"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Monday, December 28, 2015

A Story About a Snowman

WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
"I remember that winter because it had brought the heaviest snow that I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long, and in the morning I woke in a room filled with light and silence. The whole world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day, and it was on that day I made the snowman."

Opening narration from The Snowman ~ animated movie*
based on the book by Raymond Briggs ~ music by Howard Blake


The building of this snowman by Ben and Sam in early December 2002 began with one of the best things that can happen when you're in 4th grade (Sam) or 7th grade (Ben) -- an unexpected snow day! First of all came the cocoa and marshmallows, calling friends and making plans. Next thing you know, the doorbell rang to announce the timely arrival of a package from my sister Peg. I emailed her right away to let her know that her present to the boys had been safely delivered and placed under the tree. She emailed right back to say, "No, don't wait 'til Christmas; let them open it now."

What an excellent coincidence! Inside the gift box was a Lands' End snowman building kit, including all the accessories that you can see here in the picture: eyes, nose, pipe, scarf, buttons. As soon as our snowy gentleman was built and properly outfitted, it was time for a photo session. These were the early days of digital photography for our family; and how fun it was to be able to email Auntie Peg a picture of the completed snowman so she could see how her gift had been put to immediate use!

Such a charming sequence of events: the day off from school, the UPS man, the emails back and forth to Peg, the boys running outside right away, and within the hour a photo of their completed creation to send as an electronic thank - you, closing the circle that had begun only a few days earlier with my sister picking out clever winter presents and placing orders. After all these years, that happy morning still plays like a little movie in my head, a memory to re-visit once a year, hoping for a snow day.

Photographs by Ben McCartney, 2002
In our tiny, walled back garden,
downtown Philadelphia

SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS FOR MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, January 14th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ Christmas Shomily
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com


Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST ~ "Would you like anything to read?"
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com


*If you like the book / movie, you'll love the puffy "Snowman"

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Story About a Tree

A HOUSE WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
Twenty - second Incarnation of the Kmart Tree
Still Going Strong After 20 Years!

2014 ~ Treetop Detail
Bertie Bassett ~ The Liquorice Allsorts Man


A Couple of Connections:

First, thanks to my friend Nikki for sharing with me this fabulous book from her family's collection:

Flair Annual 1953

And more thanks to Nikki for her kind comments after reading my previous post "Be As Brave As Sharon Olds." I appreciated her observation that "the connections are always good, but what's better is when you tell a story! Tell more stories!"

2. Second, speaking of stories, I read Christmas on Jane Street right after Thanksgiving and was summarizing it over the phone for my son Sam. When I suggested that we could pay a visit to the corner of 8th Avenue and Jane Street to see this famous New York City Christmas Tree Stand, Sam, ever the skeptic, and master of the literary allusion, replied: "Mom, sounds like you've been reading a story about a tree." Haha, Sam!


So, at the risk of being a Buzz Killington, I'm going to take Nikki's advice and tell you a story -- a story about a tree.

The first Christmas that we lived in Philadelphia (1993), it didn't occur to me that we wouldn't do what we had done the year before back in Indiana: go to the nearest grocery store on the day after Thanksgiving and buy a tree right out front, chosen from a large selection of live cut evergreens leaning against the plate glass windows. Surprisingly, it was not to be. We drove out to Pathmark bright and early, but where were the trees? "What trees?" the grocery clerk replied. "We don't sell Christmas trees."

Where then? We tried a nearby produce market; no luck. We returned home to ask some neighbors on the street. Of course, many were out of town for Thanksgiving weekend, yet we gleaned what information we could: one family would be driving to Vermont, or something like that, later in the month to chop down their own tree (over - achievers). Another family claimed they never put up a Christmas tree (Bah, humbug!). I was growing despondent. My sister Peg and her family were driving up from Maryland to visit us in Philadelphia for the first time, and my planned Black Friday activity was tree - decorating. But still no tree.

My husband Gerry had an idea. He remembered seeing a small tree nursery across the street from Kmart, a few miles away, outside the city limits. When Peg and her husband Ron arrived, Gerry and Ron would drive down and see what they could find. They did so; and, what to their wondering eyes should appear but a huge truckload of Christmas trees, stacked and netted, "bound into tight versions of themselves for easy travel," (Romp, 10). Success at last you might think; that was not so hard after all! There was, however, a catch. The nursery personnel did not know the going rate for trees that year. The truck had to be unloaded and each tree receive its price tag before sales to customers could officially begin.

"Are you sure?" Gerry asked. "Just name a price, any price, and we will pay that for the tree." This labor of love had become a full - fledged quest, and he did not want to return home empty - handed. But, no, said the clerk, that would be against the rules. Could they return in a few hours? Okay, it was only a fifteen - minute drive, five miles or so. They would make another trip, later in the day.

The hours passed quickly enough, and off went the woodchoppers on foray number two -- only to find that the manager had not come in that afternoon, the trees had not been tagged, and all purchases must be put on hold until the following day. The trees, plainly visible on the bed of the truck, were not to be had at any price. But these men of action were not to be deterred. Daylight had faded, and the neon lights of Kmart beckoned from across the Baltimore Pike.

Maybe it wasn't like a scene from Norman Rockwell or When Harry Met Sally,



but no tree could have been more anticipated or appreciated than the seven - foot storage box that Gerry and Ron carried through our front door that evening, some assembly required. But never mind, we were proud to place it our front entry and it went up quickly. The following year, we put it on the sleeping porch adjoining Sam (in photo, age 15 months) and Ben's bedrooms because that's where we spent many hours and they could enjoy it most:

1993 ~~~ 1994

When I decided a few years later (1998) that I needed a second tree, my dear husband was ready once again to undertake the mission. This time, no need to try the produce stands or tree nurseries, for I had become a true believer in the decorative attributes of an artificial tree, primarily because they provide so much more strength and versatility when it comes to hanging heavy ornaments and reshaping branches to suit a particular arrangement of baubles. Instead of driving randomly around the Delaware Valley, Gerry did the ground - work by phone and located a Sears at a Mall north of town that claimed to have 9 foot trees in stock. Many of the stores seemed to be topping out at 7 feet, but I already had one of those and was keen to extend the reach of my tree collection. Malls were not typically our scene, but Gerry was game, so away he went in our one - horse open sleigh (i.e., 1995 Oldsmobile Station Wagon) for a jolly expedition of tree procurement.

Was the tree at Sears as promised? Yes, but there was only one and it was already assembled, standing in undecorated glory on the showroom floor; and the packing boxes no longer existed. But if Gerry was willing to go out to the loading dock and scrounge around in the recycling for some large boxes and personally remove and repack each branch, then he was welcome to purchase the tree. Naturally, Clark Griswold style, Gerry was equal to the task. We need a tree? He'll get us a tree! "Fixed the newel post!"

Our usual parking spot was on the side street, but for easier access through the front door with several large boxes, Gerry parked right at the corner. As luck would have it, in the few moments in between multiple trips from car to house, we received a parking ticket! Happy Holidays from the City of Philadelphia! Could the officer not see that this vehicle is stuffed with Christmas decorations that are being removed as quickly as possible? Had he no patience or mercy or humor or Christmas Spirit? No, Virginia, he had not. Bah, humbug!

Not to worry! No one could rain on our parade that day. We put the new nine - footer in the second floor turret window (below left) and the seven - footer in the third floor turret window (below right), covered them both with ornaments -- including this handmade series from our multi - talented neighbors Doris & Denis --


and were very happy with the results:
[Look closely on the right to see Ben (L) and Sam (R)
peeking out from behind the tree!]

I know all about the sentimental premium attached to a live tree, and even better if that live tree has been picked out personally from a tree farm, local or distant, and chopped down with an ax. For me, though, nothing can beat the affection that went into acquiring our two artificial trees. Those memories are with me every year as we drag the boxes out and erect our enduring symbols of light and life and hope and fun.

But wait . . . there's more! At the beginning of Ben's third year of college (2010), he and his friends had a successful day of curbside trash - picking: a bookshelf, a chair, a couple of suitcases, and -- "For you, Mom!" -- a Christmas tree. Ben pulled it into the sunroom, and we put it together right away to make sure that all the pieces were intact. It didn't seem to be a recent student discard but rather a vintage 1987 Fake Douglas Fir, complete with its own original brochure -- like ours, over twenty years old, but still in fine shape, discarded, perhaps, by a family who was reverting to the wild or replacing with a twenty - first century pre - lit model. Once we had it up, it seemed a shame to take it back down, what with the holiday season only three months away, so we decorated it for fall with harvest miniatures and Halloween cookie cutters. At Thanksgiving we changed it over to Christmas and finally put it away sometime shortly after the Valentine Dance:

February 2011

Continued thanks to Ben, Gerry, and Ron for bringing these trees into my life and giving me a story to tell -- a story about trees! O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, whether you be regally real or proudly pretend, your green shall ever teach me!

The Big Tree ~~ in 2014 ~~ The Sunroom Tree


SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS FOR MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Monday, December 28th

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT ~ Fake Trees & Gift Books
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com


Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST ~ "Would you like anything to read?"
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com