The electricity flickered at first then went off altogether, extinguished by Hurricane Michael, which felled hundred-year-old trees in Greensboro and tangled power lines and plunged most of the city into darkness for days. The house fell into an eerie silence, so accustomed am I to the ambient hum of the refrigerator, the click of the thermostat in the background, the whir of the ceiling fan: sounds we don’t notice at all until they are no longer there.
I rummaged for candles and a camping lantern and set about bringing as much light into the house as I could, to stave off a darkness made even darker without the evening glow of streetlights, without the neighbor’s porch light that’s always on.
My mother, who lives up the road from me, got out her battery-powered window candles, the ones she and my dad always put in the center of the windowsills in our house in Asheboro at Christmastime, and even though we were still a few months away from Christmas, I felt better knowing that my mother wasn’t entirely in the dark, either.
My dad loved those lights in the windows. He was a photographer, a studier of light, and at Christmas, he made our house glow.
He wrapped strands of white lights up the staircase banister and strung lights along the fireplace mantel. In our dining room, he set up a small tree lit with multicolored lights, and used a half-dozen cords of lights on the tree in the living room, a thousand lights or more on our six-foot tree. He lit pillar candles on the kitchen table and set out votives in the bathrooms.
And on the coffee table, my dad assembled our Swedish brass angel chime. Four candles in the base gave off enough heat to spin a triangle of angels that rang a bell. My parents bought that decoration more than 40 years ago at the old General Hardware in Asheboro, when they moved into their first house, along with their first sets of ornaments for the tree. The angel chime was my favorite of all our decorations because of the way the brass glinted in a tiny halo of candlelight, the way the chime emitted its delicate ting.
At night, when my dad turned off the television and the lamps in the den before bed, he and my mom would sit for a while, talking and enjoying the glow of all those lights, catching a quiet moment for themselves, a silent night made luminous and warm. “I wish it could stay like this,” he told her.
When the power returned to Greensboro several days after the big storm, I walked over to check on my mom. She hadn’t put those candle lights away yet. “I might as well keep them out,” she said. “Christmas is coming.” And when it does, she’ll put up a small tree — fewer lights than what my dad would’ve done, but enough to allay the darkness. She’ll line the fireplace mantel with lights, and she’ll put out that Swedish angel chime and light its four candles, and it’ll make the two of us so happy to see it spin, our Christmas memories still burning bright.