Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Once more I find I'm not sure how to begin.

I look at the words I've typed and found them wanting.
Nothing seems quite right.

When I was a child, I was given swimming lessons at a not quite local pool. I have a vague memory that this was through the auspices of the Cub Scouts. I do remember that it was a bit of a drive. There were diving lessons, and I liked jumping on the diving board, savoring the spring of my body as it arced into the air while I aimed myself at the water which always smelled of too much chlorine. The instructor then sent me up the ladder of the high diving board. As I walked out to the edge to prepare for the dive, I was consumed by fear. Well, actually, it was more like absolute terror. I could not bring myself to do it. I may have climbed back down in ignominious defeat. The fact is, I don't remember. I do remember that finally there was nothing to do but to jump, which I think I did rolling myself into a cannon ball shape. Writing has become like that; I stop, look, and  while I don't exactly experience fear or terror, there is this hesitancy, this unsatisfied pause until the only thing to do is to dive in, whether it be graceful of form, or rolled into a ball which will splash anyone nearby.

The Brook House (reopened this year after years of darkness due to fire)
at the main corner of downtown, and the little park where the Dunkin'
Donuts parking lot used to be  - lit up for the Holiday Season 2014.
It is the day before Christmas, 2014. This is my 20th Christmas in Brattleboro. I have lived here longer than I lived in any other town or city. There is something about the Christmas - New Year axis, perhaps due to the cultural indoctrination of media seeking something to write about, that sends me wandering through the twisted paths of memory until I pause in summing up reflection and move on, ready to dive in elsewhere. (I pause again - reading "the Christmas - New Year axis" conjures a sense of evil and forbidding that was unintended, but perhaps a bit accurate.) These last few years, one thing has stood out to me each Christmas season - the lights are disappearing.

When I was a kid, we always put up outdoor Christmas lights. Ours were always a tasteful affair, simple strands entwined with laurel around the windows, on the square arch of the porch, and spiraled around the lamppost. The windows had electric candles (each window a set of three) with orange bulbs. My father insisted on order, so the lights had a simple color pattern that was repeated - there was no willy-nilly blend of color, no bulbs of the same color together. Our neighbors' lights were a glorious mess. I adored them all. I loved the trips around town, shopping errands, visits to relatives' homes, any chance to drink in all the color warming the cold dark night.

A few years ago a tree started appearing in the old bandstand on
the Brattleboro town Common. This was taken a couple of days ago.
In those days, most towns had strands of lights which ran across Main Street. Stores were decorated inside as well as outside. Memory suddenly finds myself shopping at the 'Gilded Age' B. Altman's store in New York City, a gift purchase from an upper floor secured under my arm, riding old wooden escalators down toward the entrance. The main floor suddenly pops into view, several stories of open space beneath me. It is decorated with Christmas trees, colored lights everywhere, red ribbons tied into giant red bows draped across gleaming polished brown wood. It was startlingly, joyously beautiful.

When I moved to Brattleboro, the stores still decorated for Christmas. There were strands of old colored lights running across the Main Street business area. The lights were considered shabby and in need of replacement. Much money was raised, many thousands of dollars were spent on new lights entwined with sparkly garlands. The company which made them was hired to put them up, maintain them, take them down, and store them until the next season. When the next season arrived it was discovered that the concern had gone out of business; the lights had disappeared.

The former parking lot of the Dunkin' Donuts as it appeared many years ago
 after a hefty pre-Christmas snowfall - long before the little park was created.
The mural style painting behind it is a view of Brattleboro
as it appeared from a local hill in
the early 1800's.
A downtown business association purchased bunches of those little white lights that were popular for about 5 minutes in the late 1990's. They were strewn throughout the branches of trees. It looked like we were attempting to be a ski resort. A park was created at the town's center in what had been a Dunkin' Donuts parking lot. A tree was put in the center of the space, and decorated with those little colored lights. It wasn't long before the tree lights were all white too. The last few years, after the terrible fire at the Brooks House, only the lights in the little park went up. This year the lights came back to the downtown trees, but wrapped around the trunks instead of being spread through the branches.

Around 2007, the start of the recession,  Holiday lights on people's homes began to vanish. Every year there seem to be fewer decorated homes. I haven't had a car for a few years now. Last night I joined with a couple of friends as we went driving around to see the lights. There weren't many. The owner of the car used to live in Keene, New Hampshire - a half hour away. As it is a much larger, more prosperous college town, we drove over to see the lights there. Again, there were very few.

One of the few houses with lights this year in Brattleboro
- and on one of our less reputable streets at that.
One of the things I discovered my first Christmas in town 20 years ago was that there was a tradition of putting a giant star on the top of Mt. Wantastiquet, which is on the New Hampshire side of the river.
After a visit here in 1856, Thoreau wrote of his sense of it looming over Brattleboro.
The star was a merit badge project of a local boy scout. The Scouts adopted it, and saw to its maintenance. The past couple of years, trees had grown up around it and the light from it had grown dim. This year there is no star on the mountain.

Memory plays its hand and a quote floats out of the past from the eve of World War One. To paraphrase British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, 1st Viscount of Fallodon,  "The lights are going out all across the country. We will not see them lit again in our lifetime."

All of this is, I suppose, a little odd considering how some people go insanely overboard with Christmas lights; there are television programs showcasing the most vulgar displays. In a way, that's what Christmas has become - that crazy house with all the lights, loud music, an overbearing show. You wouldn't want to live next door to it, but it sure is fun to drive by now and again.


At the beginning of December, I was asked to return to the Board of our Community Radio Station and to reassume its Presidency. Since then I have been so busy, I haven't even gotten the last two weeks of my radio show posted here. This is spite of having decided to push ahead with keeping more than three weeks of my shows available. As I have no more time to devote to this entry, here without all the charming and wonderful newspaper articles is the show from December 13th, (the Frank Sinatra's birthday edition):

.. and my Christmas show from last week...

The show after mine last week ( December 20th) didn't make it in. There I was with all that Holiday music with me... so I stayed and played such classics as "Boogaloo around the Aluminum Christmas Tree", and "I Saw Hanukah Harry Beat Up Santa Claus".

I hope anyone kind enough to listen to these shows will enjoy them.

Merry Christmas everyone.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas.