Christmas, it seemed, had been a long time ago. So many days, at least so it seemed to him, had gone by since the boy went with his family to Nonna’s for Yule, the holiday that she had instead of Christmas, and Nonna had told the story about the glittering eggs, and the Viking ancestors, and the phoenix bird in the magnolia tree, and there had been presents. It was still cold and the days still seemed short, although, as Mommy pointed out on the drive home from his school’s after-care, the days were getting longer because they could now see sunsets most of the way home, instead of driving home in the dark. “Mmm-hmm,” the boy said, playing a video game on Mommy’s iPad from his car seat in the back.
That weekend, after the basketball game, Daddy drove him to Nonna’s to spend the night.
Nonna was sure to have some art projects in her art drawer and some card games to play. And she would certainly order in Thai food for supper. In the morning, he and Nonna were going to go get waffles at the diner and then see the new Hobbit movie. “Smaaaauuuuuggg,” the boy liked to say. He said it exactly the way that the announcer said it on tv when there were ads for the movie. Even though it was PG13, his parents let him go with Nonna since she wanted it so much and the orcs never scared him.
After breakfast at the diner, and after seeing Smaug (which, of course, included a big plastic cup of root beer, and some popcorn, and some Twizzlers, and the 3-D glasses), and after a trip to the neighborhood toy store for Pokemon cards, and after several games of Uno and several games of Chinese checkers, almost all of which the boy won and Nonna just barely lost, and after they went down to Nonna’s basement and played a game about fishing for River Monsters, and after a treasure hunt that the elves had left for the boy to discover, and after a warm bath where Nonna let the boy mix lavender oil, and olive oil, and almond oil, as much as he liked, because it was winter and everyone’s skin gets dry and everyone wants to smell something nice, and he felt a bit like a doctor, or scientist, or (this was one of Nonna’s words) an alchemist — it was, despite his best efforts, time for the boy to go to bed. And, of course, Nonna read a chapter from their latest book, and set the night light that made a pattern of the solar system on the ceiling, and told a funny story about when Daddy was a boy, and sang the song about hoof and horn.
And, then, just as Nonna was about to smooth the extra covers that the boy liked to have Nonna put on his bed and go, the boy said, “Nonna, what happened when the phoenix in the magnolia told that hero to connect with what was in the deep dark at the heart of his land to find the cure for the trolls? Did he figure out what his ancestors brought across the ocean that let the trolls get established on the shores of the Chesapeake and the Potomac? You never finished the story when we were here for Yule.”
And so, as you will see in a day or so my beloveds, his Nonna told some more of the story. She began by saying, “Once upon a time, there was a young man. He was older than seven, but younger than twelve, as heroes often are.”
“No, I know that part,” the boy said. “The hero was older than seven and younger than twelve, and I’m going to be eight in just over a month. Tell the part about what happened when he climbed down from the magnolia tree.”
“Well,” his Nonna said, “I’m getting there. Just wait a tiny minute while I freshen up my mug of tea with some more hot water. I’ll be right back, my love.”
And it was hot water, mostly, that Nonna added to her tea. And then she began in earnest . . . . And, of course, you, you brilliant readers you, you know that she said, “The boy climbed down to the ground. And, suddenly, the phoenix in the nest atop the magnolia tree burst into flame . . . .”
Picture found here.