Chopping Away at Castles in the Air

Christmas can have a real melancholy aspect, 'cause it packages itself as this idea of perfect family cohesion and love, and you're always going to come up short when you measure your personal life against the idealized personal lives that are constantly thrust in our faces, primarily by TV commercials.
                                                                         Dan Savage

I have always had a problem with idealism.  I'm not talking about the fancy philosophical school of thought, but, rather the type defined by as "the act or practice of envisioning things in an ideal form." For me, this character weakness has manifested itself in the following ways: imagining the perfect wedding day, dreaming of how my baby boys would one day behave in the tender fashion of Little Lord Fauntleroy, and concocting perfect plans for the holidays—replete with exquisite food, artful decorations, and bonhomie all around.  Of course, life always has other plans—the wearing-a-long-sleeved-dress-with-Scarlet O'Hara-billows-of-petticoats-on-the-99-degrees-no-air-conditioning-in-the-church  nuptial day, the irreverent, messy sons, and the Christmases which somehow typically end up with my nursing a bout  of flu or at best coping with  general end-of-semester malaise. 

But hope waxes eternal.  Inspired by sentimental novels and holiday television shows, I’d always envisioned a family trip to the mountains to cut down a Christmas tree (an act similar to one lovingly performed each year by the Waltons).  Even though the Walton children do squabble a bit about the inclusion of a bird's nest on their tree, their holiday experiences were still magic and inspirational to me as a child:  the snow, the lovingly hewn evergreen, the Baldwin sisters’ childish frivolity, the African American country church Christmas pageant, the humble scarves knit by Mrs. Walton, the turkey stealing Robin Hood of Walton Mountain, the missionary ladies who bring presents to the “heathens,” the father’s magical appearance laden with a bag of gifts (including, of course, John Boy’s writing tablets), gifts presented after many stress-filled hours the family spends waiting for the missing patriarch’s  return.  Such is the stuff of dreams . . . .

Shaped by such visions I informed my sons that we would have a “family day” the Friday following Thanksgiving.  Even though my husband and I had several times that week, in the presence of my sons, discussed taking my long-awaited trip to find a tree, they seemed oblivious to our destination on Friday morning when we pushed and prodded and ultimately commanded them to get up and dressed.  Unlike the “normal” parents of my older son’s friends, my family lacks a large comfortable SUV replete with Big Gulp drink holders and IPod plug-ins.  I’m a bit proud of our economy, but after two-and-a-half hours in a nine-year-old Volkswagen Jetta with my boys breathing down my neck, conformity and higher fuel bills didn't seem too unappealing. 

From the peace piercing yelling, such as, “You pig.  You sneezed all over me,” to the wise affirmations, such as “Sarcasm is a sign of intelligence.  Only smart people understand it,” my husband and I were presented with a solid dose of teenager behavior at its worse.  All of this was of course coupled with general intermittent wailing and carping and gnashing of teeth about having to drive so far (about 115 miles), along with discussions of what “normal” people were doing that day:  attending Black Friday sales at Best Buy or spending a beach weekend at Hilton Head that included a stop at Paula Deen’s restaurant in Savannah (activities engaged in by my older son’s friends). 

After a surprisingly pleasant lunch at the homey mountainside Mason Jar Grill (decorated with photographs of bootleggers and their moonshine-running cars), my boys, eased up a bit.  Perhaps the hundreds of Christmas tree-laden SUVs and trucks they observed driving in the opposite direction, back to the Charlotte area, helped to divest them of the notion that their parents were freaks (at least in the Christmas-tree-obtaining department), or maybe they were just plumb tuckered out.  They actually seemed to enjoy seeking out a tree—a mini tabletop one for our mini car and mini house—but by that point I just wanted to get back home and pour a tall glass of wine.  Thankfully we didn’t actually have to cut the tree down ourselves, but we did have to wave a large pole back and forth—like some desperate SOS signal—to gain the attention of chainsaw-bearing tree farm employees, most of whom were busy helping customers in other locales—not in the “under-five-feet section.”  Ultimately, after navigating an obstacle course of small children, a massive draft-horse-drawn wagon, designer dogs in holiday attire, and enormous SUVS and pick-ups, I was able to turn my Volkswagen around on a narrow dirt road with sheer drop offs on either side and head to the highway.

The fact that our mission was accomplished seem to reinvigorate the younger members of my family.  The bantering and bickering gained steam again.  But finally, our driveway appeared like some glittering object of an epic quest.  There I was.  Tired.  Disenchanted.  Divested of yet another idyllic dream.  But maybe the holidays coupled with viewing some Hallmark movies will rekindle some of my old naiveté.  Maybe in a few of weeks I’ll even feel like bringing the tree inside and decorating it.  

Despite one more addition to my store of disillusionment, the stressful day did lead to copious amounts of knitting, in an attempt to decompress. Another result of my Christmas tree trip is a pattern I was inspired to create.  I’ve lovingly, or maybe ironically, named it the “Deep Gap Neck Wrap,” for the location of the Christmas tree farm and a day that will live in my holiday memories. Here's a sneak peak of my creation. I'll post the pattern next week, after I've done some proofreading.  

I knit up this wrap, using some Debbie Stoller Full O' Sheep yarn that is almost like roving.
 I plan to knit another in worsted weight--it will be a little lighter.  
This swatch is done using Universal Deluxe Worsted.  


  1. This made me smile with recognition! You describe the teenage zeitgeist so well - and I laughed out loud at the refuelling of batteries for the return trip. I sometimes wonder whether there is a simple energy transference going on - the teenager in mood to argue and carp seeks out suitably long-suffering prey and by the time the carping and what-have-you have spent their forces, teenager is buoyed up and energised by the encounter while the recipient is sapped of all energy and the will to live! Teenager now struck by how oddly downbeat its parent now is and says so! I think sometimes though these idealised visions have to be carried through regardless and wait a few years and you may hear one of your sons say to his own children "This is what we always do at Christmas - it's part of the magic of it!" and your soul can breathe a happy sigh knowing you were right all along, not that you would be so tactless as to say so to said son!! And by the way I can't think of a nicer pre-Christmas outing than to go into the mountains and choose a tree! E x

  2. You keep my in stitches – literally with your lovely patterns (very interested in that new wrap) and figuratively with your funny tales! I see a book in your future – your patterns and how they were inspired. Thanks for your great blog! Midge

  3. Thank you for the laugh-out-loud story. I'm still chuckling.


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