Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Touching on Christmas and so on

For once, we here in Reedville were too far north to get hit by the big blizzard.  All those folks who chortle smugly as we get our ‘lake effect’ snow most of the winter got to chortle out of the other side of their mouths and it serves them right.  Yesterday we got an inch or so of snow, the kind that falls in big fluffy flakes like that which one sees on Christmas cards.  A rather odd sight was to be seen in my very own back yard, where there is a spring of water which keeps right on seeping forth come hot weather or cold.  This spring was lined with a flock of robins who apparently hadn’t heard about the migration thing.  They were strung out along the area where the water movement leaves a line of earth visible in the snow and seemed to be eating something, but I can’t imagine what sustenance could be found in that cold water.   Surely no earthworms could be abroad in these temperaures.  Is it possible that they eat the forget-me-nots that seem to spring up in any patch of water around here?  Actually I knew that robins don’t really fly south – or at least a lot of them do not, despite people believing that that is what they do.  In winter robins retreat to woodlands and are rarely seen, giving rise to the migration belief.  I read somewhere that old-timers used to say that if you just kick the bushes near a woods in winter you’ll find the robins.  I am not sure who was out kicking bushes in the snow to discover this, but it sounds like he had a lot of fun.   We here in the northern boondocks have our simple pleasures. 

Christmas, which I generally dread, was not bad at all this year.  As long as I lived on the farm, Christmas was magic.  Then, after I moved to California, it was a lonely and sad time for me for a while – so much so that I scheduled some elective surgery over Christmas one year just to get out of the house.  Then I met Tumwell and all the magic returned.  Tumwell was a total kid when it came to the holidays.  He brought the magic back for me.  I had to watch him like a hawk to make sure he didn’t sneak a peek at presents before the appointed day.  I am a purist; I want to open everything at once on the actual date.  He always wanted to open gifts early.  We finally arrived at what became our tradition: gifts were opened one minute after the midnight between the 24th and 25th.  On Christmas morning we would rise late and go to Tumwell’s Mom’s house for Christmas dinner.  She gave me the nicest gifts.  One year she gave me a pair of tap shoes – the real deal.  I still have a teak rocking chair she gave me.   Each year the Christmas meal got more elaborate, because Tum’s mom always included every dish I had expressed a liking for among all the meals I had previously had at her table.  Once Tum asked her why she was making something or other again for Christmas and she said, “Well, Dave likes it,” and Tum said, “What about what I like?”   He was kidding of course, but it was true – she seemed to take me very much into account in her meal planning.   As her youngest son, Tum was expected to eat what was he was given. 

But then I went to Saudi, and Tum and his mom both passed away, and since then Christmas is more of a hassle than anything else.  For the last several years Caitlin, a newly married niece (well, ‘newly’ when it first started) has invited all of us in the area to her home for Christmas.  The first year this happened she was living in a house in the town south of Reedville where my Mom also lived, but she and her husband have since purchased a beautiful home on the main street of a village an hour’s drive east of us.  This house was built in the 1890’s and then was carefully restored by its previous owner and is a perfect place for a Christmas.  The problem is that more and more of my brothers have been returning to the area and this means more and more people for whom I must buy gifts with less idea of what to get them and far less money to do it with, now that I have retired.   This year, I had a couple of things I bought in Bali that served as gifts, but then I was forced to get out and do some shopping for the rest of the gifts.  I got out earlier than usual – that is TWO days before Christmas, instead of one, but actually once I got out and started shopping, I kind of enjoyed it.  I felt pretty good about most of my purchases.  I suddenly realized that I didn’t have to get the “perfect” gift, just something that fell into an area in which each recipient was interested.   After that, it was relatively easy.  I have a tendency to get caught up in a right-wrong axis in things, and to forget that the world doesn’t rise or fall on my choices.  I did propose (and my proposal was eagerly accepted) that the adults exchange names next year and each would buy only one gift.  That will make future years SO much easier.   Besides, this year Zeke (Caitlin’s husband) has installed a pool table in the cellar of his home, so there was something fun to do.  Do you know what the difference is between a basement and a cellar?  When a basement is more than half underground, it is a cellar.  I know you will thank me for this info, and you are free to act superior and correct others when they misuse the terms in future, as do I. 

It looks like the weather will finally rise above freezing later this week and by New Year’s Eve it will be in the 40’s.  By then the northern areas will have clear roads; the real north is remarkably efficient in clearing the roads.  It is the border states that get overwhelmed and cancel everything when there is more than an inch of snow.   I am debating driving to northern New Jersey to visit Freddie, a man I met a few months ago, for New Year’s weekend.   Freddy is a very nice guy and his story is rather interesting.   He married his high school sweetheart and they had three boys.  When the boys were grown – or nearly so - Mrs. Freddie, who is quite an attractive woman who had received some flattering attention from men on the prowl over the years, began to fret that she had somehow missed out on all the fun and dating that other girls had.  Eventually she left Freddy for one particularly attentive admirer and they got a divorce; however Mrs. Freddie found that these men on the prowl had no intention of doing more than tasting the honey and then flitting onward to the next flower, and she ended up somehow blaming Freddie for her subsequent unhappiness.  To get out of a fraught environment, Freddie moved to a little villagedeep in the wilds of northern Jersey.   One day a fellow employee at the company where Freddie has worked for more than 20 years invited him home.  The man (for it was a man) came onto Freddie, and Freddie, who has maintained his youthful face and physique, says he thought, “Well, why not?” and thereby discovered that he liked the guys even better than he had liked the ladies, something that had not even entered his head previously.  Thus the way was paved for my entry into his life. 

Freddie likes to play music and is planning to trade his electronic keyboard in for a ‘real’ piano; he says he likes the feel of the real thing.  Although I have not yet persuaded him to play for me, I noticed that the sheet music he had on the rack of the keyboard was very complex stuff.   He had a large photograph of the Shirelles on one wall and when I said I really liked them and asked if he liked them particularly he told me that the lead singer was his aunt.   He brought out the program from her funeral in northern California and some other things that he had acquired because of the relationship.  So I am kind of dating a girl group by extension.   Well, kind of dating.  We seem to like each other, and he is a really nice man.  He is intensely prosaic, though (other than liking guys), and very much a family man for his now-grown sons.  The only thing ‘gay’ about him (other than the sex thing) is that he is very fond of Broadway plays.  He regularly attends these with an elderly female friend who shares his interest.   

I have only visited Freddie once, several months ago when it was still early autumn, but I have been thinking about him a lot lately.  He said he wanted things to be an equal type thing; that he didn’t want me to be the one who always did the travelling (he is about 5 hours from me).  I think he meant this, but he is a true Northern Jersey/New York City type who thinks anything outside a narrow radius centered in Manhattan is the back of beyond.  He thinks I live somewhere within shooting distance of Sarah Palin, I think.  So he is worried about driving in the winter so very far north.   I thought this whole situation was languishing, but while I was in California, I found my thoughts turning to him more and more, so I e-mailed him and suggested I visit again.  He sounded very eager to see me.  I talked to him on the phone the other day and he is still all for seeing each other again.  It makes sense for me to go there rather than the reverse because he works and I don’t.  He views a trip here as a big undertaking, while I think a five hour drive is not all that big a deal, if the roads are clear. 

We have nothing much in common – he is not a reader, he likes very different TV fare, he has no interest in the kinds of things I like, he will text several times a day, whereas I never text and only write e-mails – usually far longer than a text message.  But he is a decent honorable man and we find each other fairly attractive.  Maybe something will grow, maybe not.   He is a creature of habit; he would have been glad to stay married and be Dad, then Grandpa.  The gay thing came as a surprise, but now that he has discovered it, this is where he wants to be.  He has been on the same job for 20 years; he plans to stay another six or seven years to qualify for a full pension.  I never stayed on any one job for more than six years and that six year job was in Saudi where I had to sign two-year contracts.  And I certainly never planned six years ahead for anything.  There are a lot of reasons we are not a match, but maybe there are also a few reasons we can be.  Either way, I am looking forward to visiting again.   And then we’ll see. 

Despite all the news about poverty and kids not having any gifts this year, I ask you, have you ever been in a house where there is a child, where that house is not jammed from one end to another with every imaginable brightly colored plastic toy?  It seems almost obscene to me the number of toys a child has in the present era.   And so many of them perform , leaving the child a spectator.  Where are the Tinkertoys, the Lincoln Logs, the Legos, the Etch-a-Sketch?  I am just asking; it was the toys that allowed me to build things that I loved – those and crayons and marbles – I made up more games using marbles than the manufacturer ever dreamed.  When I was in Sam’s Club, I saw a huge super-size barrel of Lincoln Logs and I almost bought them – for ME.   It seems to me that most parents awake each day and say, “Hmm- it is a new day, Kimmie needs a new toy!”   Maybe it is just me, but I do know that the most pampered kids with whom I went to grade school never had nearly as many toys as has every kid I have seen lately.   

And a Happy New Year to YOU.


  1. Dave, first of all, I wish you all good things as you venture into a new relationship. Not a lot in common between you two? Seems to me that's the best part...learning new things about areas you mighn't have considered before. I wish you well in your travels down this road; may the bumps be few.

    I wonder...have you had Christmases where it's warm? My writers group is based in NZ and the facilitators live on the Coromandel Peninsula...about as far away from snow as one may get. A husband-and-wife team, John and Mo both confessed to longing in weaker moments for JUST ONE Christmas with snow. I generously offered to share the snow which graced my central Iowa holiday, but they graciously declined. Hmph!

    I, too, shared Christmas with ghosts of Christmas Past--a lot of us did. Mothers, fathers, lovers, friends...all drew near to us to share one more Christmas, if only in our hearts, but sometimes that's good enough.
    Sometimes it has to be.

    I wish I'd been around when Tum was here; he sounds like a right charming gentleman, and because you loved him, I think I would have liked him, too. I hope you'll write more about him in the future--I love stories people write about their families,loved ones and friends. Makes the world feel a little less lonely.

    I enjoyed your thoughts about toys and their apparent overabundance in many children's lives; in my own family situation, two grandkids have 'way too many toys which require batteries in order to function. If there are no batteries, they have only fancy-looking boxes with fingerpads which do nothing but look fancy. And stuff that plugs into the wall? If there's a power outage, then there's no fun and the same situation applies.

    Now--with Tinkertoys, Etch-A-Sketches, Lincoln Logs, and American Building Bricks (those small red plastic bricks were cleverly configured to allow building the simplest to the most elaborate brick edifices imaginable...even had small white plastic doors which swung open and shut and little windows which did not), and Lego building toys, play may extend into young adulthood as it did with my three sons who still enjoyed Lego stuff into their 20's. I confess to playing with the darned things when I still lived in their dad's house.

    A fond memory of mine is the year I built an elaborate pulley system with Tinkertoys which, by means of strings and wheels carried messages written on little slips of paper and afixed with paper clips to the string from one room to another.

    (Now that I think of it, I wouldn't mind having one of those jumbo Tinkertoy sets right now. Don't tell anyone, okay?)

    I must get some Christmas prezzies finished for the grandkids (I'm broke, so I had to make all my gifts for loved oes this year).

    May love brings a spring to your step and a smile to your lips in the new year, Dave. I wish that with all my heart.

  2. http://reviews.ebay.com/Halsam-American-Plastic-Bricks-by-Elgo-A-Guide_W0QQugidZ10000000002067096?ssPageName=BUYGD:CAT:-1:LISTINGS:3

    ...thought you might find this interesting (in case you'd not heard of American Building Bricks).
    Gosh, this took me 'way back.

  3. Marge - the absolutely best toy I ever had was when we sold a lot from the farm and the builders threw away a half bag (quite a big bag) of bathroom floor tiles - you know those little grey tiles that have three sizes a two inch square, a one inch square and a rectangle equal to half the 2-inchers, or two of the one-inchers? Well, I used to build cities by the hour from them. I'd throw an old piece of carpet into the air and leave it as if fell pretending it was an island with hills and valleys. I'd use the topgraphy as a bas to construct a city of temples and houses and grand buildings. When finished, i'd attack the city by throwing a marble or two into the midst of it. My rule was I had to leave any remaining 'ruins' intact and use any remaining sound buildings or partial buildings as a base and re-construct a new city with the bits that were destroyed. i played this by the hour, building and attacking.

    I was unaware of American bricks and found this article very interesting. The mention of green roofs in the article struck a chord, so I may have seen them at a friends house. What a cool toy.

    Tumwell was an awesome human being. He is the only person I have known who truly deserved the epithet 'wise'. His gifts to children usually were magazine subscriptions or tickets to things to which he would take them. He wanted them to know that the museums and parks and entertainment venues were there for them as much as anyone. his nieces and nephews have mostly been very successful in life.

    I have written much more about Tumwell in my prior blog - how we met etc. on Spaces Live. In fact most of the interesting bits of my life - jail, the nut house, Saudi, the Farm, etc. are covered there - I ran out of good stuff when I got here on Blogger.

    The tale of meeting Tumwell is on http://pastdue.spaces.live.com - the entry for January 21, 2006 (sorry - I got reading some of my old stuff and got distracted there!) Needless to say, I blather about a lot of stuff before I get to Tumwell.

  4. I was so taken by your post today and then by Marge's response and then by yours, that I'm speechless (lucky you, huh). I have felt the same about Tumwell and as you touch on him here in blogger from time to time, I think it would be better than marvelous if you transferred all of your posts from WLS to here, and maybe categorize them into groups, "as a child","tumwell", "saudi", and everything else. It's going to be a real shame when WLS deletes for good and with it takes a lot of old friends that have now given up blogging because of all the mess WLS created that last year. Anyway, I am serious about the transfers and hope you do it. I also had an idea for you for next year's Christmas gift giving. Yes, the older we get, the harder it is to find just the right thing for anyone, but there is something far better than that that you can do. Write. Write something short (relatively) about something they would remember. It doesn't even have to have a thing to do with you and that person, just something from their growing up years. Attach the writing to a nice bottle of wine, or a box of cookies, no matter as it's from the heart and a one-of-a-kind that could never be duplicated. It is something like that that gets into a person's soul and lives on and on. You'd be marvelous at it, David. Give it a thought.
    Just as an afterthought and an old memory, Marge spoke of her pulley by Tinker Toys. My fondest "building" came in the form of the cans with the waxed string making the best little telephone system. Remember those? We had them strung between 4 houses and nothing was more fun than hearing, "Are you there? Are you there?" Spring-sproing went the string as a ring to all of our rooms just waiting for that call.
    Merry 3 Days After Christmas, David

  5. (holy crap, that was speechless? apologies)

  6. I enjoyed reading this David. Christmas was very nice for me this year, being close to one of my kids anyway. I agree with you about things being too commercialized and kids having too much. When my children were small we bought what we could afford and never went into debt for anything.
    I hope your new relationship works out for you.

  7. Hi David.
    I agree about kids having too much stuff, and electronic stuff at that. Most of Marissa's gifts were giftcards so she can pick out her own stuff. Plus, she has always had different birthday gifts. She hasn't never felt like she is getting ripped off. She knows that might change when she gets older.

    I think I may still have a small set of the American bricks that Marge mentioned--at least they sound like the ones I have!!

    Happy New Year, David!!!!

  8. I really enjoyed reading your post. It is always so nice and enlightening, learning and sharing of others thoughts and memories.

  9. JENNYD - "Speechless" and "JennyD" go together like screwdrivers and marbles, so I am forearmed whenever I embark on one of your comments - do you never sleep? Your thought about transferring posts - specifically the part that Spaces might delete everything - moved me to start saving those posts in Word (I actually had them all there once and then had to reboot the damn computer to factory setting Back-up? Who? Me? As if). I have finished all the 2005 ones; (sigh) long way to go. The problem with your gift suggestion is the same problem that leads me to blog under a nom de plume, changing all identifying names, etc. - I have this inner critic that imagines the reader saying the worst, and when I actually can put a face and personal acquaintance to that reader, I am paralyzed, but thanks for the idea and the compliments thinly veiled therein. And your mention of the tin-can telephone makes my point about creative toys exactly - these are the ones we remember and miss all our lives.

    BETH - "Commercialized" was your input, I hadn't consciously thought of that - and my point on the toys didn't just include Xmas - if kids ONLY got their toys on Christmas and b'days, I'd have no quarrel with the quantity - but it seems to be every trip to the store and every visit from Grandma adds more. The old way made Christmas special. Now nothing is special - or everything is - which is the same thing. Glad your Christmas was a good one. It seemed like people in stores were nicer and generally the whole thing was better than usual this year.

    SHANA - Did everybody have those bricks but me? I may be dense here, but how are gift cards different from stuff? Just asking. Anyway she is old enough to buy creeative things if she wants them - It is the kids under ten who seem to be buried under tons of plastic. & Happy New Year, to you and her (and the Guy) also!

    TERRY - Thanks for the compliment - I have enjoyed dropping by your site also.

  10. David, I just finished reading the entry about Tum (and another close to it in which you wrote about your reactions to Brokeback Mountain).

    I am in tears.

    Setting aside for a moment the aspect of romantic love, I realize I have never really experienced friendship to the depths one might describe as beloved friendship. You were so very, very fortunate to have experienced both depths of love with your dear Tum.

    Some of us never do.

    Thank you for sharing your stories about the people and things important to you. You are now seated at the great dining table in my imagination at which are seated people I would most like to visit with over a fine meal of an evening.

    It's a dream of mine...

  11. Marge - I must say this was a wonderful thing to say (several wonderful things, actually) and I am duly puffed up in my own conceit therefrom. The implications of some of your remarks have kept me thinking about friends and the angels among us, and about BEING a friend and so forth quite a bit in the last 24 hours. As to the visit, beware - I am known for showing up at the slightest encouragement - ask Babu, who never really thought, when he invited me, that there I'd arrive one day on the shore of the Indian Ocean with suitcase in hand. Since I seem to actually get results by citing past writing in your case, I will point you to THAT tale entitled "A Date in Kerala" on my old blog (again, http://pastdue.spaces.live.com) on April 16, 2006.

  12. My Mother used to recite this verse to me everytime the weather turned cold, and it usually made me cry. I would credit the original author if I knew who it was...

    The North wind doth blow,
    And we shall have snow.
    What will the robins do then? Poor things.
    They'll sleep in the barn,
    To keep themselves warm,
    By hiding their heads under their wings.

  13. Hey, MizAngie - MY Mom used to recite that poem, too; she was a great reciter of verse. Except that 'robin' and 'thing' and wing' were singular, and there was a kind of random 'Poor thing' added after the last line, if I recall correctly. I believe it is a very old traditional English folk verse.

    I loved our barn in winter, so I didn't find this verse at all sad, but rather comfortable. A barn in winter darkness, with the soft sounds of cows chewing on hay below and odd scuttlings of mice-like creatures in the hayloft seemed protective and cosy and oddly intimate for such a cavernous structure. And the rafters were filled with robin-sized apertures in which to perch. So dry your tears; they probably love it!