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Column: June brings winter memories

Jeopardy! is one of my favorite television shows. One day last week, when host Alex Trebek announced the category headings, I leaned a bit closer to the television. One was a single, yet simple, word: little. A movie from my childhood came to mind and I was ready to pounce with an answer if something related appeared on the screen. It never did. Still, I shut out the rest of the show and traveled back in time to the living room of my youth. To a time when my father would bring up the fold-away movie screen he stored in the basement and the reel-to-reel projector that was as big as my little sister. Both were for home movies like the ones Dad shot on family vacations or at our birthday parties. But every once and a while, my father came across a film made especially for kids and brought it home for us to watch.

One he showed every Christ-mas Eve. The Little Match Girl, from a story by Hans Christian Anderson published in 1845, is the tale of a poor little girl who sells bundles of match sticks on the street. If she returns home without a farthing to show for her work, her father beats her. This particular cold New Year's Eve night, when people have places to be, they rush past and pay her no mind. She's lost her mother's slippers which were too big for her tiny feet and too flimsy, anyway, and finds an alcove where two buildings meet. She crouches in the corner for warmth. We kids knew what was next but still, every year our eyes were fixed on the screen as if was the first time we'd watched.

The girl looks up to the sky and sees a shooting star. She remembers that her dear departed grandmother, the only person who ever cared about her, had said a star falls because someone died and is going to heaven. The girl tries to warm her hands by lighting one of her matches; in the flame she sees a vision of a fancy home where a table is set for a feast. When the match goes out, she lights another and sees the image of her grandmother. She strikes match after match to keep her grandmother in view until her grandmother reaches out for her and carries her to heaven. The next morning, people pass by and find the little girl frozen to death in the corner where the two buildings adjoin.

Year after year, even though the grainy black and white images of the little match girl never failed to make us sad, we never questioned why Dad would show that film to us on Christmas Eve. On a night when the only sounds besides the whirring of the movie projector were those of the dishwasher cleaning the dishes from our recent family feast and the crackling from the burning logs in the fireplace. Hadn't Dad known the only thoughts we wanted dancing in our heads that night were about what the jolly old man would leave for us under the beautifully decorated tree framed by the front window?