A Bean Pole Decorated for Christmas?

An Essay by Elizabeth Ricketson

A large 3 x 3-foot Christmas wreath, displaying a red and black buffalo plaid bow this year rather than the traditional Christmas Tartan, hangs on the side of our little yellow house on the hill. The wreath is strategically placed on the side of the house because it is the first decorative visual one sees upon arrival after the bends and turns in our driveway.

Our annual holiday tradition feels curious this year. Other than the odd and intermittent delivery, no one is arriving at our home during the COVID-19 days of social distancing. Even our UPS driver has social distanced. Packages are no longer delivered to our front porch. Instead, he employs the ‘Last Mile Rule.’ Anyone who lives remotely is familiar with this door to door delivery exception. Our packages are delivered to the local post office.

Interestingly enough, our local post office is under construction, and we must travel to another town, several miles away, to get our mail from a temporary post office. So, yet another rule we believed to have merit has been inconveniently redefined. Exceptions and acceptance of broken rules are what 2020 has been all about. Well, technically, it began in 2016.

Tradition remains important to us and possibly even more so since we have experienced first-hand how what we love to do over the holidays has been challenged and compromised. Still, Christmas candlestick lights appear in our windows, white lights wrap around the front porch iron railing, and the wooden bean pole at the far end of the patio is decorated this year.  A new tradition or just a modification? An embellishment of an already existing tradition to offer us the illusion of sameness this holiday season? Much needed comfort?

The fruit of the bean pole harvest amply nourished us this past growing season, and now the wooden structure has been employed to offer something more esoteric. The lighting strung quite uniformly provides a nod to our Christmas traditions while illuminating our small remote community and the rare passer-by. We hoped the wooden shape might resemble the shape of a small perfect pine tree from the road. Needing to reserve judgment on that point until my morning run the next day; I would be able to see the modest display of lights from the road to determine how correct our thoughts might be.

 A heavy mist had settled over the hills for the past number of days feeling more like weeks at this point. Sunshine would surely benefit us all during this endlessly long gray period we are experiencing. The low forming fog mystically hovers and hugs the landscape. Feeling so close to the clouds as we make our way down the street, I feel like I could reach up and pull off a piece of the atmosphere as if I were snatching a piece of cotton candy from the large sugary confection. The exterior lights aglow, and the warmth a beacon home as I see our house from a short distance.  The bean pole clearly not an image of a small pine tree but beautiful in its uniqueness and quite possibly has now found a new permanence in our Christmas decoration rotation.

Saturday afternoon while flipping through the cable channels, desperately looking for anything but a news station and something to shift and ease my cluttered brain. I came across the movie Fiddler on the Roof. I had seen this movie years ago with my mother in the small local theater near where I grew up in Massachusetts. Tevye, the lead character, is a poor dairy farmer who ponders Jewish tradition as he openly converses with God. Traditions are clearly in question this year. Maybe different questions being asked about traditions than in the movie but timely ponderances about what they might mean to each of us. Like viewing the play Hamilton I could only watch the first half of the movie Fiddler on the Roof as the weight of more sadness is just too much right now. I know how both stories end, and self-preservation is a must right now.  I recognized that my emotional stress level, like many of us, has reached a new high. I cried through the final episode of the fabulous Schitt’s Creek comedy on Thanksgiving Day eve!!!! Apparently, I just needed an excuse to cry…a release.

Anticipating a very different holiday has been weighing on my mind even more heavily than I had acknowledged. Tradition. Missing the traditions, we have taken for granted over many years. Family traditions certainly have evolved and changed over the years as none of our lives or the people in them have remained static. None the less I knew I would miss the reoccurring and comfortable traditions that I had known for a lifetime with my immediate family. I was surprised at the end of the day by what gave me pause as I reflected on the lack of the reminders that a family had gathered. The clean-up of spilled apple pie crumbs on the dessert table. Deciding which dishes had been used and which hadn’t? Knowing I would wash them all either way. The threat of cranberry sauce stains on the crisply starched tablecloths my parents had gifted us from their many trips to Aruba. Random half-filled coffee cups dotted over the center island in the kitchen where the majority of our holidays were ultimately held. The clean-up of special dishware used only for holidays seemed insignificant in its demand this year. Not a complaint just an acknowledgement of yet more loss this year, 2020. We had a lovely albeit quiet day. We had lively and lovely phone and zoom chats over the course of the day, which brought many smiles to our wonderful family members.

The promise of a vaccine is just that. There is real hope on the horizon, but we are still charged with doing the right thing. Wear a mask, wash your hands and respect the lifesaving concept of social distancing. The right thing still needs to happen, and it is dependent on each and every one of us to do just that so we can all look forward to reemploying our family traditions in the future.

There is beauty in preserving tradition…

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” 
― Gustav Mahler

A graduate of Providence College with a BA in English, Elizabeth Ricketson has always had a love of literature and the fine arts. In the 1990s, she studied figure drawing at the Rhode Island School of Design spending years dedicated to understanding human form, movement and anatomy. Blog titled “It’s Complicated.” Elizabeth’s essays focus on life experiences and life in Vermont. Essays available for consideration.

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