Christmas has intensified it's meaning this year on the farm. Or what it means to us, as a family. When my children were very little I was very poor. I wanted to give them a lot of presents, but how to do it was a major problem for me. And so, I established the custom of a kind of equalization of gifts. In other words, a gift was a gift was a gift. Whether it was a gift to one child or the other, it remained to be a gift. Therefore, as each child opened a present, the other child waited and dually admired and appreciated his or her sibling's gift. Justina waited as Joachim, aged two, unwrapped and drove around the room a small apple green car. Watching his pleasure and loving that car with him. As Joachim watched his sister, aged five, opening a package with a hand knit vest and waited until she tried it on, before addressing something else for him. And I had the pleasure of watching. Presents could be socks, or gum, or a pair of pajamas. There was always a toy or two and something absolutely unexpected. It still is that way. We give many gifts to each other. Most now a days, are more expected than not. I'd be terribly let down if there were neither kitchen matches nor spray starch. There is always something yummy to eat, great to read, and for me, at least, warm wool socks. I always give stamps. This year's are series two Marvel Comics for my comic loving family. With a miracle or two the knitting will be finished. My son shall be given some hand rolled cigars, among other things. We take months to assemble and make and buy everything. Each year we make a wish list of our own. I've only recently learned that we all save each others over the years, and refer to them, "Oh, Mom, I've nearly forgotten I used to put a tuning fork on my list and no-one's gotten it for me yet." says my musician son Jocko.
This year has become more intense, if possible. My son started shopping much earlier than he usually does. Late August, early September, and is the most organized. He sometimes has compared notes with his sister several times in a day. Nothing could be more gratifying to me. I love the fact that this season has brought them so much closer than ever, even though a continent separates them these days. My daughter called me three times today about a gift for Glencora MacCluskie, my Border Collie dog. " Does she still have her red ball? Where can I find one? Get two? They are expensive. I found them! They were cheap. I bought four!!" I was as happy for Glencora as Joachim at two and three quarters was for his sister Justina at five and a half. Especially since Glencora has accidents with her balls and they can remain hidden for a month or two at a time. Needing me to look for them and not finding them. The last one went out the second story window into a bed of day lilies. It will reveal itself next spring, I'm certain, none-the-less I spent what seemed like forever looking for it. It was with great relief that I learned that my most hard to shop for computer driven grandson is writing a book in long hand with a pen and on paper. The state-of-the-art computer doesn't inspire him. "Writing with a pen is fun!" he said. "Writing on a computer is work." That was particularly gratifying to this grandmother who is scribbling madly at this moment to put words on this page. And he shall find some pens among his gifts.
I think that this year, my gifts to my son are the most well balanced. In my view that is. Those to the others are less so. So far. They do only minor justice to the written list. A bit more to the spoken one. But I would call it even handed. The gifts to my son-in-law haven't satisfied me yet. Usually there are some nice sweaters and shirts from the Salvation Army, but only one turned up this year. He is from New England like I am and therefore clothes are very easy for me to choose for him. Eddie Bauer, Woolrich, Pendleton all come to mind, extra large for he is taller than my son and grandson. Tweeds, High WASP yellow. Red. Fair Isle. All perfect choices. But I did get him something that suits the Yankee in both of us. A touch of the eccentric. Among the other things. A large box of Epsom salts. He loves to soak in a bath with it after a rough day making pizza. I know he will laugh when he sees it. I've also ordered an abridged (but still a big book), copy of Alexis de Toqueville's Democracy in America. I had bought a copy for someone else in the family, have been reading it myself, marveling at every page, and decided Tim would like it as much as I do. Toqueville wrote about us in 1832, when this grand experiment called Democracy was new. Sixty years since the revolution, two hundred since the first settlers. He described the very onset of the American character, described problems we were expected to have, ventured forth with a few suggestions, with an incredible analysis and a capacity for observation that I find fascinating. And so I shall order one for Tim, and one for the house as well.
We used to always go to the barn on Christmas Eve to hear the animals talk. The custom has faded but I shall insist on it this year even if it is only I staggering "down there" at midnight. We decorate the tree for hours. Forty years of ornaments and still going. Sometimes I find a box or two hidden away by a family member who has, after four or five hours, had enough. I made a cassoulet de Castelnaudry. Hot chocolate and double chocolate brownies. It is the only bizarre combination of foods that this food fanatic has ever indulged in. No perfectly balanced little French supper here, neither poires Helena nor a Bouche Noel. Just double chocolate brownies and lots of them, mingling incongruously in our stomachs with the cassoulet.
The living room is almost nine feet tall and the tree usually brushes the ceiling and has to be anchored to the French doors. We open gifts, all who are home, one at a time. Still. And look at everyone's surprises. If one of us isn't home, my daughter and son-in-law live in California, then the phone rings all night and someone or two of us are on the extension. Sometimes it takes two days to open all of the presents. I've started mailing things. "Don't open anything that you know you didn't order or that I've drawn a Christmas tree on."
Some years I decorate the barn doors. This year shall be one of them. There is much to rejoice about. And to be grateful for. There are new friends to mingle with the old. And my profound gratitude for surviving still another year on the farm. And the beauty of lambing which always begins around Christmas. And the rich full peace that invades the barn, winters, and touches the heart in all ways. Merry Christmas to all of you who come each month to hear about us. Merry Christmas to all. And thank-you.
November's story was posted late and appears in the Farm Stories Archive