The Christmas Season that won’t end…

The Christmas Season that won’t end…

IMG_1518We tucked our celebration away at the end of December, but the holiday season has dragged into the New Year for our family–by the Merry Mulch Fundraiser.

On any given day, we receive 7 to 21 calls about Christmas trees. (Of note: Despite a progressive populace, not a one referred to theirs as a Holiday Tree.)

Our son volunteered to receive these calls to offset the cost of his highschool band trip. His mother, who did not play a band instrument, is a writer. Self-employed. In the home. Which is why it was both necessary and excruciating to succumb to this daily intrusion. (I stopped answering the phone in 1989.)

On any given evening, my son spends 20 to 60 minutes replaying (and replaying and replaying) messages; compiling information; and making follow up calls.

More than the volume of Merry Mulch activity, we are surprised by the volume of good will. This is its 27th year of the Music Department fundraiser at Brattleboro Union High School.  Some of the callers let us know that they have been participating since its inception. One woman informed my son that she was the one to conceive of it.

Our hearts are equally touched or tickled or annoyed by the characters we find on our  answering machine. The warm and gravelly sound of an older man. The busy staccato of the cell phone caller. The confused caller. The comedic one. The irritated. The kind. The repetitive. The overly informative. Their quirky names. Corky. Junio. A woman named Mann. (My son wishes he could meet them all!)

When Aidan showed up at school that first week with close to 100 orders, the band director offered to place our phone number last on the radio and newspaper call list instead of first.

I am almost certain that we will never (or always) do this again.

~

Note: if you live in Brattleboro, here is the link to more information. There is one more pick up Saturday remaining. Calls must be placed by Thursday. Please don’t call the first number. http://buhs.wsesu.org/merry-mulch

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The Evergreen

The Evergreen

We brought home the tree this past weekend–from the wind swept farm upon McKinley Hill in Jacksonville. I don’t know if it’s really called McKinley Hill, but those are the people for whom we remove our mittens to scribble stiffly: “twenty dollars and oo cents” in frozen ink each year.

We thought about waiting for more snow to lend more of the holiday feeling, but we opted for what we had, not knowing if the weather would offer more or take what little remains.

The sun was bright on the hill and the view spectacular, and so was the wind which made for little argument over which tree was best. (Even the new guy at the baler was surprised at how quickly we returned dragging a balsam behind us.)

It was such a tiny tree that it hardly needed shortening once home, but my husband took off a foot any way–with the chain saw–which my 16 year-old defended, “He’s a man. He has to use the most powerful tool available.”

At the farm, a simple hand-saw had been employed by our resident enthusiast: Eleven-year old Aidan who also pulled the tree carriage down the hill and just as enthusiastically dragged it back up while my husband loaded the evergreen onto our Civic.

I love seeing trees atop of cars. I like counting how many pass us in a day. This is not p.c. of me, I know; many of my rural friends feel compromised cutting down a Charlie Brown rut from their own woods, while others forgo the tradition altogether and hang ornaments from evergreen boughs.

This year I actually considered this, not with environmental consciousness, but with fatigue. I didn’t want to face the dramatic overhaul that is required in tiny living room to accommodate a tree; but this year’s choice was so trim–we only moved a single chair.

Our tradition is to leave the tree unadorned as long as possible to appreciate it for its simple gift of green.  Next we add the lights, and these too are left twinkling in solitude to inspire us on dark nights.

The last step is to add the ornaments, unwrapped from their boxes, labeled with dates and gift bearers, and carefully placed upon the boughs for the right effect of color, shape, medium and reflection.

We add egg nog and festive finger foods to this occasion, and then do the same with the holiday leftovers when it comes time to pack up the ornaments after the holiday.

The tree itself remains, lit and then unlit, until I can finally bear parting with the Balsam beauty in favor of order and an extra chair.

The Christmas tree is one of my favorite traditions along with the advent calendar and a daily reading from National Wildlife’s, December Treasury.  A tribute to the Evergreen is today’s offering:

Evergreen Reflection, Kelly Salasin, December 2011

The  Ancients

    One need not go into history to find the reasons for veneration of the evergreen tree or bough as part of the Christmas season.  They are of the enduring things of this earth, and man has known them as long as man has been here.  The pine, the spruce, the hemlock, the fir – all those conifers that know no leafless season – have been held in special favor when man would have symbols of life that outlast all winters.  And even more enduring, in geologic time, are the ground pine, the ground cedar, and the club mosses, most venerable of all the evergreens. 

    We gather them now, even as the ancients gathered them reaching for the reassurance of enduring green life at the time of the winter solstice.  For the pines and their whole family were old when the first man saw them.  Millions of years old, even, even at a time when millions of years had no meaning.  When we gather them we are reaching back, back into the deep recesses of time.   But, even as the ancients, we are reaching for reassurance, for the beauty of the living green but also for that green itself, the green of life that outlasts the gray winds, the white frosts, and the glittering snow of winter.

    So we bring in the pine, the spruce, the hemlock – and now, because of the cultivation of Christmas trees on a wide scale, we do so without desecrating the natural forest.  We bring the festoons of ground pine and partridgeberry, feeling a kinship with enduring things.  They help us to catch, if only briefly, that needed sense of hope and understandable eternity.

-Hal Borland

 

Rolling Stone No More

Rolling Stone No More

While snuggling in bed beside my husband, I spring up with a realization.

“I think this is our 7th Christmas.”

“Not yet,” my husband says, counting on his fingers.  It’s easy for him to know from when to begin: 2004, and the 48 hour Christmas.

“You’re right,” he says, “It is 7.”

“You know how significant this is,” I say.

“Yes–And it’s the house ‘I’ built.”

7 years ago this December, Casey and I lived apart for the first time in 20 years. That November the boys and I moved to my sister’s in Florida so that he could devote every waking (and barely-waking) hour to finishing this house in time for Christmas (since he already missed Labor Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving.)

At midnight on December 22, he picked us up at the airport and we moved into our home–the first home that we have ever owned.

“This will be the house that I’ve lived in the longest,” I say, as I roll over to turn off the lamp at my bedside.

“And it’s the house ‘I’ built,” he says again, rolling to turn off his own lap.

We almost didn’t make it to 7 years. Back in 2008 when Casey was unemployed, he looked at some international teaching jobs–a prospect which was thrilling to me–but meant that I’d  have to start over from scratch on the 7 year thing.

“I haven’t made it yet,” I say, settling back down into Casey’s arms. “It’s not Christmas yet, and I could die or the house could burn down or something.”

“Don’t say that kind of stuff,” Casey says, pushing me away.

The truth is that this is such an important milestone to me that I’m anxious about it. I felt this same fearful uncertainty before I left for England in my junior year, and then again before our first baby was born.

Sometimes the things we really want seem that impossible, especially when they’re so close to coming true.

I remember when Casey reached the 7 year mark with me. It was an important finish line for him–it meant he surpassed my first love. Though he’s now more than tripled that number, he still reminds me of his longevity–“Almost 4 times as long,” he says.

First love, first son, first house. They’re all so significant.

I don’t know what number home this is for me. I’d rather not count. As an Army brat who was born while her dad was still in college, I’ve had my share of moves and homes and schools

My own boys were born and raised in this same small town, attended the same small school, and grew up with the same kids that they played with at preschool. I was 14 when my parents finally settled down in one place.

That home had been the one that belonged to my grandparents, my beloved “6012.” But our time there was short. My parents divorced, and not only did we lose our family, but our home.

After that, I went to Europe three times, lived out West, moved back home, and then took off for these Green Mountains.

Our first place in Vermont was a tiny farm-house nestled beside a “babbling” brook, and seated at the foot of a mountain beside the National Forest. Both my boys were conceived there, and for seven years, it was our “home sweet home.”

When we left that rental, it was heartbreaking, but the time had come for us to set out on our own, and a few moves later, we were here–in the house that Casey built–with the help of his boys and all of our friends.

7 years ago this Christmas.

(Did I count right?)

Kelly Salasin, December 2011

The Homecoming Toilet

The Homecoming Toilet

In he final moments before ceasing construction, I dropped it.  Down the toilet.

It was December 21, and I had thirty minutes to make this house “livable”–as promised–before my wife and children arrived “home.”

5 weeks earlier they left Vermont to live with my wife’s sister in Florida “until I finished the house.”  That separation took place the week before Thanksgiving– and now it was just days before Christmas. (None of us had ever spent more than a weekend apart.)

Unfortunately what had been dropped down the toilet were its “anchor screws” which meant that there would be no usable bathroom in this house where we were supposed to begin living–tonight.

In the past five weeks, I divided my days between teaching highschool history and building a home.  I laid the floors, hung the sheetrock, spackled and painted; installed kitchen cabinets, countertops, appliances, sinks, a woodstove and a chimney–all with the help of great friends.   I lived on hotdogs, and slept on my ex-brother in law’s couch.

I gave up our rental when my family left town. Friends and family suspected a marital “separation,” especially given the adage:  Build a house, loose a spouse.

It’s true that I hadn’t been around much once this project began the previous year.  I had originally “promised” to have us in the house before the end of summer, but as a novice builder, I extended that deadline again–and again–until my wife couldn’t take it anymore and we decided that it would be best for her to leave town so that I could devote every extra minute to getting us in– before Christmas.

It was my ex-brother in law Tim who helped me in the last panicked moments of “finishing” when I lost the screw (and what was left of my sanity) down the toilet.

The nearest hardware store of any kind was twenty minutes away and it was already 8:30 pm.   We prayed that Home Depot might still be open and that it had what we needed. It did, but by the time I found this out, there was no way I could get there before they closed.

As I spoke with the guy in plumbing, I thought I recognized the Irish accent of my son’s former soccer coach.  “Is this Patrick?” I asked.

It was, and he not only agreed to leave the screw outside, he waited there in the parking lot to hand it to me, and then refused to let me pay.  I could have burst into tears right then.

By 9:20 pm I was back at the house, “seating” my very first toilet, just in time to leave for the airport to retrieve my wife and children.

At midnight, they turned the corner of the terminal–and all the months of madness melted away.

Two days before Christmas, I brought my family “home” to a trim-less, door-less house–that was all ours.

Casey Deane (& Kelly Salasin)

to read Kelly’s version of the same night, click here

First Christmas

First Christmas

Our First Christmas in our new home stands out in my mind & heart as the capping moment of our house building adventure.  Here’s the story of that special time, which I call the “48 Christmas.”

I’ve always loved Christmas… and never stopped believing in Santa. I look forward to the season almost as soon as it ends, anticipating its return, the day after Thanksgiving. This is when the watershed of festivities begin: decorations brought down from the attic, lights strung up outside, and best of all— the Christmas music played— for an entire month!

In truth, there have been some desperate years when I unpacked the holiday tunes long before it was “officially” legitimate, but I restricted myself to instrumental selections, careful not to delve any further.

This past year, however, I began sneaking into the carols earlier than ever (July!) We had just moved from one rental to another while embarking on the task of building our first home (my husband doing most of it himself). What was meant to be a temporary living situation, “just for the summer,” was extended, again and again when the house was not completed “on time.”

When the leaves began to fall, I had to face the possibility that my holidays might be celebrated in this rental rather than in our new home as we had expected. I began playing Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole– a line I’ve never crossed before– but even they didn’t cheer me.

On one particularly gray day in November, my sister in Florida emailed, inviting us for a visit as she often did. “Only if we can stay till the house is finished!” I replied in frustration.

To both of our surprise, she answered,” COME!” And thus, just weeks before the Christmas favorites could be played out in the open, I flew south with my boys.

Leaving during the holidays was hard for me. Though I enjoyed my relatives’ traditions, the season wasn’t the same without my own things– and without snow and mountains and sledding.

When my sister’s family decorated their home on an eighty-degree day, I found myself withdrawn and sad; and when that night of all nights came— the one to adorn the evergreen, I couldn’t help thinking of my own ornaments packed away.

In light of world affairs, of families separated by war and devastation, mine seemed a trifling preoccupation, but I couldn’t shake it.

As Christmas approached, the phone calls between Florida and Vermont increased. We each felt the growing strain of our separation, desperate to be reunited. With each conversation, there were reports of progress (or delays) on the house.

After a long day of teaching, my husband would head over to the building site to spend  long and lonely winter nights: framing, sheetrocking, spackling, flooring; installing cabinets, fixtures, bathrooms; and finishing electric and plumbing. It seemed endless, but we both held onto the dream that we’d celebrate Christmas together– in our new home.

After weeks and weeks of anticipation (and three visits to Disney), the boys and I kissed my sister’s family goodbye, and boarded a plane for New England. We arrived in the wee hours of December 22nd, the first day of winter, when the airports were full of folks flying in the opposite direction.

We arrived without knowing for certain if my husband had been able to finish the house, but as we turned the corner of the terminal, and saw his familiar smile behind the gate, nothing else mattered. There was no better homecoming than the warmth and certainty of his embrace after such a long absence.

That first morning in Vermont, I woke to the sun kissing my face. There are few commodities as precious as sun in a northern climate, particularly at the start of a cold day.

The eastern light through my bedroom window was such a delight that it distracted me from the rawness of my surroundings– the unpainted walls; the yellow insulation foam hanging from windows; the rough and unfinished floors; the invasion of cluster flies from an exposed attic; and the lack of doors anywhere, even on the bathroom.

My husband was up and off to work already, and the boys slept beside me, in this, the only livable bedroom.

I was pretty groggy that first day back in Vermont and didn’t do much but unpack the bathing suits and search for boots and snowpants. In the afternoon, I wandered downstairs, and fixed some tea in “my” kitchen on my new stove; sipping it while I watched the boys sled down the hill in our own front yard– a light snow falling.

When my husband arrived “home” from school late that afternoon, our holiday (and our lives here) began. With only 48 hours to unfold, we scuttled to create a Christmas together.

We found one of the last trees at a stand down the road, bought a half-priced wreath and poinsettia, picked up some last minute food at the grocery store, and unpacked a single box of our favorite holiday things. The tree was decorated and the cookies for Santa baked just before the boys were tucked in Christmas Eve.

What had once taken weeks to carefully execute, was joyfully prepared in just two days. The tempo lent a heightened excitement to our festivities, and something more precious– a slowing of expectations.

In 48 hours, Christmas can’t be perfect. I had to let go of so much that had once felt so important, and I had to hold onto that which I treasure most: the company of my family, around a Christmas tree, in our new home, while carols played all the day long.

Kelly Salasin, 2004

To read my husband’s version of this same time, click here.

And Then There Was Light

And Then There Was Light

Just before Christmas, our small town in Southern Vermont was the center of a magical and destructive ice storm leaving us without power for seven days.

By the sixth day, I hit ROCK bottom and packed up my family up for a hotel–twenty minutes away.  There we reveled in electric lighting, showers–and most of all–flushing toilets.  This poem was written in a moment of delirium when we arrived back at our home the following day.


And Then There Was Light


And on the seventh day we rose

from the comfort of the HOLIDAY Inn

and climbed back to the heights of Marlboro

And there at the mouth of our road

we came upon men of GOOD will,

wearing hard hats beneath BRIGHT trucks.

And our mouths fell silent

of the PRAISE we had intended to spread

upon this long-awaited sight

And they hung there open

as we ascended MacArthur

SEEKING at each crossing

the familiar toppled tree or strewn line

only to discover…

NONE!

And with great ANTICIPATION,

we turned up our drive,

scanning our home

for any SIGN,

And stepping into our mudroom

giddily flipped the switch,

only to find…

NOTHING!

But just as we wearily lifted our bags

up the dark and dirtied stairs,

an unusual sound was heard.

And we looked at each other

concerned

And then turned toward the stove to SEE

great NUMBERS flashing

and exclaimed in bewildered WONDER

THE POWER IS ON!

THE POWER IS ON!”

And without flushing toilets

or filling refrigerators

or washing mounds of dishes,

We flew to the porch

with pots and pans

to send out our JOYFUL wishes.

We whistled and whooped

and rang out GREAT JOY

To the gentlemen of CVPS

and all other electric crews NATIONS.

Who knew that a week before Christmas

could bring such GLEE

as we turned on the carols

and welcomed

each LIGHT

on the tree.

Kelly Salasin, 2008

To read Kelly’s posts about the Ice Storm of 2008, before the glee, click the links below:

Cat Scan 3:00 a.m.

Survivor Sours