Our 3-part working Christmas series begins HERE.
I arrive in Auburn down route 4, glide past the empty parking lots and deserted stores of Center Street and down into the inner business district, pull to a stop at the traffic light and wait for it to change. A young happy-looking man in a red windbreaker walks in front of the car… now looking like reaching for the doorhandle, so I stretch out a forefinger and press the lock, averting my gaze from his smiling face, ashamed. I suspect he’s developmentally disabled and feel ungenerous for refusing to share even a smile with what could be an angel in disguise. Neither of my sons, I think, would have refused him. My hard suspicious nature has robbed me of a telling moment. It is Christmas Day.
He passes away down the main street toward Lewiston and, more waiting, then the light changes and I turn that way myself. I cross a bridge over Maine’s Androscoggin River and enter the old textile milltown, stopping to make another collect call on the pretext of determining whether I unplugged the coffee pot before leaving earlier. During the exchange JD and I wish one another Merry Christmas again and I’m listening for a tone, a timber in his voice to determine if he’s unhappy about being alone. His tone is light, uncomplicated, content. I hang up and sigh.
The morning’s coffee has triggered the bodily system and I find myself in need of relief: but where can one find a public toilet in a deserted city on Christmas Day?
I drive around, vaguely hoping an open gas station will present itself among the welter of Christmas-closed structures crowding the street. Then I notice the sign: St. Mary’s hospital. Yes, a hospital. They are open on Christmas Day, of course; they are open every day irrespective of –or perhaps because of– the holy birthday…. As I enter the building my eye is caught by the early ’90s headline in a nearby vending machine: US and Iraq trade harsh war threats.
I’m sitting in the car, beneath the great church, quite cold on this clear Christmas Day. The sun was in my peripheral vision when I began writing this account but now the brick building blocks its light, but from my face only. I see its light along the rock and rising lawn of the brown winter grass and dirt across from me–rocks and naked trees. The trees jut out of rocks. They present a clutter of lit twigs, graceful turnings, still and full.
I’m looking at rock. The hill rises in rock, laced with pegmatite sills and dikes. It rises into more rock heaps, implacable. These rise into a structure of rock, regular and cemented with a straight wall. This, in its turn, rises into a massive structure of precision, a mighty building of cut stone. It’s far end points skyward into towers with eight spires of granite and slate. I’m looking at the object of my Christmas journey. The Church of Sts. Peter and Paul in downtown Lewiston. And I’m here solely because of its own cold, mighty, majestic, formidable looks. And I suppose, on second thought, because I want to record them. When I first saw them it had the effect of the Berlin, New Hampshire pluton upon me: I was nudged awake.