Well, here we come down the homestretch. By the time this edition reaches homes and businesses, we will be a few days away from Christmas. Hopefully, everyone has found a great Christmas tree and some poinsettias from their favorite local garden center. I imagine that gifts are wrapped, and in the case this year, shipped away to the people who won’t be coming over to spread Christmas cheer and possibly the Covid. Readying the house makes me wonder sometimes if people realize how the Christmas tree and poinsettia thing works, as far as buying them from a local garden center. At the big box stores and grocery stores, the poinsettias and Christmas trees are placed in the stores on consignment, which means that whatever they don’t sell, they don’t pay for; they just dump it. That’s why the plants that you see crammed onto those mega racks are treated like they are. They don’t care if the plants die or shrivel up or do well for you when you get home with your ‘bargain’. Local garden centers pay for top-quality plants and Christmas trees when they arrive. We have a reason to buy the best quality because we want them to sell, and we want you to come back again and again. In most cases, we are buying from local growers who have their lives on the line to sell everything they grow. When you buy local, there is a trickle down effect that really matters to a lot of families who are tied to these businesses.
Christmas is steeped in traditions, and I can’t imagine that someone’s idea of a Christmas tradition is to go to a big orange or blue box to get their live holiday plants every year, where they could care less if you show up or not. We feel very fortunate in the Jackson area that so many people try so hard to shop locally with us garden centers. I have always felt that if people would just try it once, they would realize how much more rewarding it is to shop at a mom and pop store. It’s also very likely that they will leave with a surprise that they never expected, while finishing their last bit of gift shopping. Garden goodies make wonderful gifts. On behalf of all the area garden centers, those of you who give the extra effort, I say thank you! To those who are ready to give us a shot this coming spring, I say, you are in for a treat. It’s good for the community and I can promise that it’s also good for your own mental well-being. You will love the experience, and you will love how you feel from the expression of gratitude, as you shop at our places. I had better come off my soapbox. After all, no matter what this year has lobbed at us, it is still Christmas time. We can let all our worries and frustrations go up in smoke and have a little fun, by turning our attention towards our family and friends.
I will never forget any of the Christmases I spent away from home in other countries. I think I have spent five Christmases away. One of them was in Cairo, Egypt, when I climbed to the top of the pyramids of Giza on Christmas morning to look out over the world. Although smoggy, there were the most incredible views from up there. There is a pretty large Christian community in Cairo, so there were some familiar sites to see, as far as colored lights and decorations go. There were other backpackers around to celebrate Christmas with. I remember we shared some street food of falafel and pita bread. A few months later, I was in Bethlehem to see the place where Jesus was born. As is the case with all His important landmarks, there was a huge cathedral built over the place where the manger was. The great cathedral was so filled with incense and smoke from the lanterns that kept the place lit, you could barely see. Chalices were hanging from the ceiling by the hundreds. Most of them smoldered with frankincense, and some burned myrrh. The use of incense heightened the solemnity of the scene. Frankincense is an aromatic gum resin obtained from an African tree which is native to Somalia. Myrrh gum comes from a thorny tree in Somalia also. The resin is harvested by repeatedly wounding the tree to bleed the gum. When the gum hardens it is yellowish and clear. As it ages, it becomes dark with white streaks. I found myrrh for sale in the streets of a few African countries. At first, the smell in the cathedral was pretty pungent and very overwhelming, but the longer I stayed in there and my eyes adjusted, the more I liked the smell. I was having a spiritual moment while looking at the giant golden star of Bethlehem which overlies the spot of Jesus’ birthplace. I was imagining the scene that took place in that very spot and thinking about the cold night in the desert. I was drifting away in my thoughts, immersed in a heavy moment, when I was jolted back to reality by a tour bus group from Dallas, who butted my scraggly self out of the way, so they could join hands and sing ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’ at the top of their lungs. My moment was over, but I had spent plenty time there before the place became theirs. It was time to move on.
Another Christmas spent away from my homeland is forever burned into my memory bank. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Grenada, I would often visit Grenada‘s sister island, Carriacou. Carriacou is a tiny island with a very small population. I would go there to find peace from time to time. After a couple years on Grenada, which is an island that is 17 miles wide by 21 miles long, I sometimes needed to find peace and not feel like I was living in a fishbowl, always being watched as the center of attention. On Carriacou, I could walk all day on the tiny island and rarely see or be seen by anyone… a breath of fresh air. There were only a few very low, wind swept trees; the rest was rocks and iguanas. There was a tiny town there with some very quiet and laid-back people. An English lady had a downstairs apartment where she allowed me to spend weekends in exchange for a little help around her place. She was hardly ever there, and left the key where I could find it. One year I decided to try spending Christmas on Carriacou. I went to the little church they had there on Christmas morning. I had on my best shorts and cleanest T-shirt and sat barefooted on a sandy wooden floor. I was dressed like everyone else; it was very casual. There were some stringed instruments being played for the Christmas songs. The little children were singing with all their might, and their parents were singing right along with them. I felt like I was in Hooville! The folks that lived there didn’t have much, but their happiness that day was overwhelming. A wave of love overcame me like never before, and I wound up in uncontrollable tears from this feeling that was so real it was palpable. The twenty, or so, people in the room began to come to be by my side, and some of the children hugged me, which, in turn, made it even harder to turn off the water. I wasn’t embarrassed; it was an overwhelming feeling of goodness and love that I had never experienced. I finally gathered my wits, which made the others smile and sing even more loudly.
Afterwords, the family invited me to their Christmas cook-down for more laughter and guitar playing. That moment crosses my mind at least once a week. I am reminded of that Christmas every day, as I pass through our living room, where a piece of art by my cousin, HC Porter, hangs. It is of a little girl in a wooden church that seems to be expressing the same feeling of jubilation that overcame me that day. The piece is called Rejoice! Ironically, Mimi bought that piece for me as a Christmas present without even knowing that story. The child is in an old, wooden church that bears a striking resemblance to that moment. Mimi could never buy me another Christmas present, and I’d be forever happy with the feeling that art piece brings to me. I’ll never quite understand it all, but I know it had to do with the happiness and satisfaction that these people, living on this tiny dot in the middle of the Caribbean, were blessed with. It reminds me, quite often, to recognize and love the more important things in life, which are all around us every day. It reminds me to to strive for satisfaction in my life every day, by putting first things first, which is the love of my family and friends in this beautiful life I’ve been offered. I wish all of you a satisfying holiday season with your families in one way or another. This will destress the holidays and, hopefully, snowball into some conversations and laughter with your people that will lead to memories that won’t go away. Merry Christmas!