That’s how we understand who we are, where we come from. Stories are everything.”
Beth Hoffman is the New York Times and Internationally bestselling author of Looking for Me and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. She lives in a restored historical home in Kentucky with her husband and two very smart cats.
You can visit Beth’s website at www.BethHoffman.net