West Tisbury: dreaming of a white Christmas


It was such a treat to wake up to snow Wednesday morning. When I opened the door for Nanuk and the cats, there was my world lightly coated in white. The rhododendrons’ leaves were shriveled from the cold and coated, too, with snow. Branches and tree trunks where the wind blew, the top of the woodpile, the roofs of outbuildings and vehicles were all dusted white. When they came in, the animals had snow clinging to their fur. It gave an otherworldly effect to our familiar landscape, and I was sorry to see it melt and disappear so quickly. I’m hoping for a white Christmas.

I started decorating in earnest last week, bringing boxes of ornaments and memories up from the basement. The mixture of happiness and sadness felt overwhelming. Everything has a story attached to it; even the good ones involve times and people long gone.

My parents, who made magical Christmases for us, have been dead since 1964 and 1978. My brother, Mark, died a few years ago, a loss so painful I can’t yet allow myself to remember the year. My father-in-law, Richard Hull, was the person whom I gathered green boughs with and who presided at our holiday dinner tables through much of my marriage to Mike. Mike’s Aunt Janice had the most perfect Christmas trees ever, decorated according to a rigid set of protocols of her design. There are friends who have died or moved away, or gone off over disagreements or ennui. My decorations hold all of them in presence and loss.

The home of my childhood is gone, replaced by some hideous edifice, not only symbolizing the loss of home, but the loss of the values and assumptions I grew up with. We live in a different world, indeed a different universe. Our house, like our Christmases, was modest.

Mike’s parents’ house and Janice and Dan’s have been sold. I unwrap the wonderful old Santa and his reindeer-drawn sleigh, and a small decorated Christmas tree, that were gifts from my in-laws, and I can still see them in Bobby and Richard’s dining room bay window. Antique ornaments from Janice’s collection carry her spirit, much loved and treasured, as I unwrap them from their careful tissue-paper cocoons.

My windowsills are covered with little villages and woodlands of disparate size and vintage, but all special to me. There are porcelain cottages I bought when visiting a friend in Sandwich. There is the miniature Colonial village carved and painted by Mike’s Uncle Dick. A collection of Christmas carolers sings beneath carved and curled wooden trees that I found in the toe of my stocking over 40 years ago. A decorated wooden box that once held a string of garlic holds my most precious ornaments. There is a bird in a nest that Mike gave me our first year together. Cats and dogs, glass or porcelain or metal or paper, represent every treasured animal we had. There are decorations handmade by long-ago children, or purchased on special outings with friends, a lifetime of decorations redolent of every Christmas ever.

I know this is a difficult time of year for many of us, for reasons too numerous to imagine. We can only be kind to ourselves and to others, and try to find moments to celebrate. Do what you can. Let the rest of it go.

Please note that the library will close early on Christmas Eve, at 3 pm, and will remain closed through Christmas Day. It will reopen on Wednesday, Dec. 26. There will be a free soup and bread lunch served from 11:45 am to 12:45 pm on Monday, Christmas Eve day, Wednesday, the 26th, and Friday, the 28th. There will be drop-in crafts set out every day during the vacation, and movies in the afternoons with free popcorn. I read in last week’s Times about the Nature Backpacks that kids can check out from the Children’s Room. Vacation may be a good time to try them out and learn about different ecosystems on the island.

The West Tisbury town party was last night. I looked around the front room of the Ag Hall, beautifully decorated with greens, and saw most of the people who are special and dear to me, friends and acquaintances of long duration. Vineyard Brass played music, and voices were raised in greetings to one another. The potluck offerings were delicious, a combination of favorites everyone looks forward to every year and some interesting new things to try. Once again I was struck by realizing how lucky I am to have come here and how much I love our town.

Merry Christmas, everyone.