Christmas Greens – Hanging the Boughs of Holly and Evergreen

This is a good story about community spirit, appropriate for our Christmas season at Q Tree. Curl up with a hot coffee and join me.

Because we have a B&B, our annual holidays are little different than most families. Years and years of retirement parties, birthday celebrations, weddings, corporate events, etc., meant that the townspeople viewed our house as THEIR house, they are personally connected.

It set up a strange situation, both good and bad (not really ever bad). I live in a “goldfish bowl” where everyone knows my business, but on the other hand, “almost” everyone helps me to succeed… and often at the strangest times and in odd ways… because it’s “their house”, too. Does that make sense?

Our home is next door to the town’s school, and it’s the biggest house in town, a real beauty built at the turn of the last century. Yet, the house was abandoned for 24yrs when we bought it. Thus, a generation of townspeople wondered about the house, a grand dame, but dark and cold (and maybe haunted)…… until we moved in……. and ALL the lights were turned on.

After 6 months of a massive renovation, we opened for business in late September, with Christmas approaching. Yet, decorating such a large home was a monumental task. Women began to approach me, offers of help, wanted to work for me, because I needed help. I kept resisting, thought I couldn’t afford it, because I couldn’t afford it. Members of my local bank board licked their chops like a hungry wolves, quarreling amongst themselves, waiting for my pipedream to go bust, so they could buy my lovely home at a bankruptcy…. which only made me more determined to succeed.

There came a point were several women had …. what can only be described as….. “an intervention” …..with me. They forced their way into my lives and became a coven of girlfriends, staff members, aunts to my kids, a shoulder when I needed it, and a sort of sorority, a fierce clan of protectors. But it wasn’t just women, it was the men as well. If I needed something…. anything……. all I had to do was whisper……. and the word went out like a quiet firestorm, and suddenly….. that item would appear, often from a kind stranger, who became a friend. It was amazing, and would NEVER happen in large cities, but it did happen in small town Mississippi. I never really got used to the wonderment of it all, the kindness of strangers, but it happened over and over again.

Women bringing me things became commonplace. For instance, an old experienced gardener would show up, compliment my specific flower bed, but insist it needed “XYZ” flower in a corner, which she brought to me, usually in a WalMart sack. BECAUSE it wasn’t just my house, it was her flower bed as well, and she wanted to make it perfect. Stuff like that happened all the time.

But it was the men who were most surprising. The gentle giants surrounded me but were often silent. Cornstalks, cattails, fieldstone, river rock, cotton, clumps of daffodil bulbs as big as washtubs, Birdhouses, pumpkins, fresh field corn, and thousands of pounds of peaches, plums, beans, blueberries, and tomatoes, would suddenly appear from the ether, sometimes with a note if I wasn’t home. The bounty of their generosity and impeccable timing was astounding.

Yesterday, I told the story of the mistletoe. Mistletoe grows high up in oak trees and has to be shot down. My grandparents always had a sprig of mistletoe between the kitchen and dining room when I was a kid. Grandpa swept grandmother into his arms to dip her, and kiss her, to great fanfare at the most inappropriate times. She pretended to protest but loved it. Of course, we needed a sprig of mistletoe. It turned into an annual town hunt, at the opening of deer season, with presentation trophies (old trophies from the high school), for the biggest piece of mistletoe, which would be ceremonially hung with a big red velvet ribbon from the keystone on our wooden arch.

What I didn’t know was that the men became competitive about the Mistletoe Hunt. Mr. Elton had the biggest horse stables in 3 counties, huge farm. For months, he eyed one tree with what he was sure was a grand prize winning piece of mistletoe. His daughter told me the story…… He shot at the piece a few times and missed, but he was more afraid it would fall apart and lose berries. Mistletoe is fairly fragile. He sent a farmhand high up into the tree to manually cut it down, but that didn’t work. So, he chopped down the whole tree….. Mr. Elton won that year, an old repurposed golfing trophy, and he could not have been more proud. We took his picture. He became a legend.

One year, we were working on Halloween, and I was upset with the high prices of colorful Indian corn in the grocery store, 3 ears for $2.99. We needed hundreds of them for what we wanted to do. I whined and moaned, but was grumbling about something I could not afford. We ended up doing something else. The following year, a local farmer brought me a truckload….. he planted 5 acres of the most beautiful Indian corn, small raspberry corn as well, and bushels of brightly colored gourds. Total surprise to me. He stayed for hours, and ate chicken salad, drinking iced tea, while the girls and I fussed all over him, and assembled the front door decorations. Mr. Ralph was thrilled and told everyone in town about “his” corn. Every now and then, strangers appeared on my front porch…… to see “Mr. Ralph’s corn” and take autumn pictures with their kids.

Another year, we planned a back to school party for the local teachers. I thought a front door surround of sunflower heads would be pretty. We thought about using artificial silk flowers but that was cost prohibitive…. We mulled over our options looking for something creative, we were stuck for a good idea. Three days later, the farmer’s co-op called, it was my buddy “Pork Chop”. He said, “Your sunflower heads are here……”. Huh? I never ordered any. I didn’t know there was such a thing as ordering sunflower heads. From Pork Chop, “Well, they’re here. Do you want to come and get them or do you want me to send him to your house?” We dropped everything and rushed down to the co-op.

We were twelve women, hugging and loving on a kind farmer, genuinely grateful, and our affection was a powerful force. Again, a whisper of a request went out, and a benevolent farmer, another county over, brought in a whole truck load, ready to dry, with seeds, and still had yellow petals. It was a gold mine….. and the birds… loved them. Walking through the door was like a Disney movie with all the birds around. When his wife died a few years later, the girls and I made the flowers, returning the kindness.

Sometimes we needed strange things. Once, we needed BIG acorns, for Christmas wreaths and decorations, preferably with the caps on, like the thumb-sized ones when I was a kid. Our house is surrounded by oak trees but we have small puny acorns. I mentioned it casually…. and forgot about it. About two weeks later, I was standing in the kitchen when one of the girls came back and said, “There’s a bunch of men here to see you.” I wiped my hands and went out front. In front of me were six of the dirtiest Marlboro-looking-men I’ve ever seen. They were so handsome they practically took my breath away, tall, rugged, strong men, but they were FILTHY and the image of them standing in our pristine parlor was a perfect picture of contrasts.

The smallest one, who was probably 6’2″ with deep blue eyes, spoke up, “Are you Miss Daughn?” I nodded, and could hear the girls giggling behind the archway like they were still in high school, looking at the guys….. He grabbed my arm a little too tightly and leaned into me in a whisper. For a flash of a moment, the thought of being ravaged by this man in my parlor was strangely appealing…… He said, “We found your tree.” I was confused. “What tree?”, I said. He replied, “Your tree with the big acorns, it’s a white oak. I looked it up, and we found one, plenty of acorns for you.” Shaken from my trance, I was thrilled, “Really?!??” The girls came out from behind the arch to join us. He was a lumberman and they were clear-cutting land nearby.

He said, “You have to come now though, because they’re cutting this afternoon. We’re only in town for lunch.” From one of the girls…. grinning from ear to ear……”We’ll be happy to make you boys some lunch and then follow you out to the land where the tree is.” And…… we did….. baskets of acorns, enough for years of supply.

The whole thing was bizarre. Six lumberman, completely unknown to us, removed their boots to dine at my table….. They looked like Knights of the Round Table who just completed a quest, for BIG acorns…… The chance of our meeting was even more noteworthy. Not only had our desire for big acorns gone out into the wind like a quiet firestorm, but strangers, handsome lumbermen, took the time to look up the SPECIFIC KIND of tree needed, and then, spent weeks looking for the particular tree we needed. Amazing…..no, THAT would never happen in Manhattan.

But nothing was better than the Yew, Holly, and Douglas Fir delivery.

I had it in my head that every corner where your eye falls, there should be something which was Christmas related but not overly fussy. With over a dozen artificial Christmas trees in the house, we still needed another layer, the fresh greens, rosemary, and the smell of Christmas. We did baskets of fresh greens, dozens and dozens of baskets, big and small. To get enough greenery, we cut down an overgrown boxwood at Grandma’s house, pilfered her magnolia tree with minivans full of greens, raided her neighbor’s holly bush, stripped another neighbor’s nandina berry bushes, cut down a 60′ tall cedar tree…. but we really needed Douglas Fir, mixed pines, and more holly. We needed the kinds of conifers which don’t grow in Mississippi.

Buying fresh Christmas trees was too expensive, but we went to the tree lots to negotiate. One lot manager told me to come back on Mondays. They often had a stack of branches, from trimming the trees up, and I could have a little bit. Back home, the parties we booked were requiring our raw materials, but the house was only about 1/4 finished. We needed MORE pine boughs, the pretty stuff, …. when Mr. Fred’s semi-truck arrived.

Mr. Fred was an over-the-road truck driver, the kind of wonderful man I would never have met in my former life. He was in his mid-50’s and had a Santa Claus belly. His wife was the aunt of one of our staff members. He returned from a run to…. I can’t remember where, but he came home “empty” which was unprofitable and unusual for a truck driver. Therefore, he brought us trees and bushes. Some were chopped down, but some still with the dirt on their roots. When he opened the back doors of the truck, small birds flew out. It was a miracle.

For days and weeks, we used the greenery Mr. Fred brought us. We had enough to be lavish with our stash. For years, Mr. Fred brought me pinecones, long and thin ones from California, big fat ones from Florida, and reindeer moss from the side of the road in Missouri, because he thought we would have fun playing with them. Mr. Fred was our Santa Claus.

In later years, Big T, hoped to replicate the bounty of natural greens for Christmas. Yet, he was returned to our home by a local constable with a good sense of humor. The forefathers frowned on trimming of their trees in local Boston, but allowed him to keep the boughs…. and they were beautiful. He loved me….. best Christmas gift, ever.

Is it odd, that as the years tick by, the Christmas gifts of gold and diamonds fade into the background? Yet, I long for the gifts of Indian corn, pumpkins, BIG acorns, rosemary, holly, and evergreens.

Indeed, the kindness of strangers is simple, heartfelt, long lasting, and priceless.

Merry Christmas.

43 thoughts on “Christmas Greens – Hanging the Boughs of Holly and Evergreen

  1. It’s clear, and yet not so clear in your post. You talk about wonderful things…..but the things are just stuff. It’s all about wonderful love and fellowship. Capitalism tells us that the world works better when people contract with mutual advantage and optimize profit. Christmas demonstrates what can happen when we share that profit.

    Liked by 9 people

    1. Yes, the SPIRIT is what makes it all really happen! That’s the magic. That’s the thing that connects all of these stories together. It reminds me in some ways of a more Judaeo-Christian version of the great (but somewhat confusing to Westerners) Miyazaki animation “Spirited Away”, mixed with “My Neighbor Totoro”, where they family waiting for mom to come home moves into the big old house.

      This is why “It’s a Wonderful Life” takes place at Christmas time in a big old house. But notice the common elements of the big old house or onsen/bathhouse (more like a grand resort hotel in Japanese culture) in Miyazaki – very important setting.

      I’m definitely getting in the Christmas mood!!! ❤

      Liked by 6 people

  2. I think you, Daughn, are the “soup stone” of that old house! It’s a bit of an American fairy tale, and I’m not being merely flattering by saying that “Disney Princess Daughn of the Old Southern Mansion” is a GREAT story. It’s a bit like “Under the Tuscan Sun” meets “Song of the South” meets “To Kill a Mockingbird” meets entire genres of Hallmark and Disney when it’s all mixed together in perfect proportions!

    Things are taking shape! I can see it!

    Merry Christmas! 😀

    Liked by 13 people

    1. Well some families (or certain members) thrive and connect via conflict. It’s a learned pattern, and not all can, or want to, break it. There are ways to prepare to be in the realm of toxic engagements, but it’s a LOT of work.

      Hopefully your important contributions at Church help overcome the ‘stuff of families”. ☺️😃🎄🎄❤️

      Liked by 6 people

  3. wonderful stories!!

    have you ever researched your house? you mentioned in passing that neighbors, townspeople, might have imagined your house was haunted–have you ever delved into that?

    in the little town next to us, there is a lovely old Victorian House that has been in the same family for generations–the older woman turned it into a B & B. Behind the Victorian, is another lovely old home–the carriage house–that used to part of the same property as the Victorian. (an older gentleman lives there.)
    quite to my surprise, I discovered that there is a connecting tunnel between the houses–the servants would travel thru it so they didn’t need to travel outside in bad weather. well the older man is “secretly” seeing the older woman via the tunnel. (the town knows, but pretends not to for their sake…)

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Had a psychic here, one time. Gosh, that was fun.
      She said I am haunted by an elderly lady, like a maid, the kind of person who tucks you into bed at night with warm milk and cookies.
      She was emphatic about it, very descriptive.
      Nothing exciting or terrifying.

      We bought the house from the original family, one of the original granddaughters still lives next door. Her mother was still alive when we bought the house, and grew up here. They are obscenely wealthy and generally… mean.

      Liked by 5 people

        1. When we first moved in, many of the local tradesmen refused to work on the house — they thought we were related to the original owners.
          Let’s just say, they were not admired.
          Gotta wonder why people become so hateful….

          Liked by 5 people

          1. I thought I remembered reading in one of your stories that the house had belonged to an elderly aunt (?) before you bought it for the B&B….I’m probably transposing some of your adventures. Was anticipating the “haunting” was going to be your aunt 😉

            Liked by 3 people

            1. House was built for family with 4 kids. Three sons and one daughter.
              As the interiors were being finished, the kids ran wild in the house and were messy. As the story goes, they spent 48K on custom drapes back in 1905. Fabric was made for them. (My parents house in the 60’s, burbs of Chicago, was only $19K).
              Anyway, the mother had mental health issues which no one talked about. She decided she would never move in. Thus, an elderly aunt moved in, by herself.
              As the kids grew up and married, they would move in with the Aunt, as a couple, until such time as they could develop their own biz interest.
              One son drowned.
              Elder one had local store.
              Young one was bankrolled by the aunt, during the depression, became uber wealthy and somewhat famous. Reader’s Digest articles about him and house entertained people from every state and 44 countries BEFORE we bought it.
              Then, house was shuttered in 1971, when school integrated next door. Plus, house never had air conditioning. Back then, 70’s, everything was ranch style house. They built a HUGE ranch home outside of town and this one was left empty……. for 24yrs.
              Not my family though.

              Liked by 2 people

          1. me too…
            oh my goodness..you just brought back a memory for me…
            my sister and I had to dry dishes for every big holiday meal—we would actually count each knife, fork and spoon separately so one wouldn’t dry more than the other…LOL

            Liked by 2 people

  4. What I find so unusual is what we learn in our lives and what we end up valuing most, with the hindsight of age and a little bit of wisdom.
    My, oh my, how things change.

    For half my life I was a big city girl, time and schedule were mandatory. Leveraged buyout or IRS audit for final distribution of capital is where I cut my teeth. Wardrobe and nice car were necessary. The penthouse and exotic trips were a nice plus.
    I thought that was success.
    Wrong.
    When I moved home, everything changed.
    The idea of canning peaches struck terror into my heart – it was like learning Japanese (one of the reasons I admire Jam Cooker or Ga/FL so much – they are pros at this skill).
    Immediately, people I would have never met in a former life, were kind to me, for no reason…. which made me more kind in return…. and better.
    My values were reassigned and in a strange way – I was …… saved.

    Yeah, “saved” is the only way to describe it.

    Today, the Rolex is no longer important – knowing how to make a good biscuit IS. No matter how hard I try, I cannot make a biscuit as good as Theresa. She is a biscuit goddess. She’s my dog groomer, become one of my closest friends, but I am amazed by her tertiary skills.
    I no longer complain about spending time in a grocery store, rushing to get through, or moan about the price of a gallon of milk. Now, I know the cow’s name.
    I rarely buy eggs, because so many are given to me – by “former” strangers who became friends.

    Two elderly ladies brought me a crocheted tablecloth for my big dining table, the Cook sisters, well into their 80’s. They said, all their life they wanted to do one “big one”, and I had the longest table they could think of. The tablecloth is magnificent, true artwork, a treasure of handicraft. Can you imagine receiving such a gift?

    Gifts which sometimes have low or no cost, but require time and consideration, thoughtfulness, are far more valuable than anything Amazon can deliver.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. Daughn, my road was similar. Very proficient at what I did and on the fast track. It worked well … until one day I came home in tears and told my husband, “I’m dying inside.”

      I made changes quickly, and saved my emotional & physical health. It took him awhile longer to be willing to detour off the so-called Good Life Train and ask himself what exactly he was working for ??? Bigger house? More presents for his kids? Fancier vacations?

      I finally convinced him – with the help of a book called “Your Money or Your Life” that we had ‘enough’ and that ‘enough’ is a far more satisfying way of living than chasing the rat.

      We down-sized to a much more manageable house in a friendly neighborhood In a smaller town; worked some parttime jobs with ‘regular’ people, and we STILL have more than enough because we started appreciating each other and our families instead of letting others define ‘success’ for us.

      And we have time and ability to help neighbors and strangers in need. I am far more aware and compassionate of those who cross my path. I look through eyes of trust and respect, and most reciprocate in kind. We both are far more content with THIS chosen life.

      Your story is an affirmation of how we can touch other lives in simple, meaningful ways. Thank you!

      Liked by 10 people

        1. Thanks, Daughn 🤓 I don’t have your extrovert personality that draws everyone to you and Big T … you two are a legend in your own time 😁🙌

          But we two happily married Introverts make our mark in quieter ways.

          It takes both kinds to reach all who can use a kind word or a helping hand.

          Liked by 8 people

  5. Normally I keep a gift cupboard for birthdays or teachers. This year is really tight but kiddo didnt ask for outrageous things(except a new dog and cat) and I had plenty set aside just for him. A father of a classmate who came to kiddo’s bday party died and I gave the family a good sized care package. Two fairly decent teacher’s gifts, a donation for toys for tots of 2 things we had and 2 gifts kiddo received that he said he wanted to donate(and the fire dept gave him a coloring book and hat for doing it), and a few family gifts has made my gift stash pretty low.
    I made inexpensive class gifts for Christmas. Each kid got a reader, bookmark, stickers, and a bit of candy. Less than $2 a kid. Come to find out, not a single other parent did ANYTHING for the kids. Not even a candy cane. So on their last day Christmas party, the school gave them some bad hot chocolate(so says kiddo) and 2 bite size cookies. His teacher was very appreciative. I couldnt leave those kids empty handed.
    I used to buy a bunch of Danish cookies and have them shipped and have a big Chinese dinner for Christmas(vestiges of A Christmas Story) but the cookies are now $2 EACH and Mr Gil is getting a roast instead. I spent the last week making various cookies instead, at far less than 2 bucks a piece.
    Its a downsized Christmas but not a BAD Christmas. Theres gifts and food and kiddo got his letter from Santa in the mail yesterday. Apparently he made the nice list.
    I hope you all have a joyful day however you spend it, celebrating big or small.

    Liked by 6 people

          1. So was I!

            The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek…

            Roy Chapman Andrews of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. (My favorite haunt as a kid.)
            “CONSEQUENTLY, HE (RCA) BEGAN TO WRITE BOOKS SPECIFICALLY FOR YOUNG READERS IN THE HOPE THAT IT WOULD ENCOURAGE THEM TO PICK UP THE TORCH.” ~ CLIVE COY https://roychapmanandrewssociety.org/additional-resources/

            I know I read several other books by Andrews but this is the only one I can find. One was a true tale of his finding dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert.

            …Andrews is best remembered for the series of dramatic expeditions he led to the Gobi of Mongolia from 1922 to 1930. Andrews took a team of scientists into previously unexplored parts of the desert using some of the region’s first automobiles with extra supplies transported by camel caravan.

            Andrews – for whom adventure and narrow escapes from death were a staple of exploring – is said to have served as inspiration for the Hollywood character “Indiana Jones.”

            Andrews’s expeditions to the Gobi remain significant for, among other discoveries, their finds of the first nests of dinosaur eggs, new species of dinosaurs, and the fossils of early mammals that co-existed with dinosaurs….
            https://roychapmanandrewssociety.org/roy-chapman-andrews/#top

            Liked by 3 people

    1. Gil, your comments on threads tell me you are an attentive and loving Mother, and your generosity to Kiddo of your time is the most important gift of all. I really like your idea of a gift cupboard 🤓

      Merry Christmas to all the Gils 💖💖

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Kiddo is blessed because he gets LOVE instead of expensive gifts and ‘neglect’

        Gil, your time and attention is worth much much more than gifts that will soon be forgotten.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Very Merry Christmas to you and yours also!
        Its always good to have something on hand in a pinch. Things on clearance, family “likes”, and even regifting are what goes in. Also nice antique/thrift store finds mixed with new items make nice gifts.

        Like

  6. One year a friend of mine just got this play it forward idea into her head.

    She went out and brought around 6 poinsettia plants and secretly placed them on doorsteps with note that said
    “You’ve been bitten by the spirit of Christmas
    Play it forward…”

    Well after hearing some comments of recipients who did not know it was her, she went out and got more.

    While shopping that day she noticed Kohls has a hard back children’s Christmas book for only $5 a piece so she picked up about 10 of them
    She kept returning over and over to Kohls and home depot for more plants and books, all containing the same note.
    If she knew the house had kids, she left a book..if not it was a plant.

    Often she was touched to give a book to a family or child walking on the street or in the parking lot. The same held true for the plants, especially elderly people.
    One time she was moved to tears, by one elderly lady . Turned out the lady was having a lousy day and week. The elderly lady could not stop crying as she related about her screwy week and day. The small $5 plant meant so much to the lady.

    Strange as it might sound but it was not until she had given out about 20 or so of the books that she realized the title of the book… The Spirit of Christmas by Nancy Tillman

    Oh yes the Lord moves in mysterious ways when only you just believe. Total cost was probably over $1,000, but to her the memories and glow within was priceless…

    Liked by 1 person

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