I was about ten years old the first time I went Christmas caroling with the other neighborhood kids. And while in some neighborhoods the houses are door-to-door and kids can walk from yard to yard making joyful noise, in the back country of Alaska, it’s not that easy.
Our houses are tucked down narrow, unplowed roads, scattered not in a grid, but more like a kaleidoscope of porch lights across a vast forest of darkness.
We piled into a line of four-wheel drive pick-ups and Subaru station wagons, kids stuffed in camper shells and cargo hatches. Dads and moms sat up front, dad cursing the roads while mom hummed carols in preparation for arrival and gave directions. Turn here, no…back there.
I remember thick boots and snow coated knit mittens. I remember faces pressed against wet glass watching the familiar dark go by. And I remember laughing all the way.
Somewhere along the twists and turns of back roads one or more rigs always slid into the ditch and three others lined up to pull him out. Backs were slapped, stories swapped, as chains and hitches tugged their friend and neighbor from his woe.
We children poured from our wedged in places, no seatbelts, no care, as someone opened the car door on arrival. Unsuspecting victims rose from their easy chair, wondering what all the headlights were about, scanning the kitchen for messes on their way to the front door.
They pulled open their doors, slipped bare feet into winter boots and stepped outside. Their children and wives came from behind.
And then the singing began.
We put forth our pure young voices and sometime stopped to catch a snowflake with our tongues. We rolled angles into the snow and tried to stare up at the falling sky but icy wetness fluttered into eyelashes and we squinted and blinked every time.
A few songs belted out and then we all poured inside. Nobody cared about messes and we all took our boots off at the door…because that’s what you did. Bottles clanked, smoke thick in the air, laughter and friendship mingled as the carolers…friends…neighbors…joined in the night.
And then we all piled back in and did it again, for hours, spreading joy across our land, within our hearts…and tucking it deep in the memory and soul of our childhood.