Saturday, December 25, 2010


Back in the sixties I worked on a hometown print shop that handled everything from Chamber of Commerce brochures to Bar Mitzvah invitations. Every December family Christmas letters - complete with Mom, Dad, Dick, Jane, Puff and Spot sitting under the tree - was a large part of our business. The proletariot, such as myself, who worked in the typesetting/proofreading department loved to read these missives outloud, giggling uncontrollably:

"It has been another Merry Madcap Year at the Hollister Homestead. Fenwick was elected to the City Council in March. In June we smiled bravely as we waved off our beloved daughter Honoria who is leaving us for her fellowship at Oxford. Bon Voyage! She has had a good year there, focusing on linguistics during the Pre-Cambrian era. Gabriel made the water polo team at Groton.

If you think Mildred is sitting home with Empty Nest Syndrome - I should be so lucky!.....(I will mercifully spare you the details of Mildred's wonderful year)."

Years later I would occasionally send out a family Christmas letter of my own, to a very select group of recipients:

"We managed to keep the kids off drugs for another year, we think. Freeman's exwife and her boyfriend lived on our screened-in porch for the month of April. We're not sure why, except they seem to be between assignments. etc, etc."

Real memories for real Christmas letters - might be across time and space, a lacy, silvered tapestry of moments floating like an unmoored Constellation through Infinity. (Think I could win the Bullwar Lytton Award for that sentence?)

I remember walking through the Vermont woods with my grandmother. I think it was in March. I was four years old. She took me to the base of a large tree and began diggging the snow. There, maybe four to six inches down, she uncovered the furled leaves and buds of next year's wildflowers. I especially remember the violets - so intensely green and purple against the mulch and soft Spring snow. Then she carefully buried them again.

In retrospect I think this wonderful/terrible Vermont grandmother may have had bipolar disorder. There was also the time she threw the Christmas tree out the front door of our house on Christmas morning. In a town of 1500 people this was Front Page News.

I remember searching through the snow, to find ornaments, and finding an antique, spun-glass, handpainted apricot that had been in our family for more than a hundred years. Miraculously, this enormously fragile ornament was unbroken. I hope that this apricot still decorates a Christmas tree in one of my cousin's living rooms.


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