Monday, January 19, 2009

the night we burned christmas

Before I dive into this story, I want to say that all is well. People have expressed concern over those past two posts. I apologize if I sounded grave or despondent. I was just reeling from the past few days. There was a death in my family, and a lot of lay offs happened at work. In one week I sat on the sidelines while a lot of suffering happened around me in which I had no control. But my family is healing and I still have a desk—two things I am very grafeful for tonight.

Now, with that said, let me tell you about the night we burned Christmas.

Saturday was busy. I spent most of it baking in the kitchen. I was trying to make three apple pies for the night ahead. I was invited to a community potluck, and was going to bring what I alway do, a pie. However this time I also baked two smaller ones in little tins for the men I was meeting pre-potluck to play music with. A coworker was nice enough to invite me to play fiddle with him and his friend Phil. Both guys play guitar, and they wanted to mix things up, bring a fiddler in. For welcoming me into their homes and their music, I thought pie was in order. So I baked them each their own to take home. Since I was on a roll I also baked pies for three other guys at work and my new friend Chris. So all in all I baked six men their own little pies this weekend. I am quite the pie hussy.

I can't help it. I love baking for men. I don't mean that in some scary anti-feminist way. I just love the way a guy's face lights up when you hand him a pie you made for him. When I met Chris for a coffeedate in the bookstore, and handed him a little blueberry pie as a thanks for driving down to meet me, you would think I handed him keys to a new car the way he beamed. I selfishly love it that simple look. So really, to be honest, I bake pies for guys for my own eyes. Hot damn, say that three times fast.

Later that evening, I rolled into Phil's place late with a basket of pie and my fiddle case. I apologized for the tardiness but tried to explain that being late with pie is really like bing ten minutes early anywhere else. The guys seemed to buy that and invited me to join them. Inside on a chair in the living room was Steve, the guy who invited me to play. He was sitting there in his socks and a sweatshirt by the fireplace plucking his guitar. It's weird seeing coworkers in their natural habitats, far from khakis and twill shirts, but you get over it quick and focus on the task at hand, which in this particular story, is beer and music.

Phil handed me a cold Long Trail Ale, and we tuned our instruments by the fire. For two hours we played through a pile of songs. Both guys had a lot of talent, (much better on their guitars than I was on my fiddle) but I kept up best I could. I wasn't doing as good as I hoped with those birddogs. It's hard playing modern pop songs when the entire climate of music you hold in your heart thrives in some dark hollow in East Tennessee two hundred years ago... Or at least that's my excuse for not playing as well as I felt I could. But hey, I was nervous. Steve offered to learn a few traditional songs to balance the scales a little. He was able to belt out a respectable Wayfaring Stranger, which he learned that very night. Earned my respect, that.

After the music we all piled into my Subaru and drove uphill to the homestead hosting the big event. Cars lined the snowed-in dirt roads for a long way before we reached the house. We shuffled inside and what a sight it was to behold...There must've been a hundred people, kids, and a few dogs mulling about. A spread fit for some Arthurian court was laid out on the tables. Everything from venison and wild turkey stews to vegetarian quiches was laid out among the chiles, breads, and cheeses. Piles of cakes and pies leaned over the edges of the wooden table. Hot cider and a giant apple crisp sat on the cast iron stove behind it, making the place smell like heaven on earth. Tonight we were rich in food.

The house was hundred's of years old. Really packed with that New England colonial-clapboard character. Narrow stairs, old wooden beams, a giant fireplace in the kitchen. I was in heaven. This was exactly the kind of house I'd pray to call a home someday. If the people who lived there knew I was secretly planning out locations for chicken coops and sheep sheds, they may have asked me to leave. It is kind of rude to walk around a place quietly imagining your own weird antiques on the walls and Maude out in the backyard bitching about something or another while the dogs and I napped on the couch....but I can't help it. If you give me an old farmhouse, I see a farm. Hell, I see my farm.

We ate and ate. The kind of non-stop plate filling that happens at these things. Steve told stories about his family, Phil talked about his kids, we all talked about music and the food. All went well and we were so into our little corner of conversation we were almost shocked when we were told to put on our coats and come outside, the bonfire was starting.

Everyone else was prepared for this. I wasn't. I was prepared for baking and playing the fiddle. In my excitement for manpies and music I forgot the whole main event. I didn't have coveralls and a parka - I had on comfortable jeans, a cowboy shirt hanging over a green paisley sundress, covered by a mere leather jacket. I was wearing my brown Chucks, not the best footwear for a winter bonfire, and my scarf and gloves were all I had for my extremeties. Regardless, I went right up to the blaze. I didn't want to miss this.

The host's lit the torch and piled on the old Christmas trees one by one. I stood there by Steve and Phil watching the embers fly up into the dark. I watched the neighbors' kids and dogs run around the woods in the corners of my eyes, throwing snowballs and barking at the giant flames. I ignored the cold and hugged my own arms as I watched the pine trees explode into flames one at a time. People cheered as the burst of warm air would hit us.

It sounds harsh doesn't it? Burning Christmas But it was far from vindictive. It wasn't a night of malice or darkness, just a nickname for an excuse to have a nice get together when Vermont is at it's least social. It's been so cold here, and to spend a night defying it, outside smiling in it, was downright warm all over. When I felt I had grasped the experience enough (and couldn't feel my legs) I plodded back inside for more food and drink and a spot right next to the woodstove.

We ended the evening with slices of pie and Northern Comfort (booze in hot cider). We also lapped up some more conversation. It was nothing fancy. I have long since rescinded my need to be fancy. My cool has died. I used to scamper around galleries in Chelsea with the ferver of a design student, or spend nights in crowded shows in Philly watching Indie bands at the Troc. Now I am more content to spending my Saturday nights with a few people, some guitars, and plates of food instead of more intense plans of just a few years ago. You go out to the parade, I'll be here. I know a guy with a mandolin and a campfire, and he wins everytime. Heck guys, I don't even like going into bars. Thank god for internet dating or I'd never even meet men, but I am a firm believer that everyone I want to meet is staying at home with Netflix anyway.

I don't know if the farmlife did this, domesticated me. Probably not. I think I was always more inclined to fireplaces over fireworks, but living here in Sandgate has certainly given me more chances to practice. Come next month I will have spent a full year here in the Green Mountain State. It took a while, but now I feel part-of. I really hope that I can stick around for another year at my little farm here. It's becoming home.


Blogger Darx said...

The Troc! I went there often when I lived in Philly. Good times, but I'm with you now-- I'd rather stay home with a movie than go out to a bar.

January 20, 2009 at 9:08 AM  
Blogger Tami said...

Jenna...I find it odd that your town in Idaho and your town in Vermont both have the word 'sand' in them...although you are more a mountain and farm girl and less a beach girl. Talk about a twist on destiny? I enjoy your blog and look forward to reading your entries.

January 20, 2009 at 5:49 PM  
Blogger sara amber said...

wow, that night sounds amazing.

and "manpie" might be my new favorite word.

January 20, 2009 at 9:41 PM  
Blogger Mare said...

I LOVED this post Jenna...I felt like i was there at the bonfire and looking at the big table heaped with food too! Thanks...

January 21, 2009 at 10:50 AM  
Anonymous Dawn said...

What a great post! I might have to throw a Burning Christmas party next year (though I live in town...whatever, rules and laws be damned). I loooooooove the line, "I have long since rescinded my need to be fancy." That's absolutely brilliant, and describes how I feel about myself 100%. Here's to not being fancy, my fellow non-fancy lady!

January 21, 2009 at 4:10 PM  

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