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Over the River, and To the Woods…

Being retired from the traditional workforce affords me a great deal of time to do things I really enjoy.  And busy I do stay!  One of those adventures which I recently undertook was the search for the perfect Christmas Tree.

It sometimes seems to me rather odd that we stick a tree in the middle of our house, but I do understand the history and traditions involved.  Both the long term story, and my own personal history with a Christmas tree.

Because I have the time, I like to be extravagant and drive up to the mountains of North Carolina where I can cut a live tree. That far north I can get a nice spruce or fir.  In my area I’d have to go for a cedar or cypress or even a white pine.  All beautiful in their own way, but not what I’m used to.

Many times I’ve gone to a hardware store or pop-up tree store and picked up a pre cut tree.  But I worry about how long they have been cut and how dry they may already be.  So for the past several years I have gone to Osage Farms to cut a tree.

It’s a mountain, and covered with trees.  Each one is tagged with a colored ribbon to indicate the height and price.  When I pulled up at the place this year the man working there asked me how big a tree I was looking for.  When I told him I just needed a little one, eight feet, he said that I’d have to drive down the road to where they had another mountain full of smaller trees. This hill was for the big ones.

Normally when I go to this place it’s packed with families trudging up and down the hills looking for their perfect tree.  This year I was able to go in the middle of the week, and was thus all alone on the mountain.  I drove down the road and found what I thought was the right section of the mountain for my size tree.  Orange tags for eight footers.  Yellow for five.  I needed one for my daughter too, and the yellow tag would be good for her house.

It was a beautiful day.  Cool, as winter in the mountains should be, but not cold. And of course sunny.  All I needed was some snow and I could have taken a million dollar Christmas card photo.

Lots of trees to chose from .  I enjoy climbing around on the hillside and examining each and every tree.  Is the trunk straight?  Any big holes in the branches?  Tall enough? Not too wide.  In her bounty, Nature creates many such trees.  And it’s always hard to choose what I think will be the perfect one.

But I do choose.  And this year I didn’t have to go too far up the hill to do it.  The first yellow tagged tree that I saw was the one I ended up with .  About five feet tall.  Very straight with no holes.  Of course I scouted out a number of others, but this was the one.  The orange tagged tree needed a little more of a search, but after looking at six or seven trees I found the one I thought was best.  I marked it so I’d know which one it was when I walked away to look at another.  It’s very easy to find a good one, walk away seeing another, and to never find the first one again.

The man came down from the other mountain, the one with the big trees and I showed him which two I wanted.  He pulled out the chain saw and in a flash both were cut, loaded onto this ATV and on thier way to the checkout table.  That was easy.

I’ve cut the tree myself before.  With a handsaw.  Now that’s some work.  So I let the guy with he chainsaw do it for me.  And I give him a tip for that.

On this tree covered mountain it seems like I’m in the wilderness.  And one year I did see a bear walking across the road.  But it’s only a few miles from the nearby town.  They have a little ski area there and today they have eight inches of real snow covering the mountain.  Glad I went last week.

So, with a perfect tree in my possession, I’m headed home to cover it with lights and decorations.  And that’s another story.

All of which is part of my story.  What’s yours?


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Today is Halloween, so I guess late in the day it’s ok to begin talking about Christmas.  I hate to do it because I like Halloween, and there is still Thanksgiving yet to come.  A very important holiday.  But this is kind of business related so here we go…

This weekend the antique mall where I have one of my shops is having it’s Christmas open house.  I know, it’s very early in the year for that.  Gotta give customers plenty of time to shop for Christmas items, and gifts of all sort.  And I like all the festive feeling and merry making of the holidays.

Anyway, the owner of the mall asked all the dealers to write up a little blurb on our favorite Christmas memory.  When I gave mine to her the other day she acted like I was the only one who had submitted anything.  Too bad…  I don’t really know what she’s planning to do with these stories, but it was fun to reminisce a little while putting mine together.

I have lots of Christmas memories.  Good and bad.  Favorite gifts.  Funny events.  Great experiences.  I saw the Pope at eh Vatican one year.  But one thing kept coming back into my head over and over.  It was the tree.  I’ve always had a live one.  Sometimes so alive it needed to be planted in the ground after the season.  And sometimes barely hanging on until its last needle turned brown and fell off.

Big trees and little trees.  Firs and pines and cypress.  Anything green.  But its not just the tree that stands out.  Its what we did to the tree preparing it for the holidays.  Making it beautiful….

My favorite Christmas memory is not of one event, but of one that happens every year. And every time with a different result. No, its not like in the movie Groundhog Day where I get to come back over and over to do it again until I get it right. I get it right every time. It just turns out differently. I decorate he Christmas tree.

When I was a kid Christmas Eve morning meant going to the garage to grab the tree we had chosen and cut in the forest the previous weekend. It sat in a bucket of water waiting for this day. My dad and I would wrestle it into the house and get it set up in its stand.

After lunch I was given the honor of putting all of the light on its boughs. String after string I’d test the lights and replace burned out bulbs, carefully choosing the color to be placed in each socket. This was the old days wen bulbs screwed in and could be replaced. When one loose or missing bulb shut down the whole string. And when each bulb had to be clipped on to the tree branch.

After dinner we would break out boxes and boxes of ornaments and everyone in the family would carefully hang dozens of them. A very eclectic looking tree, just as the members of my family are very much individuals.

We’d go to a Christmas Eve church service and when we returned home the children would drift of to bed. Not to sleep though! My mother would then get busy hanging tinsel on the tree.   Each strand carefully place to reflect the multicolored lights. She always told us that Santa Claus had put the tinsel on the tree. And the tree would remain in place until January 6th, the day of Epiphany. Thus, the twelve days of Christmas.

Now that I have my own family some of that has changed. I still do the lights, but now its much more a matter of shoving the strings into the tree, burying the lights deep to give a sense of depth. I usually forget to test them until after they are on the tree, and find that some work and others don’t. Or maybe I’ve strung them somehow I’ve sequenced the strings wrong so one has no power. But it always ends up beautifully lt.

And stays up for a long time. Going up right after Thanksgiving, we enjoy it all of December. The Southern tradition is that it must come down before New Years, which we observed of r many years. Now though, we put it up early and leave it up until the last needle is dried up and falls off. Well, not quite. It comes down in Epiphany.

Lots of other great holiday memories, but this one I get to refresh every year. To make it better perhaps, but always to make it memorable.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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A Life

It was one of those fabulous old antebellum homes for which Madison is so well known. Off the main street, a couple of blocks back into the residential area. Academy Street.

In obvious need of exterior painting, and some roof repairs, it was nonetheless a grand old house. Twelve foot ceilings. Large rooms. Beautiful hardwood floors. And lot’s of quirks. Like the staircase with only a six foot clearance for heads.

But it wasn’t the outside of the house which had drawn me here. Or the others standing in line waiting to go inside. For me it was the things inside, treasures amassed over a lifetime by the last resident of the house. Now all for sale.

My understanding was that the last resident had, at age 98, slipped this mortal coil. Her family had sold the house, and was now parting with everything inside. Strange things you might find. Someone pointed out that there were hundreds of family photos. And even the guest book from the funeral. Small things can sometimes make big statements.

What I noticed was that there was a relatively small turnout for this sale. There were several people in the line that I recognized. Other estate sale junkies. Or antique dealers.   There were plenty of treasures here indeed. The owner had obviously been a collector, on a small scale, all her life. And she had treasures from every time period, and from around the world. She seemed to like Asian items. I mention this only because that is something I always look for, and am excited to find.

Most of the crowd seemed to be local people. People who knew this woman. They wanted to see the inside of the house. And perhaps to claim something that would remind them of her. One woman wanted the handwritten recipe cards from the kitchen. Zero monetary value, but tremendous sentimental value of some sort.

There was also at least one family member there. She identified herself as such when told that the item she wanted was already sold to someone else.

Maybe she was family. Maybe not. That one thing that she had always wanted was somehow not willed to her, or passed along by closer family members. She found something else and was satisfied.

I have no ties to this person. Or to any of the people whose estate sales I go. I’m a collector and reseller and that is my purpose and interest in these items from someone’s life. I do often wonder what kind of person this might have been, and usually end up creating my own story about them. Everyone is a hero.

One day my estate will be sold off. I’m glad I won’t be there for that. But I will at least know the story behind every single item sold.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Round and Round

Hi my name is Matt and I’m an antique dealer. Hi Matt! comes the chorus from the group assembled at the regular meeting of antiquers anonymous. That’s how my dream goes some nights.

Over the past four or five years I have been to countless yard sales and estate sales. So many that I can’t even remember the places I’ve gone. Neighborhoods yes, but specific houses? Pretty rarely. Would have been someplace that had something really incredible to offer.

On those same lines, I’ve moved so many items in and out of the house, and my antique shops, that I can’t even picture most of them. Hell, I can’t even look in the store and figure out what’s missing from week to week. Sometimes I’ll look at the list of things I’ve sold and wonder what this or that even was.

So you might imagine that it was quite a shock for me the other day when I walked into a house where the owners were having a sale and saw something hanging on the wall that I had once owned. A one of a kind hand made weaving that I had found at another yard sale, kept in my house for a while and sold. No doubt about it, it was the same one.

I told the girl who lived there that I had once owned the weaving depicting an ancient South American bird god. Her jaw dropped and she ran outside to tell her boyfriend. He remembered me. And where I lived and how on the day that he and his friend bought the piece they had come to my house in a blue pickup truck and strapped this huge masterpiece on the back of the truck. It was too big to fit inside the bed of the truck. And I remember that on the day that I bought it I had done the same thing.

The friend had moved away and left the weaving for his friend. And it was not for sale. I wouldn’t have bought it again, but I sure did like it hanging on their wall. Big, bold. Lots of wow factor. And I was glad to know that someone was enjoying it so much. After I had certainly saved it from the scrapheap of history.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?


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Boat Parade

On the approach, the new Mercedes Benz stadium was clearly visible. Unlike the path that the crow flies, the road system I was travelling did not go straight to my destination. I could see a nearby landmark, but not the road I needed to take.

And so, as is common to my travels, I took a wrong turn. The GPS rerouted and sent me on a new path so it was no major disaster. But it threw off my concentration. And I missed another turn.

Ending up in a parking lot full of nothing but boat trailers, I knew I was in the right area. But I couldn’t park there. The blue lot was my destination. There was a gate guard at the main entrance to the trailer lot so I stopped to ask him where I needed to go to reach my goal. He seemed a bit surprised that I came from within the trailer lot, but very kindly gave me the directions. It was just a around the corner and I was there in no time. Pretty good for me!

The boat show promised to provide the mother lode of boats to examine. I would like to buy a boat, but it’s hard to go to every dealership to look around. And even worse to have to face the scrutiny of hungry salesmen on the small stage of a single dealership. This big show was sure to be somewhat more relaxed. And would allow me to look at vessels I would not normally see at my local showroom.

The exhibit hall at the World Congress Center did not disappoint. It was huge. And filled with hundreds of boats of all sizes and shapes.  Long lines to get onto and explore the biggest and fancies yachts.

Actually buying a boat here was not in my mind at all. That would be way too impulsive. But as I walked around I did see signs on several boats indicating that they were indeed sold.

My goal was to clarify in my mind what type of boat I really wanted. Or more precisely, which type I should actually buy. I had three options in mind. In no particular order, they were sailboat, pontoon boat, and runabout boat.

Each type comes in many sizes and styles, but it wasn’t within these categories that I needed to decide, but rather between them.

I have had two sailboats and I enjoy drifting silently across the water powered by only a nice breeze. But there are places that sailboats can’t go, like close in to a shoreline. The pontoon will go anywhere I want it to go, carries a good number of people, and is easy to drive. But somehow it seems a tad boring. Now the runabout, a classic vintage one, is to me just the coolest thing ever. Lapstraked hull and curved windshield with that 35 horsepower engine. OMG! Not like the big offshore boat I saw with three 300 horsepower engines strapped on to is after end. But I didn’t expect to see an antique boat at this show. And quite honestly, I think I’d be afraid to drive it lest it get a scratch.

Row after row I looked, and climbed aboard several. The sales folks seemed to ignore you unless you sat on their boat for more than ten minutes. And very strangely, I noticed that every one of the people I spoke with had their hands and mouths full of food. Boring show?

There were several food and beverage options available at the show. Including beer and wine. Oh lord, a drunken sailor! And it wasn’t just boats on display. There were people selling lakefront real estate. And patio furniture. Skin lotions and clothing. Anything and everything that had even the slightest connection to outdoor and water oriented recreation. That part of the show I breezed through.

In all of my researching here I did discover one thing. While I love all three types of boats that I’ve mentioned, the pontoon is most practical for my desires.

It took a while, but I finally found an example of a pontoon boat that fit my needs. Especially in the price category. I don’t have six figures for a boat. Basic is what I want. Low budget. Not too big. Plenty of seating. And enough of a go fast device to go just fast enough.

But I won’t be buying one of these fancy new boats. Still out of my budget. I should say out of my will to pay. Instead, I’ll find an experienced boat, one well travelled and a little broken down. Just like me.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Suburban Archaeology

The phone rang and with some urgency the voice on the other end asked, “where are you?” It was my daughter and at this time of day her call could mean only one thing. She had a problem. And needed me to fix it.

The city water department had called her at work. One of her neighbors had called to report that my daughter’s yard was flooding. As well as her street. The city had sent someone to shut off the water. And they wanted her to fix the leak before turning the water on again.

No. I am not a plumber. But I’ve learned a few tings over the years and my kids have come to rely on me to know what to do. I told her that as soon as I finished dropping off my stuff at the recycling center I would come over to look. The water was off. Any damage that was done was already done.

As I turned into her neighborhood I noticed water in the street. I’m still a block and a half from her house, and not even on her street. Can’t be from her leak. I was still hoping that the water department had called the wrong homeowner.

Rounding the corner I could see more water. But indeed it seemed to begin at my daughter’s house. Damn. Parking in the driveway I got out of my truck to take in the situation. Puddles in yard. Water running across the sidewalk that goes from the driveway to the front door. The garage door was open. My daughter was there. Nothing wet in the garage. Or in the house.

Seeing the dry indoors I was able to breath again. I had been through a flooded house of my own. Not a pretty sight. Years ago we were selling our house and had gone out of town for Christmas. Coldest day of the year. And a pipe in an outside wall burst. Flooding the living room, the bathroom and the garage. And no one knew. Until the skating rink appeared in my yard. But we got it all fixed.

Tapping my feet at the soggy ground and digging around the foundation a little with my fingers I decided that the pipe between the water meter and the house must have broken. In one spot or several I didn’t know. And where was the pipe? Gonna need a shovel.

Before doing any more research I called a plumber. He said it wasn’t worth digging until the water was back on. We also called the insurance company. They told us not to let anyone do any repairs that involved tearing into walls, or jackhammering the concrete slab that the house sits on until they approved.

Now there’s a nightmare scenario. Hopefully the break was not too close to the house and none of that would be necessary. Might have to tear the whole house down to fix the leak. Damn again.

The plumber came out and I told him what I knew. Not much. He turned on the water and said we would just have to wait to see where it appeared. Then dig.

He left me watching the ground while he ran off to do some errands. Call me when you see some thing he had said. It took about thirty minutes, but there it was. Making a puddle. I moved a little dirt around with my fingers to try pinpointing the leak. Shortly after I called, he reappeared. And started to dig.

An hour or so later I heard him working in the garage. Bang, clunk. What the hell? He was turning on the water heater. The job was done.

Going outside I saw the plumber’s apprentice filling up a big hole with the wet muck they had dug out. There were piles of tree roots. Big chunks of plastic that seemed to be the potting containers from the original tree that had stood there. And small pieces of PVC pipe.

The news was that the pipe was broken at an elbow. One piece of pipe had slid out of the elbow. Not a frozen pipe as I had thought. The plumber then produced another artifact that he had uncovered. An empty beer bottle.

The evidence suggests that the plumber who had worked on the house during its original construction had downed the beer, and forgotten to glue the pipe sections together. For twenty years they had been held together just by the dirt surrounding them.

I can conjure up many thoughts and images as to the situation on the fateful day so many years ago. But I won’t because that will lead me to ask what other disasters are waiting to happen here. Isolated incident. Won’t happen again.

Archaeologists sometimes classify items as religious artifacts when they are not sure of their actual use. I’m going to put the empty beer bottle into that category. For peace of mind. Further exploration may reveal a more accurate picture. But there is no digging planned on this site.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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The Gingko Tree

Everything had to be perfect. The shape. The size. And most especially the location. Visible from any angle. This was no ordinary tree!

Moving from my old house meant that I would have to leave all of my landscaping handiwork behind. Over the years I had touched every bush and shrub, and seemingly every blade of grass on the property. Much of the greenery I had planted. All of it I had nurtured. Redbuds, dogwoods and peach trees. Lenten roses in the shade. Flowering forsythia and camellia. Maple trees and two giant river birches. I loved them all.

The hardscaping was mine too. Railroad ties to create terraced steps in front and back. A slate paver patio. Brick retaining walls. And the koi pond. That was a real masterpiece.

But the greatest thing in the whole landscape, my very favorite item, was the gingko tree. With it’s green fan shaped leaves in the summer and the rich gold and yellow it transforms to in the fall, this most ancient of trees is simply spectacular. There are several majestic specimens in my town. They always catch my eye, and I have to stop dead in my tracks to stare and admire them. Even when the leaves fall off late in the season, the mound of golden leaves on the ground is worthy of tribute.

And so, I decided that the landscape at my home could not be complete without one of these trees. It wasn’t easy to find. And because of its combined rarity and popularity, it wasn’t cheap. Worth every penny.

The most magnificent specimen I had seen in town was fifty feet tall. With a trunk more than a foot across. My new acquisition, of which I was very proud, was four feet tall. And not quite an inch in diameter. Gingko are slow growers, so I knew I was in for a long haul with this tree.

I planted it where it would have good sun. In decent soil. And where it could be seen from the street and from every room in the back of my house. One day it would be spectacular.

The first couple of years were trying. I had to water it a lot. And indeed it grew slowly. But it sprouted leaves every spring. And they turned yellow every fall. But they didn’t hang on to the branches very long. That’s ok, the golden mound of leaves on the ground was still beautiful.

At some point something clicked with this tree. I guess the roots got happy and it took off. It grew, and thrived, and produced more and more of the golden leaves. The whole family loved it. But the leaves never did hang on very long.

When we moved, there was no gingko at the new house. I would have to plant one.   Even as a priority it took me nearly a year to find the tree, and the perfect spot. The tree was actually easier to find than the spot. Several times I passed on getting the tree because I hadn’t decided on the spot.

Good soil. Perfect sunlight. In a place where it could be seen from every room in the back of the house. But not too close to the house. And not in a place where it would block the view of the pond in the back.

Finally I bought the tree knowing that having it in hand would force me to find the right spot. Straight and well branched, it stands four feet tall. And measures about an inch in diameter. It had golden leaves clinging tightly to the branches.

The potted tree was placed in the yard. How did it look here? Or there? Move it a few feet this way, and back. Now six inches left and two inches forward. That was it. All of the siting requirements were met. Where is that shovel?

Having positioned the tree with laser precision, I knew that digging a hole would not be quite as accurate. Close enough. It was in the right place, and it was standing straight. I backfilled the hole with dirt, mulch and special planting soil. This tree will lead a pampered life.

My youngest daughter went by the old house to get a look at the gingko. It was now nearly twenty feet tall, and about four inches in diameter. The leaves had already fallen off. The new owners no nothing of the history of that tree. And might not even like yellow. Now my new homestead has a gingko to call its own. Or more likely, a gingko has this new homestead to claim for itself.

I’ll make sure that it is happy, as it makes me happy. That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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