It will be Christmas Eve when you are reading this column. Christmas is always such a combination of emotions and activity for most of us. This year will have its own extra set of accommodations to consider because of Covid.
As much as I like it and still feel the anticipation of a child, I am seventy-one now, and there are times when my whole life feels like memories. Every ornament, every decoration, every tradition, a lifetime of stories. My childhood was so long ago, but I hold the excitement of waking up on Christmas morning to find a tree with lights and ornaments and presents that appeared while we kids were asleep. Somehow I still hold the dialectic of believing in Santa coming down the chimney, while admittedly knowing that it was my parents who stayed up late into the night making our Christmas morning magical. Unpacking those boxes of decorations brings back those memories. Childhood ornaments mingle with others collected through my adult years. Trips taken, gifts given, favorite purchases, ornaments I made from seashells gathered on beach walks.
Visiting Santa at the firehouse is my favorite occasion of the year, so I was grateful that he came to West Tisbury despite the pandemic. The drive-through format was different, but necessary. I am happy to report that nothing dims the excitement of seeing Santa Claus.
On a recent visit, I listened to Iyla Bohan, age four, tell me about going out with her grandmother to clip greens. She and Candy have their secret places. My father-in-law and I used to do the same thing. By now, the tiny trees and shrubs I planted in our yard are producing plenty of greenery for wreaths and whatever arrangements of branches I need, but I miss those special outings when I had Richard all to myself.
Many of the previously-referred-to trees and shrubs came as a result of my years of friendship with Jean Wexler, who died this past week. Jean was a fabulous gardener. It was that shared interest that began our friendship. Jean wrote a gardening column for the Vineyard Gazette and had a small sales garden at her West Tisbury home. Some of the plants were thinnings of Jean’s perennials and self-seeded rhododendrons, hollies, and other evergreens that appeared in unplanned places through the woods that surround her property. Gradually we explored more varieties together. Jean took me on my first walks at Polly Hill’s, a private garden then. All my unusual rhododendrons come from those years. Condolences to Jean’s family, to everyone at Windemere who cared for her, and to Linda McGuire, who was a most devoted friend.
Ginny Jones sent out an email recently about Ted and Polly Meinelt and their Christmas traditions. The Martha’s Vineyard Museum had made a video of Ted inviting visitors in for a tour of his and Polly’s home, showing off the decorations they made and collected over their many years together. Linsey Lee and Anna Barber curated the exhibition in December 2015 of some of the Meinelt’s decorations. Between them, Ted and Polly could do anything, make anything, and they did. Walking through their house while having every detail carefully pointed out by Ted, then sitting in cozy chairs by the fire, drinking tea and eating gingerbread cookies are among my cherished Christmas memories. People live forever in our hearts.
If you are interested, Google ‘Ted Meinelt Christmas’ on Youtube and it comes right up. You can also read a story I wrote about the museum exhibition for the Martha’s Vineyard Times. Google ‘Christmas at the Meinelts’.
I have been busy baking cookies for presents and decorating the house. The house is a mess with cookbooks and cookie recipes in piles, flour and cookie tins across the kitchen counter, and presents and wrapping paper on the dining room table.
My mother’s Christmas cactuses are in full bloom. They must be close to my own age, if that is possible. I have had them for the 42 years since she died and always remember them being in her windows, as they are now in mine.
My dollhouse has tiny wreaths on all the windows and a decorated tree in each of its rooms. My collections of little villages, wooden and ceramic, line our windowsills, tucked into clippings of boxwood, pieris, rhododendrons, hemlocks, and pines. Up from the basement will come the Christmas china my mother and I collected together, two place settings at a time. I think of her and my dad, of my brothers in Connecticut, of my niece and nephew grown and far away. Of course, my cousin Hannah, who lives two houses down the road, and Jared and Sue on Oak Lane, might as well be miles away, too. We will be on Zoom again on Christmas Eve instead of at Hannah’s, seated at long tables set up in her dining room.
There will be no walk to the ten o’clock church service this Christmas Eve, no singing of beloved hymns and carols, no silent leaving afterward. I am surprised at how much I will miss being with everyone at Hannah’s, then taking that quiet walk to the center of town.
Mike went shopping at Cronig’s earlier and mentioned seeing so many people there, friends and acquaintances of many years, and members of Cronig’s staff who have become familiar, frequent faces that brighten what otherwise would be a mundane chore. If I haven’t thanked them regularly, I do so now. Also, everyone at Conroy’s, Alley’s, 7A, the garden centers, the hospital, the firemen, policemen, and EMTs, everyone at Town Hall and our wonderful library, the Howes House, teachers and support staff at the West Tisbury School, town crews and committee members, the bank, and the Post Office. If I have left anyone out, I apologize; it was not intentional.
Living through a pandemic has tested everyone. Mike and I both grew up when face-to-face interactions were how people conducted their lives. Those daily or weekly exchanges brought small town residents together, a way of life we treasure. So I thank you here for the best gift of all, of being a part of this community, and of sharing my life with you. Merry Christmas.
If you have any West Tisbury Town Column suggestions, email Hermine Hull, email@example.com.