December 19, 2005

Over the river and through the woods

"Quick, get your snow pants. Dad says it's time!"

The kids leapt into all of their layers and then into the truck, and Tom grabbed the old hand saw and a handful of Kleenex. We left the house around 3:30 yesterday afternoon and drove north for about an hour. On the way we spotted half a dozen deer, a couple of owls starting to fly around in search of dinner, and a porcupine who had just successfully crossed the road.

Finally we found THE tree. We could see it from the road, the only evergreen for some distance, surrounded by bare and rather forlorn looking poplars. "Stop, Dad!" Laura called. Tom, who has been suffering (loudly) from a head cold, muttered and swore a couple of times as he tripped over tree roots in the twilight, a definite contrast to the happy and excited kids. He sawed through the trunk, hoisted the tree, and off all four went with their prize, back to the truck. Partway home, Tom stopped sniffling and groaning long enough to say, "We should visit Auntie Nellie," his recently widowed, eighty-something-year-old great-aunt who still lives on the farm (her sons have tried to budge her toward the lodge in town but she isn't having any of that nonsense).

It was around five o'clock, already dark, and Auntie Nellie seemed very glad to see us. She had gone to church that morning, helped pack Christmas hampers (she is a cook and volunteer extraordinaire), then stopped off to visit Uncle Mike at the cemetery and leave a poinsettia with him. She speaks of him talking to her, which one of her daughters-in-law, one of our closest neighbors, finds morbid and creepy but I find sweet and comforting. After all, they spent almost every day since 1941 living together on the farm, taking all their meals together, working at chores side by side, almost in each other's pockets, as my mother would say. But Nellie said Mike didn't talk to her today.

All of sudden she jumped up, said Tom needed tea for his cold, and started bustling around the kitchen. In very short order and apparently out of nowhere, she magicked up a homemade, Ukrainian meal (she kept calling it tea, as though that would negate the effort -- "Stay, stay, it's just tea") of homemade bread, pehrehshke (savoury baked buns filled with buckwheat and potatoes), thin slices of studenetz (which is head cheese and is, if properly made, delicious -- yes, it is, you just have to take my word on it), dill pickles and pickled carrots. The kids and Rick sat there, mugs of hot tea and plates of food in their laps, munching and sipping happily. I think Nellie was pretty happy too.

By the time we got home, it was close to eight o'clock and we had to get the tree up in the living room. It smells even better than it looks, which is pretty darn good (very full and scraping the ceiling). Today the kids and I will decorate the tree and do some baking, and perhaps make some poppycock. Daniel has put himself in charge of lights and is sorting out strings and testing bulbs. Aside from one little incident this morning, after Tom left for work, when the tree tipped over, everything is going swimmingly. Christmas, here we come...

P.S. Though I'm not saying a word to the kids about the forecast I heard for Christmas -- no precipitation in the next week, and temps above freezing, so it looks as though we are having what's known around here as a "brown Christmas." Though if the nights stay cool enough, we can go skating on the pond Christmas Day.

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