Threads across time
Advertisements for various Hope-to-be-Hot Items for Christmas usually pass by me. One, with an old, but unmistakable, annoying, but catchy, jingle, for “ch-ch-ch-chia” rang a little bell but wasn’t enough to make me pay attention until I saw it had morphed with a pop icon, Baby Yoda.
These things feel to have been forever a part of the background noise of the holiday season but several sources date them “only” to the latter part of the 1970’s and, also surprising to me, they are not making a comeback, they never went away. In the way of one memory tripping another I was soon on the phone with a friend “do you remember the year...” a Chia pet was a much anticipated present, that got broken in the shaking of boxes trying to locate it.
Then I was off recalling travels of Christmases past, when the weather was often horrid, one of those things I never much noticed until after my mother died and I started going to spend the holiday with cousins and friends on the mainland. The fact of it was sealed one blasting December day when I sat in my red Jeep in the parking lot waiting for the boat to load, feeling the vehicle around me quivering in the wind, realizing I had been in the same vehicle in the same place feeling the same wind a year previous.
Years before that, the boat didn’t run for days before Christmas and when it finally did, boxes of mail arrived. The ladies at the Post Office declared they would get every piece sorted before closing; later one of them said she had been so tired she had turned her electric blanket up to “9” that night.
I was safely on the mainland when the wind was so bad it was unnerving even in Westerly, away from the shore, a feeling confirmed hearing reports arrived the next day that portions of the Post Office roof — the then flat-roofed building at Bridge Gate — had been shredded.
Memories of those years are laced with bad weather.
This year, for all the dire forecasts, Christmas was merely lousy, not the Armageddon promised. A day of gray rain ended with a glorious, affirming, sunset, soft colors filling the sky from my east side of the island house, great drama for those with a wide view to the southwest.
But we are still in the Year of Covid. There had been no going out to church Christmas Eve for a service ending with a candlelit “Silent Night” and the weather was unraveling, anyway, so I had neither reason nor desire to make a trip to town after the last boat had left on Thursday.
I had managed to get out Wednesday, after dark, when all had been calm and bright, the relatively few lights around the New Harbor mirrored in the calm water, a funky tree shining brightly at the beach house, and the Old Harbor a shimmering festival of light, from the cable and dredging equipment secured within the breakwater walls, to the porches of empty hotels and the windows of shops that have remained open on designated days, from the lobster pot tree in Esta’s Park up to the traditional tree on the church lawn to the decorated turret of the old hotel and down to the boats in the Inner Basin.
There seemed to be more lights around than there have been for some time, a reaction to this dark year, more people being less transient, although I still believe there were more when the population was barely half of what it is today, when the land was clear and views open and very few people went anywhere.
Christmas Day I stayed home, watching the water collect, again, in the swale, and the road run like two silver streams. It was just another rainy day in December.
It was Boxing Day before I ventured back out and found the singular normalcy of the year, the parking lot closure sign I usually see Christmas Eve, the “handmade” sign brought out annually, as the standing gates are moved around and access to the Interstate lot is forbidden.
It is the only day of the year when there is no boat scheduled, which I generally find oddly troubling in a way I do not when it is weather related, this reminder of our reliance on that one line for so much and how easily it could be severed.
This year it was comforting, sort of like the simple white cross and two red candles that appear every Christmas time in the north end of the old white farm house on the Neck Road, the legal formality in town and the very of-the-season display on the farm both threads across time.