Boston,  Life Story

Somethings can root in the cold

The baby is coming in December, but December is coming first. The calendar is a scribbled caricature of bustling—evening parties, teas at hotels, a Nutcracker performance for Lux, gingerbread house decorating, some warm dinners, and cold mornings (me watching) Joe and Lux ice skate. I hope to visit the local libraries for their shelves of Christmas books, bake salt dough ornaments, help the girls memorize a few carols, find a Christmas pageant to attend, burn some balsam-scented candles, and eat a lot of kale (just got my low iron results back, whoops).

It’s a funny thought that five years ago, pre-kids, I didn’t do any of those things. And eight years ago, when Joe proposed to me in the Garden, it was my first Christmas in Boston. My holiday participation was downstairs to the city’s upstairs, a la Downton Abbey. I helped everyone else celebrate and made some money for my employer along the way.The night Joe proposed, we went to the Christmas Eve service at Trinity Church in Copley Square. It was glorious cozy service, the pews were full with families parading in wrapped in cashmere and wool. It was briskly cold outside, snow was predicted, and very warm inside.

Trinity has old-fashioned bracketed church pews, the type weathly families rented for a few thousands dollars and some prestige back in the day. Nestled between Joe and an old wooden bolster, lulled by the choir and the incensed air, I fell asleep. I had been at the flower store where I worked all day, dashing about tripping on loose red berries and roughing my hands on sticky fragrant evergreen wreaths. I wrapped up hostess gifts, wrote down delivery orders (as a midwesterner, it took me months to memorize the funny pronunciations of all the New England towns), sold brilliant arrangements for tablescapes, and tied everything up festively before it left our doors.

Anyway, I fell asleep at the service, Joe woke me up when it was over, we walked home through the Garden which was lit with white lights, Joe proposed in the snow along the edge of the duck pond and gave me a beautiful perfect ring that was slightly too big. The next day was Christmas, we went out to breakfast, went for a walk, called our families, and relaxed together. I had to work the day after, and that was that for Christmas.

The flower store was beautiful but like any retail-level worker, I was on my feet for 100% of the day, never getting two days off in a row, with no predictability from week to week. If people were going to teas and tree lightings, I didn’t notice. Working at that store was to be surrounded in beauty all the time, though it was beauty that was in various stages of demise. The flowers were dying as soon as we unpacked them from their boxes overnighted from the Netherlands.

To sell a fully open flower was viewed as déclassé, an embarrassment. Arrangements should have many teasing buds waiting to open, with just a few that were open enough to brighten the whole thing. I never attached to the South African amaryllis, the deeply red flowers that arrived in December with droopy unopened buds on each side of their tall celery-like stalks. And I grew to hate the strange truth that poinsettias liked sunshine and warmth—everything our New England winter didn’t offer. Any poinsettas put near the door of the shop would weaken and whither as each customer burst in with a freezing gust of air. Why was a tropical flower being heralded here anyway, I would grouse when we were forced to throw out another dead plant. Right outside there were snow-dusted holly branches glossy and dotted with red berries, deeply green evergreen boughs, pale blue juniper berries, and hearty wooden pine cones that sucked in the cold and relished it.

photos from last year’s holiday season. 


  • Mary Yonkman

    have meant to comment on your last three posts all to say the same thing: your writing always has been, but especially now is so, so, so good — i find myself savoring each word. and thinking about what you wrote long after i read it. thank you for taking the time, which i know is must be at a premium these days, to share with us. december babies are so wonderful — excited for y’all!!

  • Sarah

    I was just thinking about how I wasted all my pre-baby days doing NOTHING! Not enough movies, date nights or holiday/seasonal activities! After reading this post, it just hit me! I was working and going to college!! Ha, ha! Thanks for making me realize I was busy then too! Just a different kind of busy!
    Love your writing and can’t wait to hear about the new baby when she gets here! 🙂 Like the previous poster wrote, I appreciate you taking the time to write your blog!

  • Anna {dear friend}

    You never told me you and Joe were engaged in the Garden. And by the edge of the duck pond too! Probably a million people can say the same, but still I like that we share that fun fact. 🙂

    And I agree with all the rest about your posts of late. Such a treat, I am loving them so!

  • Joanie

    I share in everyone’s enthusiasm, I read your posts as if you were a stranger and feel very proud of you when I remember you’re my sister. I remember my retail days when I would work every weekend and holiday, sisters and friends would come in sipping their coffee, casually trying on clothes, talking about brunch and aimlessly wandering around the store. I would feel so deeply jealous of these people, but they made me so much more aware of the luxury of a weekend now. These days when I take a week off for thanksgiving or two weeks for Christmas I feel every inch of how special that is and I see every person who isn’t getting to experience the season because they are stocking shelves at Target for black Friday.

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