Tag Archives: Family

Happiness is… Being Together at Christmas

It is Christmas Day afternoon and I am sitting alone in our house, nursing a cold. Dean and Clare are off on a hiking adventure, Andrew is in Atlanta with his girlfriend. I am not complaining — I do like my alone time, but looking at Facebook posts of families opening gifts is making me a little sad.

Santa
Christmas 1967. L to R: Kevin, Jeff Green in foreground, Aunt Lelia in background, Ron Choitz as Santa, Debbie (?), Julie (?).

When I was young our Christmas eves were spent with the Greens. I think the family would take turns hosting everyone else for Christmas eve (I remember it at my Uncle Bud’s house, our house and my Uncle Dick’s houses. Maybe Aunt Ginny too, once she was married. The cousins would play together — and often put together a performance of some kind. I was the oldest, so I was the bossy director. When we were all very young, Santa would come. I don’t remember when that tradition ended — maybe when my Gullick cousins moved to Mississippi? I do remember we did have a Christmas eve celebration at my Uncle Bud’s the year after my grandfather died.

Stop me if I have already told this story — it is definitely possible since I like it so much…

Sometime after 1963 (the year my brother was born), my mom made a line drawing of her parents and siblings with the title Happiness is… Being together at Christmas. After my brother found it at the lake house in Wisconsin and posted a photo of it on Facebook, my Aunt Ginny said it looked just like a photo she had and surmised that my mom had traced it from the photo. The drawing is too large to have been traced from the photo, but it was definitely the inspiration.

See for yourself…

original photo
Original photo
drawing
Drawing

So this year they are finally all together again for Christmas — the first time since 1972 when Grandpa died. They have a lot of catching up to do.

A Modern Fairy Tale in Pictures

The things I find in my mother’s extra bedroom! This latest find is an anniversary card I made for my folks on their 24th anniversary. That would have made me 22 years old. Let’s agree that the artistic genes in the family skipped a generation and not mention it again. My artwork at 22 is worse than my mother’s at a much younger age. Also I was a poor speller.

Note, if you click on one of the photos it will take you to a slideshow which may be easier to navigate.

Over the river and through the woods

to cut ourselves a tree…

We did it again — we took our almost annual trip to Loudoun County to cut down our Christmas tree. We’ve been doing this since the kids were quite small — Clare might have been 6 when we started.

This is the last year we’ll go to Jacobson’s Tree Farm though — suburbia is moving in. Next year there will probably be McMansions where the trees used to be. Loudoun County is one of the fastest growing counties in the DC Metro area. People who want to live in the country, yet be close to DC are buying up the land and building homes there. (And according to Wikipedia, it is the wealthiest county in the country.)

But this post is not about suburban sprawl. It’s about our annual trip to cut down a Christmas tree.

The Jubal Early @ White's FerryWe ate a delicious breakfast of Dutch Babies (weird name for a baked pancake sort of thing — very reminiscent of a Yorkshire pudding). Then piled in the Highlander for our trip to Virginia. The weather didn’t cooperate. It was chilly and rainy. We would have preferred snow, of course, but it didn’t happen.

Sure, Virginia is a short distance away via bridges and interstates, but we go the long way. The way that involves a ferry, country roads and wooded scenery. We cheated this time and drove up 270 instead of going on River Road where it actually does follow the river. We got off 270 in Gaithersburg and drove along Rt. 28 until we found White’s Ferry Road then took the ferry to Virginia, then drove to the tree farm.

Our Tree When we first began getting our trees from Jacobson’s the farm was covered in a forest of pine and fir trees. It was hard to choose trees, because they were so plentiful. The area was so big that the owners brought wagons pulled by tractors to patrons when they’d chosen their trees. Now there might have been 100 trees left in three spots. Two were a bit of a walk, but one was pretty close to the parking lot. We headed there first, not because of its proximity, but because I prefer Canaan Firs for my Christmas tree. We found one right away, Dean unceremoniously cut it down (we forgot to thank it for giving its life so we could put presents under it). Dean and Andrew carried it to the shed where it was vibrated (to help it shed loose needles) and tied up in string. Then Andrew and Dean tied it to the top of the Highlander while Clare and I went into the shed to warm up.

DSCF3455Being a rainy day early in the season, there were few people at the tree farm. The owners said they’d be up and running at a different location in a couple of years. We gave them our email address so they could tell us when they were ready for business.

On the way to Leesburg for lunch we stopped at the Old Lucketts Store to look through their 3 floors of antiques. On the top floor I met a man who told me that the store was allegedly haunted. It didn’t surprise me — I felt a chill when entering one of the rooms on the third floor, but that might have been because it was full of previously owned clothes worn by creepy mannequins. Clare and Dean tried on coats, but neither worked out.

Leesburg Restaurant We then drove to Leesburg and parked in front of the Leesburg Restaurant — another part of the tradition. Leesburg Restaurant is a dining establishment that’s been around since 1865, according to their sign. The inside of the restaurant is a throwback to a more innocent time — and very art deco-y

After eating a cholesterol filled meal we walked to another antique store up the road where we browsed the basement for bargains. Clare found a few things, but the rest of us just looked.

Return Trip Ticket White's Ferry Then we drove back home, taking the ferry again — but taking lesser roads than we took to get to Virginia.

Dean set the tree up and we got out our decorations. As mentioned in another post, the lights didn’t work, so the tree stood naked for a day. I bought lights the next day and Clare put them on the tree. That’s as far as we’ve gotten. Maybe we’ll decorate it tonight.

The Tree at Home

Review: Life Among the Savages

Before Erma Bombeck and Jean Kerr wrote about life as housewives and stay-at-home-mothers in the 1950’s, Shirley Jackson had already published her account.

You’ve probably read, or at least heard of Shirley Jackson, but you might not remember where or how. Think back to your high school English classes. Remember reading The Lottery? If that doesn’t ring a bell, perhaps you are a fan of horror films. If so, you might have seen the 1963 film, The Haunting or its mediocre 1999 remake, both based on her novel, The Haunting of Hill House.

While Ms Jackson is more widely known for her Gothic horror stories, she’s likely the creator of the humorous housewife/mother sub-genre of literature.

In Life Among the Savages, Jackson tells us about raising her three children, Laurie, Jannie and Sally. It’s told with humor and not a little self-deprecation. Ms Jackson was matter-of-fact about not being the perfect stereotypical 1950’s housewife:

Our house is old, and noisy, and full. When we moved into it we had two children and about five thousand books; I expect that when we finally overflow and move out again we will have perhaps twenty children and easily half a million books; we also own assorted beds and tables and chairs and rocking horses and lamps and doll dresses and ship models and paint brushes and literally thousands of socks. This is the way of life my husband and I have fallen into, inadvertently, as though we had fallen into a well and decided that since there was no way out we might as well stay there and set up a chair and a desk and a light of some kind; even though this is our way of life, and the only one we know, it is occasionally bewildering, and perhaps even inexplicable to the sort of person who does not have that swift, accurate conviction that he is going to step on a broken celluloid doll in the dark. I cannot think of a preferable way of life, except one without children and without books, going on soundlessly in an apartment hotel where they do the cleaning for you and send up your meals and all you have to do is lie on a couch and–as I say, I cannot think of a preferable way of life, but then I had to make a good many compromises.

I look around sometimes at the paraphernalia of our living–sandwich bags, typewriters, little wheels off things and marvel at the complexities of civilization with which we surround ourselves; would we be pleased, I wonder, at a wholesale elimination of these things, so that we were reduced only to necessities (coffeepot, typewriters, the essential little wheels off things) and then–this happening usually int he springtime–I begin throwing things away, and it turns out that although we can live agreeably without the little wheels off things, new little wheels turn up almost immediately. This is, I suspect, progress. They can make little wheels, if not faster than they can fall off things, at least faster than I can throw them away.

Life Among the Savages begins when Ms Jackson, her husband Stanley and their two children live in New York and decide to move to Vermont, where Stanley (Hyman)has a job at a local college. It describes their house hunt in a small town in Vermont.

One nice thing was, there were lots and lots of houses available. We heard this from a lady named Mrs. Black, a motherly old body who lived in a nearby large town, but who knew, as she herself pointed out, every house and every family in the state. She took us to visit a house which she called the Bassington House, and which would have been perfect for us and our books and our children, if there had been any plumbing.

“Wouldn’t take much to put in plumbing,” Mrs. Black told us. “Put in plumbing, you got a real nice house there.”

My husband shifted nervously in the snow, “You see,” he said, “that brings up the question of…well…money.”

Mrs. Black shrugged. “How much would plumbing cost?” she demanded. “You put in maybe twelve, fifteen hundred dollars, you got a real nice home.”

“Now look, if we had fifteen hundred dollars we could give an apartment superintendent–” my husband began, but I cut in quickly, you must remember, Mrs. Black, we want to rent.”

“Rent, did you?” said Mrs. Black, as though this proved at last that we were mere fly-by-nights, lookers at houses for the pleasure of it. “Well, if I was you folks, small children and all, well, I‘d buy.”

While Jackson’s other works are more widely acclaimed and on some “the best of” lists, Life Among the Savages is a well-told and funny slice of life tale. Some critics call it forgettable. I disagree and like reading about this side of a woman whose tales of darkness have fascinated me for years.

It seems to have been written before the darkness that ended up plaguing her took over. It’s readable and funny. While Jackson’s mental illness may have contributed to her genius and spawned some of the last century’s best horror tales, she was a good writer anyway and Life Among the Savages proves it.

One thing of which to be aware, however — this book didn’t age well. While I was able to laugh at many of the vignettes without really thinking, some made me chuckle with reservation. Remember this was written in the late 1940s and 1950’s. Back then people drank more. People smoked more. Even pregnant women smoked. And probably drank too, without thinking about how it was harming their unborn children. Shirley Jackson was a very heavy smoker and she wrote about smoking cigarettes a lot. While cooking; while reading; while waiting for labor pains to begin in her fourth pregnancy. In fact this book is, in some ways, a direct opposite of some of the mommy blogs I’ve been reading lately — yet similar in some ways. Current expectant moms wouldn’t think of writing about lighting a cigarette while pregnant, but they do write self-deprecating vignettes about their day-to-day life. I suppose the women who are writing the blogs about motherhood (the ones who do it well) are the current Erma Bombecks, Jean Kerrs, even Shirley Jacksons. The times have changed–technology, medicine, child-rearing; but maybe more has stayed the same.

Hmm, that might make a good Masters Thesis.

Mom’s burger friends

Mom\'s burger friendsThe last few weeks have been busy. I’ve seen people I haven’t seen in years and met a lot of new folks. One group of people I met were my mom’s “burger” friends.

Each Tuesday a bar in Elgin that I remember as The Sports Bar offers 99¢ hamburgers. I don’t know what the name of the bar is now, but it looks the same as it did in 1979 when that was a hangout for my flatmate, Julia, and me.

My mom has been going to burgers on Tuesdays for years. When I went with her a few years ago they had two tables set up. This time they had four or five. There were empty seats, but it seems as if this group has grown over the past few years.

The men sit at one end of the table and the women sit at the other. I asked why that was and was told that the men talked sports and hunting and the women talked about other things.

Everyone was very friendly. One person even brought cake or brownies to celebrate her husband’s birthday. I’m glad mom has such a good group of friends.

Elgin again

Heading off to Elgin tomorrow afternoon. Parents again – but this time it is my husband’s family.

Ruth at our houseMy mother-in-law passed away last night. My husband was there – he got to say his goodbyes – although he feels like it was more important that he was there in September when his mom was more lucid. She’d been “out of it” for a while. I’m glad he got to spend time with her then and that he was there last night. I’m also glad that my children saw her last when she was standing and able to give us all hugs goodbye. I really didn’t expect that hug to be the last one – I thought she’d be around for a while yet.

On this side of 50, I think about death a lot more than I did before. Not in a frightened way, just in a matter of fact kind of way, although I’d rather not think about it at all. It is amazing – and probably good – that young people don’t realize how short life really is – it is a rather depressing thought.

The kids and I spent the day getting ready for our trip. Andrew, who will be a pallbearer, wanted a black (as opposed to navy) suit for the funeral. He also needed shoes – he’d grown a couple of sizes from the last dress shoes we bought (two years ago).

We’re staying in a motel this trip. I felt it would be easier on everyone. My family would have the space and privacy to get ready for the ceremonies. We’d also be able to be together – something that was not easily done during the summer. It will be a little odd, staying in a motel in my hometown, but it is for the best.