The last few days have been cold. Nights are below freezing and in the day, we southeners, now don our “winter coats”. I walk to the car, in the morning on frozen ground. I do not mind the cold weather unless there is wind. A cold wind is about unbearable. I have always heard that “New Englanders were a sturdy lot-and I suppose they are, for I can not imagine day after day of these conditions. Of course they have snow too- a lot of snow. When it does snow here, the least bit, southeners hunker down and no one is going anywhere! Instead, we are home cooking hearty dishes like stews or beans . . .in warm, comfortable “house clothes”. In the absence of snow, it has been business as usual.
With December, just a few days away, many of us are thinking about Christmas. I confess now, that I think about Christmas all year. Farm Life puts on quite a production at Christmas. Houses, barns and sheds are covered in lights. Reindeer graze on the lawns and wreaths are hung on doors and fences. Bows adorn lamp posts and the affect is charming.
I moved to the Farm Life Community, more than a decade ago, in May. I met my first friend, here just a few days later. “Miss Sylvia” came and presented me a cook book, of recipes compiled by the local women. It was a “welcome” gift, and it is my favorite cook book. The recipes do not start with a can of soup or instant pudding. These women cook from” scratch” and their dishes have stood the test of time.
Miss Sylvia had deep roots in Farm Life and it seemed she was “kin” to most everybody, or else went to school with them. She was glad to see that the old farm house would be occupied. Every room needed painting and the yard was full of debris. I was an awful mess, when she showed up. I was telling her all that I was doing, and without a moments hesitation, she asked me if I decorated for Christmas? I was a bit stunned at her question, but she went on and told me that the community placed great stock in good decorating. I assured her that I did, and she seemed very relieved.
As it turned out, Miss Sylvia used to work at a florist shop. She made bows, and had earned herself quite a reputation. She offered to make bows for me and so I took her up on it, each year, in early December. One year, particularly stands out in my memory and I never fail to remember it, this time of the year. It was the year that I used the red bows with small white polka dots.
I had the idea that the ribbon would be just perfect for a country home and I searched high and low for months, for it. At long last I found just the right look and presented it to Miss Sylvia, as soon as I got home. Miss Sylvia examined it thoroughly, and said at last, that “it was ugly!” She went on to say, it wouldn’t hold up, and said again “and it is ugly, too”. Being she was an elder, I sheepishly asked her to make them anyway. A day or so later, she called and said the” bows were ready – and just as she predicted, they were ugly”. Well, I hung them and I loved them! I still laugh remembering that. I always miss my dear, Miss Sylvia, but most especially at Christmas.
Now, this year, all of my decorations are packed up and I may not even decorate at all! It all depends on what unfolds in the very next few weeks in what has become certainly, a saga. . .selling the rabbit patch. Either way, if there is a sprig of pine on the mantel – or a wreath hung, it will be a last minute attempt to mark the grand occasion of my beloved Christmas. Maybe this year, I will carry on the tradition of “Old Christmas”. . .another thing I remember about Miss Sylvia, for she always marked the visit of the wise men, to the Christ child, with a party.
Work is especially busy, just now. The violinists-over two hundred of them – are practicing fervently and the children are also learning songs in various languages for the annual Holiday Concert. I never tire of Christmas music. I especially like the old music. The old songs never fail to spark my own childhood memories. . .one being the year, that Grandmama got a tree in a box.
I do not know what I was expecting . . .but it was not what I saw. I remember clearly the shock of seeing my first “aluminum tree”. It was silver with blue ornaments. . . a far cry from the usual, little cedars, cut from a ditch bank. Grandmama was so very proud of it and said, the folks in Florida, were using them regularly now. To me, Florida must have been another country altogether and they musn’t have had. a single patch of woods anywhere. Grandmama was “happy as a lark” with her modern tree. I was speechless. In my wildest childhood dreams, I could not have imagined an “aluminum tree”. Thankfully, “Dean Martin” was singing on the record player, as usual, so at least something, made sense.
Every thing seems to evoke memories, this time of the year. Of course, I am prone to being sentimental, on a regular basis, but I realise especially at Christmas, that I have quite a storehouse of beautiful memories in my collection. . .and I do not want to forget a one of them. In some way, it seems that remembering, is like a “housekeeping of the heart”. I sort things out, and tidy up any tattered fragments. It is odd that I do not remember but a few gifts that I received. Instead, I remember clearly, things like the tinsel that Mama saved each year. Putting it on the tree, was slow and tedious work . . .taking it off was worse. Mama was very particular about her tinsel, and how it was placed on the tree. The task was not going quickly. . .and that is all there was to it. After the initial complaining and protests, for no one wanted to hang single strands of tinsel, a hush would fall on us. It was as if we were in a trance brought on by the dangling silver. When the heat came on, or the door was opened-the tinsel would sway and flutter as if it had a life of its’own. I was so happy when Mama traded the tinsel for a garland-yet now, over fifty years later, I remember the tinsel.
As we bid November farewell, with its’ scarlet and golden woodlands and with the blackbirds flying, we know it did not leave us empty-handed. November gives us a quiet, steady dose of gentle beauty that stirs thoughts of home and hearth – and makes us remember the most beautiful things.