Nils Peterson: Talk in the Reading Room
About Nils Peterson

 The Reading Room
Xmas Eve at the Big House 
 Christmas Mysteries 
Summers in Long Island 
 Father Arrives in the    Triumphal Car 
 Yankee Stadium Gone 
 A Thing of Beauty 
 Learning From My Father 
 Learning From My Mother 
The Bus


 Next Stop 
 Going to College
 My Lecture on Romanticism 
 A Story 
 Go Way From My Window 
• Singing in the Rain 
 On the Nature of Exposition 
 A Latin Class
 A Hero's Life
 Letter to Paul Cantrell
• Homecoming 
 The Moon and the Bulldozer


Christmas Eve at the Big House

The rich man and his wife would be waiting in a sort of lounge — dark-paneled, a leather covered bench affixed to the wall circumnavigating the room. Lots of high windows. The grownups drank Gløgg (made of red wine and brandy and spices served hot). My brother and I had a kind of effervescent papaya juice.

The lady would have been in her late 50’s, though she seemed Methusel an, square-faced, maybe a whisker or two, The man was older and mostly deaf, handsome in an abstracted way. My father liked him. And he liked my father. (He loaned us money to buy a house when my father took another job to help with the war effort, though the interest, I’m sure, was at least the going rate.) The lady did most of the talking, the man would punctuate with an occasional harrumph.

At last the presents. My father would get some fancy gadget from Abercrombie and Fitch. I’m not sure what mother and “the girls” would get. My brother and I got, at the rate of two volumes a Christmas, The Book of Knowledge, a children’s encyclopedia filled with stories, myths, poems, science facts, a higgledy-piggledy compendium of things an inquisitive child would be interested in. I loved it, but I would also think, “They’re so rich, why not one wildly expensive toy.”

After we had all the volumes of the encyclopedia, I got books about the sea. Often the lady also gave me some of her childhood books filled with the stories of Greece and Rome, and the Old Testament. I even read stories from my part of the world, stories about Odin, Thor, Freya, and Loki. I fell into a great education though not from the classes at Evergreen Grammar School. (You have to learn, or at least you used to have to learn, the multiplication tables.)

At last we retired to the piano room to sing carols. The lady was an excellent pianist, something of a Bach specialist who gave small concerts until arthritis made that impossible. Our last song would be O Du Helige, the Bach piece but sung in Swedish not German, I can hear my father’s cracked light tenor as I type.

Then the trek back past the marvels (I remember now some glass bits in a case on the wall which were reputed to be Phoenician, No, that can’t be, ancient Venetian? some ancient shards) through dining room, pantry, kitchen, down the gravel path up the stairs to our home above the garage. And so to bed to await the American Christmas to come.

the big house

  © 2014, Nils Peterson

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