WELL, HERE WE COME down the homestretch. By the time this edition reaches homes and businesses we will be a few days from Christmas. Hopefully everyone has found a great Christmas tree and poinsettias from their favorite local garden center. I imagine gifts are wrapped and, if need be, sent away to the people who won’t be coming.
I 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 put in the stores on consignment. That means that whatever they don’t sell they don’t pay for, they just dump it. That’s why the plants 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.”
At a local garden center we will pay for the 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, 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 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 and how very likely it is that they will always leave with a surprise they never expected while finishing their last bit of gift shopping. Garden goodies make wonderful gifts, I mean the kind you won’t find at the soulless mega stores.
For those of you who take the extra effort on behalf of all the area garden centers I say “thank you!” For 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 you it’s good for your mental well- being. You will love the experience and you will love how you feel when the gratitude is expressed to you 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 Christmas time. We can let all our cares 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 Christmas morning to look out over the world, smoggy, but most incredible views from up there. There is a pretty large Christian community in Cairo so there were some kind of familiar sites to see as far as colored lights and decorations. There were other backpackers around to celebrate Christmas with, we had some street food falafel and pita bread. A few months later I was in Bethlehem to see the place where Jesus was born.
AS ALL OF THE important sites to do with Jesus’ travels 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 that you could barely see. Chalices were hanging from the ceiling by the hundreds, most of them smoldering with frankincense and some had 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 looking at the giant golden star of Bethlehem which overlooks the spot of Jesus' birthplace. I was imagining the scene that took place in the very spot and thinking about the cold night in the desert. I was drifting away in my thoughts and having a heavy moment when I was jolted back to reality by a tour bus of visitors 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 of time there before the place became theirs. It was time to move on.
Another Christmas spent in another country 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 x 21 miles long sometimes I 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, it was a breath of fresh air. There were only a few very low, wind swept trees, the rest were rocks and iguanas.
There was a tiny town there with some very quiet and laid-back people. An English lady had a downstairs apartment that she allowed me to spend weekends in just for a little help around her place in exchange. She was hardly ever there, she 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 my best shorts and cleanest T-shirt and 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. I felt like I was in Hooville! The folks who lived here 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 20 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 a feeling of goodness and love that I’ve never experienced. I finally gathered my wits which made the others smile and sang even louder. Afterwards the family invited me to their Christmas cook down for more laughter and guitar playing.
That was the moment that crosses my mind at least once a week. I am reminded of that Christmas every day as I pass- through our main room where a piece of art, by my cousin HC Porter, of a little girl in a wooden church that seems to be expressing the same feeling of jubilation that overcame me that day. It’s a piece called Rejoice! Coincidentally Mimi bought that piece for me as a Christmas present without even knowing that story. The child in an old, wooden church that bears a striking resemblance of that moment. Mimi could never buy me another Christmas present and I’d be for- ever 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 the 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 have a goal to strive for satisfaction in my life every day by putting first things first, which is the love of my family and friends in the beautiful life I’ve been offered.
I WISH YOU ALL A satisfying holiday season with your families in one way or another. This will destress the holidays and snowball into some conversations and laughs with your people that will lead to memories that won’t go away. Merry Christmas!