DEAR READER, I HOPE YOU ENJOY THIS STORY OF MY CHRISTMAS, AND I HOPE YOUR HOLIDAYS ARE RICH WITH PEACE, HAPPINESS AND A SENSE OF PLACE.
THE CHRISTMAS BASEMENT
My family had a florist and gardening business, which to a child, was a parade of seasonal wonders.
We lived in a big old three-story brownstone house, the kind that looks like a reclining lion that’s about to yawn. The basement of the brownstone was where much of the business was carried out. It was here that I spent much of my childhood measuring years by the passage of holidays requiring the services of our little business. Christmas to Easter to Mother’s Day to Thanksgiving. My favorite time was, of course, Christmas.
The basement was a maze of different-sized spaces separated by walls or shelves or large objects like the chugging, rumbling, hissing furnace. This basement was a movie set look-alike for your standard horror movie. It was the place where, if your mother asked you to get a jar of your favorite preserved peaches, you went holding your breath, the hairs on the back of your neck standing at attention, and were grateful to return alive, having outwitted the boogie-man once again.
But at Christmas time, it was different. It lost its dank musty wet-cardboard smell. Its gloom and shadows were lit up with glittering reflective surfaces and bright rich colors. The lonely creaking drip-dripping cubby holes were vibrant with the bustling sounds of our busy holiday preparations.
Coming home from school, I would skip into the big yard alongside the house where a mountain of bales of spruce and hemlock boughs were stacked against one side of my dad’s office/garage.
The day after Thanksgiving that mountain had been delivered by a huge flat-bed truck from Lake Placid, encrusted with the snow of that magical North Pole-like land. Oh, the mystery of what that frosted place of evergreen trees might be!
Each day the pile would grow smaller, made so by my father who stood bundled against the cold in red and black wool and flannel with a WWII army fatigue jacket and big rubber goulashes. He carefully clipped the large branches into pieces suitable for making wreathes. The small pieces were placed in a green wooden wheelbarrow to be transported to the basement. My dad whisked us away into the basement, me perched on the front of that green chariot with feet braced on the wheel’s axle, and the boughs in back of me. Together we bounced over a plank placed over the steps and landed next to the work table.
The large open part of the basement was a piney cave, the perfume strong and delicious. Evergreen boughs were scattered all around the work space. Scraps from trimmings carpeted the floor along with fallen needles. Every flat surface had a pine or dried flower arrangement on it. Wreathes of various shapes hung on the wall waiting to be trimmed. One table glittered with snow-sparkled branches, boxes of colored glass balls, and spools of ribbon, red velvet, silver gauze and shiny gold. There were heaps on cones, wispy layered cascades of dried statice and prickly red ruskus branches.
At the table was my mother, sitting next to an electric heater that resembled what we now recognize as a satellite dish antenna. She’d be making the last wreathe before dinner, listening to the constant crackle of some radio news program, or maybe a pop-music station. I would ooh and aah at this latest masterpiece.
Kissing her soft cool cheek and feeling how comfortably solid she was in her multiple layers of warm old clothes gave a feeling of home not to be lost from memory. A sweet feminine aroma of powder and lipstick blossomed in the cool air as she tucked a wisp on honey-colored hair into the wool scarf that was stylishly wrapped around her head. My father winked at her and she smiled. Everything glowed a little bit brighter.
I was home. Christmas was coming. Mittens, my cat, came to greet me, rubbing hair all over my navy-blue knee socks. Soon Gramma would call us all to supper, and giving a final adjustment to the wreathe, we would trudge up the worn wooden steps, leaving this wonderland to bask in its own beauty until we returned.