The Case of the Dueling Decorators — or: All’s Noel That Ends Noel!

Till death us do part
’Tis the Season! Division

Ramblin’ Rose writes: “Subject: Oh, Christmas Tree.

“We decorated our Christmas tree today. It’s gotten easier over the years, as we’ve fallen into an easy rhythm and come to agree on some major things. It wasn’t always so, and I admit that it’s taken us decades to get to this point. There were years when the words holly and jolly did not apply to our Christmas preparations.

“It’s not that we are grumpy people, but that we come from very different Christmas traditions. The tree was the centerpiece of Christmas decorating in my family. It was to be a work of art, starting with the careful selection of the best available balsam at the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market. The shape and fullness of the tree had to be perfectly symmetrical. If not, I was the unlucky child who had to stand in the freezing garage holding the tree upright while my dad drilled holes in the trunk and wired branches into place to achieve said symmetry. Tree perfection was serious business at our house, at least to my dad.

“Decorating had its own protocols. First the lights, which were evenly spread throughout the now-perfect branches. Stationary lights were augmented with either twinkling or bubble lights, but never both. Ornaments were next, carefully layered, with the smallest at the top and gradually increasing in size until the bottom branches held the large, red spheres that anchored this display. We weren’t done yet. Next came a careful painting of snow, whipped up in the KitchenAid mixer from flakes of Ivory Snow detergent. (They changed the detergent years ago so that it no longer whips into snow, and there’s a whole generation of snow fanciers that has never forgiven this transgression. But I digress.) Almost last was the tinsel, now also consigned to the dustbin of decorating, because it was made of lead foil. We didn’t know it was dangerous, just that it made a beautiful imitation of icicles trailing off of the branches. I still think it made the prettiest trees. My dad did most of the tinseling, so as to create the best imitation of icicles — which meant two, and only two, strands at the very ends of carefully selected branches. Finally came the angel to top the tree. We had three to pick from over the years — all with porcelain faces, and a gown of either white, pink, or gold. The lucky lady was ceremoniously placed atop the tree, and we were done. Everything was perfect for a few hours, until exhaust from the vacuum messed up the tinsel, or some lights burned out, or an ornament or two were displaced when Mom crawled under the tree to water it. But for a while, we had won the imagined competition for prettiest tree on the block.

“So, all of this was ingrained in me as The Math Nut (TMN) and I approached our first Christmas. We hadn’t discussed it, but I assumed he would be happy to follow these traditions. Silly me. Hubby came from a very different style: pine tree, not balsam; garland, not tinsel; ornaments placed wherever, size be damned. No whipped snow. How could two people so otherwise compatible not see this the same way? Many, many discussions followed in the days leading up to the big tree hunt. I could say that eventually we compromised, but that wouldn’t be true. TMN came to my side of things — I think mainly to keep the peace, and also because he knew there would be bigger fish to fry in the years ahead. Pick your battles.

“Everything went fine, at least in my opinion, as we purchased the most perfect balsam we could find, and raided Woolworth’s for sparkly ornaments of various sizes. (Who knew those boxes of Shiny Brite baubles would someday be collector’s items?) I thought we were home free until we looked for a topper. TMN had kept his powder dry for the item most important to him: a star, not an angel, atop the tree. What? This hadn’t been discussed. Not fair. But then, I’d gotten my way with everything else, so we looked for a star. We couldn’t find the plain white electric one that he wanted. Perhaps stars as tree-toppers had momentarily fallen out of favor, or we didn’t look in the right stores, but a satisfactory beacon could not be found. Poor hubby; he gave in on everything else and couldn’t get the one thing he wanted. You’d think this would be my opening to campaign again for an angel, but no. He was willing to wait until the next year to find a star; there was no topper on our tree that year. Nor the next.

“Eventually he got tired of hunting for something that he believed no longer existed, and we got an angel for the top of the tree. We went through a few of them over the years, but they never really made us happy. We were both a bit sad at this loss of a bit of his childhood Christmas. We didn’t know it, but all was not lost.

“One year, shortly before the holidays, we stayed at the St. James Hotel in Red Wing. As we moseyed through the gift shop, I spotted a tree-topper angel dressed in blue and white robes. She carried a decorated Christmas tree in the crook of her right arm, and I thought she was lovely. TMN happily pointed out that the tree was topped by a star, and that the star reached above the angel’s head — his vindication that a star is the ultimate topper for a Christmas tree. He is right, of course. This star-topped angel has graced our tree every year since then.

“Perhaps it was karma; perhaps not. What I do hope is that kindness and empathy will guide us every day of the year, and that we will take care of each other in the months ahead.

“May all of our days be hopeful.”

’Tis the season!
Christmases Past, Present & Future Division

Gregory J. of Dayton’s Bluff: “Christmas decorations tend to survive a very long time, and many have a story that goes with them. Here are a few from my family.

“The Nativity set I grew up with is a mixture of the very old, the old and the not quite so old. The oldest figures — the Holy Family; the three Wise Men; a shepherd; and the donkey, the cow, the camel and some of the sheep —probably came from my  grandfather and may have been made by him. We had them ever since I can remember. The stable is store-bought but has been around a long time. The two angels, the other shepherds and a few of the sheep were added over the years, but all are at least 60 years old. 

“The styrofoam Santas date to the 1950s. The Santa face with the yellowed beard is a wall hanging and most likely came from a dime store, maybe Woolworth’s or Kresge’s. The two standing Santas were given to us by some friends of my parents. They are pretty beat up, because my brother and I liked to play with them and flip their beards up and down.

“The Yule Log was purchased by my father in 1967 at the Toni Co., where he worked as a chemist. It was a project of the Tonja Company, a Junior Achievement firm sponsored by the Toni Company. The black-and-white photo comes from the December 1967 issue of the Toni Topics magazine and shows one of the Toni advisors, two student ’employees’ of the Tonja Company, and many of their finished products. Our Yule Log is still alive and well, as shown in the color photo, and has been passed on to my cousin, Cherie D of Inver Grove Heights.

“Last but not least, we have animated Santa and Mrs. Claus. My brother and I gave them to my parents in the 1980s. They came from the late, great F.W. Woolworth Co. The animated Clauses still work, even though they creak and groan a bit as they move their heads and arms — as do many of us who are Older Than Dirt.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Then & Now

Kathy S. of St. Paul: “Subject: Moscow Shopping Rules.

“An expression I once found in a travel book said tourists should shop using ‘Moscow Shopping Rules’ — basically, that they should buy items they liked when they found them, because you might never see them again, and you might not get a better deal.

“In Communist Russia, shopping was difficult, and store shelves were often bare. So, when Russians saw a line outside a store, they joined the line. Because whatever they could buy then and there could probably be traded later for something they did want.

“Lately I’ve seen people staring at empty store shelves, where we’re lucky enough to usually find products. It started with toilet paper, and now we see gaps where frozen foods usually sit. One night I checked a food website, to remind myself of items I hadn’t seen in a while.

“So I am telling other shoppers about Moscow Shopping Rules. I figure humor helps us face challenges.”

What’s in a (band) name?

Bicycle Babe: “In a recent Bulletin Board, your Band Name of the Day was ‘Hot Chocolate.’

“Not only is there actually a band named Hot Chocolate, but they brought the world the smash hit ‘You Sexy Thing.’

“This song found its way into a funny scene from the wonderful movie ‘The Full Monty,’ where the lead character finds the album, hollers out ‘Hot Chocolate,’ puts on the tune ‘You Sexy Thing’ and starts practicing his erotic dancing.

“This movie also contains one of the funniest movie scenes ever that involves garden gnomes.

“If you have never viewed this movie, do so for some great laughs.”

Life (and death) as we know it (responsorial)

Twitty of Como: “Subject: Picky, picky, picky (entry to the anal annals).

The entry from The Daughter of the Gram With a Thousand Rules caused a stir and second thoughts (by me) when she mentioned that the ‘battleship’ U.S.S. Daniel Inouye pulled up alongside the U.S.S. Arizona monument, colors flying and on-deck crew standing at attention. It was a touching story . . . but:

“The U.S.S. Daniel Inouye is a ‘destroyer’-class vessel —admittedly much larger than WWII-class destroyers, but a destroyer nonetheless, and, as such, is much smaller than the U.S.S. Missouri, an actual WWII battleship anchored nearby. I hope she’s toured that one, too. It also is touching and impressive. It was one of the last ‘battleships’ to be built by the U.S. A bronze plaque is embedded into the deck at the location where Japan’s Emperor Hirohito (or his representative) signed surrender documents presented to him by Admiral Chester Nimitz, officially ending the war with Japan.”

This ’n’ that ’n’ the other ’n’ the other ’n’ the other ’n’ the other ’n’ the other ’n’ the other

All from Al B of Hartland (who came through the Hartland tornado unscathed, though of course his hometown did not): (1) “A fellow told me he’d hit a deer with his Honda. It was the third time that car had collided with a deer. The vehicle must think its Civic duty is to cull the herd.”

(2) “A few years ago and then some, my wife and I received premarital counseling from Rev. Fick. The open and honest conversations before marriage lacked three things we should have talked about. Which side of the bed do we each sleep on? Who knew that would be the side for the rest of our lives? The second thing was how to deal with thermostat control. Take turns? The last one to go to bed gets the last adjustment? And lastly, do we eat lutefisk or not?”

(3) “I marveled at the beauty of a tiny eastern screech-owl. It was a red one. This species comes in three color morphs: red, gray and brown. I’ve heard it called a shivering owl because of the trembling cry it makes.

“For years, a few times each week, I saw a red owl. It was an important part of a building. Red Owl was a grocery-store chain that opened its first store in Rochester and operated 441 stores in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota. In 1988, the rights to the Red Owl name were secured by the grocery wholesaler SuperValu.

“The title sequence of ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ featured the lead character in a Red Owl meat department.”

(4) “I stopped to visit a friend. He’d been watching an old cowboy movie. He muted the sound, but we couldn’t help but watch the screen as it featured an epic barroom brawl. Cowboys were pistol-whipped or hit over their heads with chairs or whiskey bottles. The floor was littered with knocked-out combatants. Despite being unconscious, the cowboys managed to keep their hats on. Concussion symptoms must have run rampant in the Wild West.”

(5) “Blue jays and cardinals are the flowers of our winter gardens. I watched a blue jay, obviously at the top of the jay pecking order, take its time shelling peanuts at the feeder as four other jays waited in a shrub nearby. The jay was like the guy ahead of you in line at a busy convenience store who takes his time scratching off the lottery tickets he’d purchased before getting out of a long line.”

(6) “The yard’s feeders become incredibly busy with the snow and cold weather, bustling right before snarling weather hits — as birds are nature’s barometer. They need more calories in bad weather and attack the feeders as if the food holders were offering a Black Friday sale.”

(7) “I remember better than I used to. When I try to remember someone’s name—whose face I remember because faces are unique and names aren’t—I recall where they work, how old they are, where they grew up, their neighbors, their classmates, what a car they drive and the names of people I hadn’t thought of for years. I won’t remember the name I wanted to, but think of all the other things I remembered.”

(8) “A December tornado destroyed Christmas decorations in Hartland, Minnesota. With apologies to every English teacher I’ve ever had, that ain’t right.”

Or: Ah, the smell of it!

The Mambo King: Donald‘s post commenting about the many people in TV commercials smelling their laundry brought back a flood of memories to me.

“I remember that on laundry days, my grandmother would go out to the back yard, where there was a blackened circle of sod and bits of charred wood and ashes in the circle. She would set some cinder blocks around the periphery of the circle, then arrange some wood in the center and light a fire. She would take a large, galvanized steel washtub and place it on the cinder blocks and fill it with water using a garden hose. When the water was steaming, it was time to place the first load of laundry in the tub, get it well soaked, and then scrub it on a corrugated washboard with a bar of Crystal White or Octagon soap. If I remember correctly, white clothes were washed first, and then darker fabrics were washed in the same water. The wash water was emptied, and a second tub was then filled with fresh water. A bit of Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing was added to the rinse water, followed by the first batch of white clothes. Finally, all the washing was hung out on clotheslines to dry in the hot Texas sun.

“As a young boy, I was often asked to help remove the dry clothes from the lines and put them in the clean laundry baskets. I have never since then smelled anything so fresh, so clean, so heavenly! There’s much I would give to be able to stick my face into a pile of that clean laundry one more time.”

The Permanent Granddaughterly Record
And: Sleepers

Vertically Challenged: “‘When all through the house, not a creature was stirring . . .’ — and not even little Elliot Jane, who got too tuckered out reading. I love this pic!”

Could be verse!
’Tis the Season Division

David the Scudderite: “Subject: Christmas Sampler.

“’Tis the season to
“bring us a figgy pudding
“now bring one right
“hear the bells
“underneath the mistletoe
“as we don our gay apparel
“roasting on an open
“fa la la la la
“one foggy Christmas eve
“as I wonder as I wander out
“in a winter wonderland
“on the feast of Stephen.

“Go tell it on the
“sweetly singing
“little town of
“field and fountain moor and
“heaven and nature sing
“my true love brought to
“busy sidewalks dressed in
“yellow green and
“red-nosed reindeer
“just like the ones I used to
“knows when you are sleeping
“right down Santa Claus lane.

“See the blazing yule
“with heart and soul and
“corncob pipe and button nose
“above thy deep and dreamless
“bells on bobtail ring
“and sleep in heavenly
“yuletide choirs
“when half gone was the
“triumph of the skies
“while shepherds watched their
“jolly happy soul
“asleep on the hay.

“Come they told me
“it came upon a midnight
“leading onward leading
“up on a rooftop
“dressed up like Eskimos
“as they shouted out with
“ting-a-ling hear them
“nipping at your
“knows if you’ve been bad or
“don’t you tell a single soul
“how he came to life one
“blue Christmas without you.”

BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: It would be a bluer Christmas without you, dear Bulletin Boarders. Have a great one — and may a better new year await us all!

Band Name of the Day: The Bigger Fish

Website of the Day: NORAD Tracks Santa

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