Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lost holiday?

Every November like clockwork, my mother complains about Thanksgiving having become a "lost holiday." She thinks it's the red-headed stepchild of holidays. In the late hours of October 31st, all the stores take down their Halloween decor and displays and products, and replace them with Christmas decor, etc. There aren't even any traditional Thanksgiving movies--who really watches Spencer Tracy's Plymouth Adventure every year? "What happens to Thanksgiving?" she laments, "It's lost in the shuffle!"

I used to nod my head knowingly and agree. This year, however, I started thinking about her complaint and realizing that, while she has a point, she's not exactly correct. After all, Americans still celebrate Thanksgiving--time off work, big family get-togethers, traditional foods and activities, major movie releases, and the Macy's parade. I'll be heading down to Mom's tomorrow for the usual turkey and dressing and kidney bean salad and green bean casserole and relishes and pumpkin cheesecake, followed by the usual early evening bloat and mild stomach distress from eating too much.

Her complaint actually centers on two things:

1) Thanksgiving seems to be something to get past so we can start splurging on Christmas. For many consumers, Thanksgiving is mostly notable for being the day before Black Friday, the wild, out-of-control day of shopping. Of course, when Mom was younger, she was just as guilty of this as anyone else, what with our traditional trips to Eastland, Northland, or Westland on the Friday after Thanksgiving (before it had the name "Black Friday" attached to it). Now that she rarely takes advantage of this day, it's just the day after Thanksgiving for her.

2) There aren't enough commercial tokens or markers of Thanksgiving on the market. With aisles of Christmas merchandise out on the first of November, it's difficult for a self-respecting American shopper to find any Thanksgiving novelties, doo-dads, knick-knacks, or paddy-whacks to buy. Mom still decorates for each season and holiday, so she puts up fall stuff (leaves, gourds, bittersweet branches) in September. Halloween decor intrudes for a few weeks, but then it's right back to fall since she can't seem to come up with enough stuff to put on the walls and mantle that would specifically indicate Thanksgiving (a turkey, maybe a little Precious Moments pilgrim).

Mom takes this as a slap in the face at Thanksgiving, but really it's only a "lost" holiday at the mall, specifically at Hallmark stores--try as they may, they haven't turned Thanksgiving into a card-buying, gift-giving occasion yet. As a society, we still slow down for a day, gather with loved ones, and think about, if only for a minute or so, the things for which we're thankful (for me, that would be my mom, my partner Don, having a job in this economy, and Turner Classic Movies). You want a lost holiday--try finding Arbor Day decorations.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

I'm a wild thing

Though I should have been the perfect age for Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are to be a meaningful book for me (I was 7 when it was first published in 1963), I didn't read it until I was out of college and working in retail bookselling in the early 80's. I like Sendak's books, though my favorite is In the Night Kitchen, a dream story which reminds me of the old Little Nemo comic strips, and I would definitely have loved that book when I was 7.

My partner Don loves Sendak, and particularly Where the Wild Things Are; one of our favorite touristy side trips occurred in New York City a few years ago when we saw a major Sendak exhibition at the Jewish Museum. However, Don is boycotting the Wild Things movie, afraid that Spike Jonze will have made a mess out of a beloved book. I don't blame him; the current track record of turning short, thinly plotted children's classics into full-length movies is dismal--the recent Suess movies were roundly panned, and The Polar Express is one of the worst Christmas movies I've ever seen--and I sat through the first 20 minutes of the atrocious TV remake of Christmas in Connecticut, directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, I am interested in seeing Wild Things because the reviews have been mostly positive, and even the negative ones make it sound interesting. I may wait for the DVD.

But the other day, I wore my Wild Things t-shirt to work (see above). It was a gift from Don from early in our relationship, or at least I remember it that way: he'd gone off to a conference (I'm gonna say the American Folklore Society, and I'm gonna say it was down south somewhere), and it was one of the first times he was gone for more than a couple of days since we'd moved in together. He came back with this gift, a heavy green t-shirt with Max (the main character of the book) embroidered on it. It was definitely a bootleg item since, at the time, Sendak didn't sanction the selling of any products with his artwork on them. I'm no longer 100% certain of all the above circumstances, but since I remember it that way, it is so. It was an extra-special gift, and one which still fits me to this day.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dawes Arboretum

Before this fall becomes a memory (too quickly, certainly), I thought I'd better post my pictures from our visit to Dawes Arboretum, 35 miles east of Columbus, OH, near Newark, on a lovely Sunday afternoon in late September as the leaves had just begun turning. At the entrance, near the reception center, were these lovely purple flowers (I'm not really a nature boy, so I will not be able to identify any of the living things in these pictures except people):

First, we went over to the east side of the arboretum property, which is considered the "adventurous" side, with hiking paths which are of "uneven terrain" and sometimes a bit mudluscious. Hikers who venture over there, through a tunnel that goes under the highway, are supposed to register at the office when they head out and sign in when they leave, I guess for safety's sake, but honestly, the trails there, though not as "polished" as the other walkways, are hardly difficult or even particularly "adventurous." It's a large plain with thickets of trees and fields of natural things (flowers, things that look like wheat--I told you I'm not a nature boy) and the paths are usually much emptier, so you feel like you are, well, out in nature.

The tunnel over:

One of those fields of living plant things that are lovely to look at:

The way in:
I wanted to call this "The road not taken," but we took it:

Injured (to say the least) tree:

The sky above:

When we returned safely to Dawes proper, we noticed a small garden with odd scupltures, seemingly made with natural materials. First, some sort of crazy animal:

Then, some paganish Wicker Man-like figure, bending in the non-existent stiff breeze:

Next, off to the Japanese gardens, with small hills, a reflecting pond, a rock garden, and a mediation shack. Very lovely, except when the impolite families felt it was OK to let their children mosey through the rock garden in a very un-Zen fashion. First, the rock garden:

My friends walking across the pond:

A gentle curve in the pond:

Background to the garden:

Finally, two more pictures on the way out of Dawes:

I imagine the leaves are now mostly gone, but they were lovely while they lasted.