Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Snow Village and other Fantasies

When I was little, we brought our Christmas trees home to Orland Park from Callaway county Missouri in the trunk of our car. All the long cold way home, the essence of cedar oozed into the back seat and, warmed by the car heater, gave us a sneak preview of the fragrance of Christmas soon to grace a corner of our living room. While other families visited the virtual forests springing up on vacant town lots, or brought home nicely manicured long needled Scotch pines from a tree farm, we hung our ornaments with care on the ever so flexible,invisibly poky branches of our Missouri cedar. On any other day of any other year, that tree would have been mere "brush" and destined to join a fiery pyre with black locusts, persimmons, sassafras, but mostly, other cedars. But fortune and symmetry smiled and now it was adorned and adored in a flat land development on top of the black peat soil of northern Illinois.

Our trees looked delicate when trimmed, almost lacy, with the ornaments barely dangling from the thin branches and the old fashioned heavy tinsel reflecting the colors of the big egg shaped lights. We were diligent in watering the tree; in those days, the lights packed a thermal punch and a dried cedar was a torch waiting to happen. Laura and I loved every tree, every year; the little manger scene ornaments, the frosted glass balls, the heat seeking spinners, the glass birds with their fiber tails. But, most of all, we lived to put the village up under the tree.

I don't know the provenance of the village. It just was: a half dozen or so little bungalows of a very stiff and sturdy cardboard with red cellophane paned windows, snowy "tiled" roofs and hard green sponge shrubbery. Entwined with Christmas memories as they were, I always associated them with the houses in the neighborhood on Greenberry Road,where my grandparents lived: hipped roofs, stucco, and other design elements antithetical to the low eaves and cookie cutter facades of the treeless neighborhood we lived in.
In addition to the friendly homes with their warm Christmas lighted interiors, the village included a white spired church not unlike the Lutheran church we attended, if one ignored the crooked steeple that required a fresh bandage of Scotch tape annually to keep it upright.

In our village, it was always a Silent Night. The children were surely asleep in their beds,visions of sugarplums in their dreams, rosy cheeked after a day of building the smiling snowmen outside their doors. The little creche nestled close by the church and deer wandered down from the forests near the trunk of the tree. Snow, or billowy cotton full of last year's needles, piled around the bristly brushes of the villages "evergreens". Not a soul lingered in the bleak midwinter; all were apparently snug and warm indoors waiting for Santa to arrive.

With this history, it is only natural, meet and right that a Snow Village should spring to life at Spruce every Christmas. It is not a Snow Metroplex, by any means, but it is certainly a friendly place with amenities much beloved by residents of Spruce. Snow Village proper sports a chocolate shop the size of a department store, a bridal shop, a bank (to be used when paying for the weddings), a greenhouse (well, duh), a Krispy Kreme, a Starbucks (double duh...what came first, the coffee or the doughnut) and a couple of pleasant homes. There are two town Christmas trees, one with tiny colored LED bulbs and the other(thanks, Aaron!) an electric pink with sparkling tips, rather the Brobdingnagian version of the tinsel trees we children of the sixties remember. This year the Mayor is again presenting the keys to the city to Santa while the town band serenades. Unlike real life, the musicians' lips are NOT sticking to their mouthpieces; the children shopping do not have sodden feet, and the vehicles nestled in the snow drifts are not actually stuck. Everyone apparently has a Monica Martin Bailey attitude about the white stuff :)

On the other side of the dining room is the country crossroads with the grain elevator and the little white church from my childhood. A bride and groom are gazing rapturously at each other, blissfully ignorant of the weather and the proximity of their black getaway car. The church dates from Ann and Matt's wedding in 2001. More recent amenities to the country are the rustic gas station and old fashioned mill; at least the bride and groom will be able to fill up en route to their honeymoon.

Way farther out in the country, so far out that there is, literally, no electricity(on top of the pie safe), is the little creek and bridge, a barnyard of farm critters, the treehouse I can never get back into its styrofoam cocoon, some skaters, a photographer, a couple on a sleigh ride, and three children perpetually warming marshmallows on a cool orange fire. No vignette is spectacular; all embody simple and domestic pleasures. To some, Snow Village might be part and parcel of the Norman Rockwell school of life, maybe even more sticky and sugary. But, to me, its another very pleasant ritual of the Christmas season, a tradition with its start after Thanksgiving and its farewell after New Year's, and a very present reminder of the spirit we should all adopt and will, if we're lucky.

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