Saturday, December 17, 2011

No Pre-Packaged Holiday this year

Pre-tied glossy ribbons, shiny ornaments and gleaming wrapping paper hung above the reams of tinsel and pin lights for mantles and trees, next to adorned plastic wreaths, scented candles and rotating tabletop trees with fiber optic lights that blinked at me, as I searched the shop aisles for something that would trigger the elusive Christmas spirit, I was looking for in the store. Displays of wrapped gifts with pine cones and holly, cooking recipes to stretch a waistline and decorating ideas, jumped from my TV screen, in between commercials for toys, clothes and cars, filling my unfulfilled spirit with longing for a more generous way of sharing the Christmas spirit.

As I leafed through local papers, filled with smiling faces offering me holiday discounts that would disappear if I didn't act quickly, I wondered if anyone of them cared if I had the spirit of giving or just the capacity to spend. The requests for donations to the needy, that fell from my mailboxes, both physically and electronically, trying to reach that left over space in my heart and on my credit card, was met with a cool indifference, knowing my name was one of thousands generated from an unsolicited mailing list. Electronic gadgets that seemed to sprout new generations every holiday, capture my interests in gizmos, for a moment, but do not elicit a spirit of Christmas in me, anymore than a snow shovel would.

As I think back, the things that had triggered the spirit for me were sharing time and good will with family and friends, with little more than happiness and gratitude as a gift. The debt laden guilt that often follows last minute gift giving is different from the freely given love and appreciation that a drop by visit on a snowy day could provide. Breaking bread together or sharing a cup of tea, does more to spread joy to the world than an unappreciated gift, whether it was a good buy or not.

As we pull ourselves out of a long struggle for economic balance, we can look at more ways to give the spirit of Christmas to our families and communities. Items that not only benefit a retailer’s bottom line but employ local manufacturers and those they touch, rather than those a continent away. As I purchase local items, here in Columbia County, like scarves from Jeffrey Aronoff, gloves from DeMarchin and handmade knits from Spruce Ridge Farm, the feeling of impacting not only those I give the items to but who made them, makes it full circle for me. The gift of supporting those around me, seem to provide a spirit of giving that extends beyond myself, touching my friends and and community altogether.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A snowy reprieve

I awoke in my own bed, with a view of crystal clear skies and a wintry white landscape of overnight fallen snow, from my bedroom window. The unpleasant option of spending the night in a freezing car, parked at a closed gas station, with my two house guests for the weekend, by a miracle, didn't materialize after all.

The long slog to this outcome started with heavy rains battering us as we left the Poughkeepsie train station from Manhattan. Piling into my car quickly we braved the buffeting of rain, with the windshield wipers at full speed, for almost an hour, as we made our way north to Columbia County. The rain gave way to sleet and we slowed the speed of the car, as the road surface became slippery, and the windows thickened with a congealing slush. I had heard earlier that snow was on its way but had hoped we would skirt the brunt of it, as we sometimes did.

The heavy sleet turned out to be the more desired climactic condition as it soon turned into flurries and then a full blown snowstorm. We tried to make light of it, commenting on the interesting pattern that the flakes formed as they rushed to block our view of anything else on the road. The desolate roadway had a few tire tracks that we tried to follow in an attempt to remain on the road and avoid skidding on the icy surface. The white-out conditions and the reduced speed left me disoriented and unaware of where I was on the oft traveled road. Suddenly a phone call from Joe, who had landed at the Albany Airport and was making his way home from the north, was met with concern and trepidation as he told of over shooting his exit and being mired on a shoulder embankment, in the pounding snow, twenty miles away in the opposite direction. My first thought was to go get him once I dropped off our guests. With our godson, Ricon Wrenn's cellphone running out of batteries, my own cell lost a week earlier, and Angelique Anderson's phone indicating a loss of power and of signal, intermittently, we vowed to stay in touch with Joe.

The mounting snow on the road had us traveling at 20 mph, with an ever-present undercurrent of subtle and terrifying skids along the way. The mounting fear that we would eventually slide into an embankment and be stuck there all night led me to get off the Taconic Parkway an exit early. Hoping that the roads would have been cleared more was met with disappointment as the thick snow with tire tracks proved harder to negotiate. Steering first in one direction and then another, like a sailboat tacking along a roadway we inched forward, gaining momentum on the downhill, and spinning tires on the slightest incline. We had put off changing to winter tires because of a busy schedule and a deluding warm fall season. The delayed mistake was proving to be very costly emotionally for myself and my intrepid guests.

Joe calls us on the phone, with the ebbing battery, and tells us a truck had arrived to help another person, stuck where he was, and possible he might get the truck to help him. My concern for his driving the twenty miles home on the Parkway was weighing on me, knowing he hadn't changed his tires either. If we were having trouble, surely he was too.

At least now passing darkened houses, which were going to be possible safe havens, we continued on, haltingly, toward a local gas station. Unfortunately, we overshot the entrance, sliding to a stop at the traffic intersection. Forging onward, fearing the effort of turning around, we passed a police car aiding a trapped car on our right. Perhaps it was the sight of someone else getting rescued, we suddenly careened off the road into someone's yard about fifty yards further ahead. Unable to go forward into a hedge or to backup, we knew we had had it. Three hours after starting this one hour journey, we had been forced to end it, on a cold roadway in front of a blackened house. Then suddenly a large white man runs towards us from his car, to ask if we were alright. I thought he had gotten stuck too but he had really just stopped to aid us. Using his formidable strength he proceeded to push our car out of the embankment. With a little maneuvering we were back on the road, tacking from one side to the other, with Gods hands moving us out of the way of the occasional oncoming vehicle. Our saving angel followed us to the gas station nearest our house, which was about five miles away before heading off to save others.

Now parked next to a filling stand, we weighed our options. Do we try to follow a road plow, that may or may not go all the way to our house, and risk getting stuck again on the outskirts of town at one thirty in the morning, or just wait there until the sun rose and the roads cleared for driving. Joe calls and weighs in that we needed to contact local friends, AAA, or a taxi service. Except for our friend Jelanie Bandele, the other calls went unanswered, and she was in Brooklyn. The chill in the car was beginning to wash over us as we gave into bedding down for the night there, when we saw a snow covered car turn the corner that we thought might be a taxi. Beeping my horn frantically, the car turned into the gas station and turned out to be a patrol car with a policeman named Sargent Guy. After explaining we were five miles from home but was afraid to try and get there he offered to drive us there himself. Angel Number Two, Sargent Guy of Livingston, packed us into his patrol car and drove us to our destination. He was patrolling the many communities that night for situations and people in distress like us. He used his spot light to light our path as we made it up the quarter mile long driveway to the house.

The relief of being back home at last allowed me to appreciate the glow of the white snow, emanating light across the grounds, as we trudged the length of the distance to the awaiting warm house. Upon walking in the door, we receive a call from Joe saying he found a motel to weather the rest of the night and we all slept peacefully that night, at last.