We’re already squeezing juice from the season. Sunday morning we had a big old brunch: 9-grain bread french toast with maple syrup, bacon, sausage, and home fries, then we saddled up and went over the hill to the Westmoreland Mall, where THE REAL SANTA hangs out with average folks like us. None of us are big shoppers–this is the only visit to a big mall I’ve made since last Christmas–but it’s become a tradition.
Okay, I made it a tradition. When I was a kid, living in a rural town with few retail options, my family would do the Black Friday thing, although it was a lot different 35 years ago. Namely, we didn’t go at 4am, there wasn’t a frenzy, and nobody died. Back in the day we went to the Monroeville Mall, which is sort of famous if you’re into Zombies, and reveled in the elaborate decorations (do they still have the Christmas tower clock and the animated elf workshop? I bet not.). It was a lot of fun–I’ll be writing about it in detail for a later post, but it’s relevant now in that I love to get out in the crowds for a few hours, listen to the mall music versions of Christmas songs, see the kids visit Santa, and just enjoy the hustle and bustle–as the phrase goes–in a seasonal atmosphere. I’m intensely nostalgia-driven, and the internet makes indulging in my holiday fetish stress-free: I don’t worry if I can’t find what I want, I can always go home and order it online. I also like being out with the kids, buying “pick-up” gifts for my wife–smaller things that weren’t on our list, spontaneous selections.
Our big score was something for my wife, acquired with the help of a complicit store clerk, we bought right under her nose, in a devious method reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven or The Italian Job. Well, maybe not that cool, but one daughter distracted my wife, I grabbed it (the last one in stock, and 30% off) off the rack, and handed it off to my other daughter, who slipped it to the clerk. The clerk quickly scanned the item and hid it inside another item my daughter was buying, so when my wife turned around there was no hint of our trickery. (and I know you’re reading this, so all I can say is: HA!) All that remained was to slip some bills to my daughter, who passed them to the clerk. It was a bonafide caper. We were out of the mall in 3 hours, including my first Orange Julius since 1985, and after a quick stop at Barnes & Noble were on our way home.
Here’s a shout out the residents of Derry, PA–a dismal little town along the railroad tracks that has some of the finest Christmas displays around–and I’m not talking about those catalog-bought figurines of the “threw some money at it” variety, but old-school, out-on-the-ladder mad-minded strings of lights displays. Kudos.
We bought our tree–a 9′ Fraser Fir we knocked back half a foot or so from Johnston’s (in the parking lot of the The Meadows ice cream stand, if you’re local) at a very reasonable $45–well shaped and fresh on Sunday night. On the way home we stopped off at China King and gorged on some Asian diner food–way too much, in fact–then made our way home. We cranked up the Ella Fitzgerald, got the tree standing straight in it’s stand, and wired it to the wall, lest the cats become too ambitious, an excellent head start for the next day’s tree decorating.
The Monday after Thanksgiving is a holiday in Westsylvania–in case you’re unaware, it’s called Deer Day, because it’s the first day of deer hunting season. We still get mail, and the banks stay open, but most public schools stay closed–half the kids wouldn’t come if they were opened, so why not have a long weekend.
We don’t hunt, preferring our meat to come as God intended: on a Styrofoam tray, wrapped in cellophane. As avid gardeners, of course, we favor the wanton destruction of these evil creatures by whatever means necessary–rifle, shotgun, muzzle-loader, pistol, bow and arrow, knife, club, bare-handed strangulation, automobile fender, pungi-stick pit, snare, snare drum, squashed by falling space debris. Ed Abbey referred to free-ranging livestock as “hoofed locusts”–and those cows had nothing on the deer in my yard. Still, I don’t hunt. We have traditionally made use of this noble holy-day for the acquisition and erection of the tree. This year, we had that head start, and headed right to the hard work of carrying all those boxes of stuff down from the attic. We decorated the tree in a concentrated blitz, and marveled at how nice it looked when were done. I’ve only ever had one tree that I didn’t ultimately think was lovely, and this was the nicest one we’ve had in years–just about perfect. Nothing left to do, then, but turn off the houselights, crank up the carols, watch the twinkling tree in the dark, and relax.