Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Pretty Good Christmas Tale

I never lived in a coal camp, but I know someone who did.  The name of that coal camp is Crichton, West Virginia.  The name of the person I know is Larry, my husband.  I've heard 39 years of stories from Crichton, and this is my favorite Christmas story.

Larry grew up in a company house that his father bought in the fifties.  All the houses along the street were the same, small and covered with white clapboard.  At the time there were four children in the family, and I'm sure that those four were a houseful.  Christmas was a particularly active time of year with the four Estep children on pins and needles, scanning the Christmas catalogues while stoking up on RC Colas and homemade Christmas candy. 

One day Jim and Helen went to Rainelle.  I'm guessing that they had some "private" Christmas shopping to do, but whatever the reason they left the children at home by themselves.  As luck would have it, while Jim and Helen were gone, a man came through the coal camp selling Christmas trees from the back of a pick-up truck.  The Estep clan decided to take advantage of this opportunity to surprise their parents; they gathered enough coins to buy the tree.  It was a group decision, and they picked the best tree they could buy with the money they had.

Since I didn't see the tree, and there are no pictures, I can only imagine that the tree bore a striking resemblance to poor Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.  At the best, the Estep tree was an irregular form of fir tree.  

The Esteps were industrious children.  They put the tree up in the stand in a corner of the living room and turned the bare side to the wall. They gathered the ornaments from the closet where they were stored.  They put on the lights, the ornaments, the star on the top.  As sister, Becky, put the last ornament on the front of the tree, the weight from that delicate glass ornament was just enough weight to pull that one-sided tree smashing to the floor.  The children stood staring at the mess of Christmas lying in the floor.

Larry, being an inventive child, jumped into action.  He got a hammer and a nail and a piece of rope.  All important items in Christmas decorating.  He tied the rope around the tree and pulled it up to a standing position.  Then he nailed the rope to the wall behind the tree.  Problem solved!  The decorated tree stood straight, a bright and shining beacon of Christmas in the little house in Crichton. 

I've often wondered what Helen did when she came home.  Did she laugh?  Did she cry?  Did she do both?  Christmas is enjoyed most by children, and this was their tree, probably one of the most beautiful they ever had.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lessons I Learned in My First Year of Retirement

One year.  It's been that long since I loaded my microwave and refrigerator into the back of my CRV and left my office at Virginia Highlands Community College for the last time.  One year! 

There is a commercial running on television now that shows pictures of people on their first day of retirement.  Now why didn't I think to take a picture?  My blog from December 18, 2010, is the closest thing I have to a picture:  remember the ice storm that knocked out our electricity on my first day of retirement?  Maybe I don't need a picture of that. 

The past year has been educational for me, leading me to explore my "discomfort" zone. 

Lesson 1:  My house will never be completely clean.  One year ago I had mighty plans for completing all those jobs that never seemed to get finished.  I gamely jumped into cleaning out the "attic", washing windows, cleaning carpets, and throwing out old clothes.  I made quite a bit of progress, as was evidenced by the many trips to the dumpster with items from my collection of cardboard boxes.  But the windows are dirty again, and the "attic", while it has much more open space, still needs to have things picked up off the floor.  If I didn't finish it in a year, I don't think it's ever going to be completely clean.

Lesson 2:  I don't have to dust every week. 

Lesson 3:  I don't like to travel.  It's wonderful that retired people go on cruises and have bucket lists of exotic places they want to visit.  I wish them well, but I lack the spontaneity gene, so I will never throw a few things into a bag to take off on an adventure.  My trips require exhausting amounts of planning, and I believe I've seen just about everything I wish to see on this planet. 

Lesson 4:  Snow isn't so bad if you never have to leave the house.  Instead of getting nose bleeds when the snow begins to stick to the roads, I just make a cup of apple-cinnamon tea, and turn on Walker, Texas Ranger

Lesson 5:  Chuck Norris is a very interesting person.

Lesson 6:  An incredible amount of socializing can be done at Food City, our local grocery store.  Once I spoke to someone at Wal-Mart in Marion, saw them a little later at the post office in Chilhowie, and wrapped up conversations with them at Food City.  I'm sure they thought I was stalking them.  The old-age circuit is completed every weekday morning, except on holidays.  I catch up with old friends in the bread aisle, find out all the news in the dairy aisle. 

Lesson 7:  You never know what will happen next, so stop trying to figure it out.  There is just no way of knowing all the wonderful things coming along in your life.  In the spring I worked with high school students to improve their college placement test scores, and now I work at preparing the bulletins for our Sunday services at church.  Both of these jobs would have been impossible for me if I hadn't been retired.  Snow storms and rainbows come along at the most unexpected times. 

Lesson 8:  You can grow as much in a weedy garden as you can in a neatly hoed garden.  The weather has more to do with a productive garden than hours of pulling up especially prolific indigenous plant life.  If you like the way a cultivated garden looks, it's good to get out the hoe and take it for a test drive.  It can be therapeutic. 

Lesson 9:  Paul Farris knows a thousand stories.  A few weeks ago, I told him he should write a book, and he said that yes, indeed, he maybe could fill one up.  During the summer months, Paul (my neighbor) runs over a few tomatoes to me or maybe some yellow squash.  Along with the vegetables or freshly-canned salsa, there are always a few stories to share.  Some are about fishing, some about Chilhowie in the forties, or some maybe about building houses.  He can tell a good story. 

Lesson 10:  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Even on days that I don't have to set the alarm, I'm usually awake by 6:30.  I've had very few days with absolutely nothing to do.  As a matter of fact, I don't think I've had any days with absolutely nothing to do.  There is always something that needs attention, and I have a mental list of things I want to do when I have the time.  I've never been bored in the last year. 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  1 Peter 5:6-7