To Every Thing There is a Season: A Cape Breton Christmas Story by Alistair MacLeod was a tiny (41 pages) book comprising a single short story. The pagination belies the brevity of the actual story since the book was generously illustrated by Peter Rankin. The book was easy to read and admire during this morning’s breakfast.
MacLeod told the story from the point of view of an eleven-year-old boy, perhaps using his own memories when he lived on the island. He and his family anticipated the arrival of not only Christmas, but of his beloved oldest brother as well. Nineteen-year-old Neil was coming home for the holidays after working on Great Lakes flat carrier boats. To my eyes Rankin depicted Neil to look far older than his nineteen years. Granted a beard on a young man can make him seem a decade older but in Neil’s case you’d swear he was the family patriarch.
The unnamed narrator wrote about how cold it was in his cabin and how he needed to place hot stones at his feet during the ride to church. Just as the story was becoming interesting with the arrival of Christmas, I could tell it was going to end, based on the absence of future pages. MacLeod ended the story with a touching remark by the father:
“‘Every man moves on,’ says my father quietly, and I think he speaks of Santa Claus, ‘but there is no need to grieve. He leaves good things behind.'”