Chris’mas Story

sunflare-at-eimers
Winter Light at Wild Turkey Road near Sebewaing, MI

Along about Exit 88 on I-94 Westbound, there is a plastic Santa Claus sitting on top of a steel fence post, part of an old woven-wire fence that separates the highway easement from a swampy horse pasture.  He’s back in there a little ways, hidden in the brush and hard to see.  It looks like someone was picking up cans, or generally policing the road bank, and found him there.  What do you do with a good Santa Claus that you may have found while picking up cans on a summer day?  Put him up on a post for others to enjoy, of course.  My wife, Jamie, and I rarely pass that way without trying to spot Santa.  He always makes our day.  We wave and say “Hi Santa!” Be it midnight on a Tuesday in June, or four pm on a random February day.

We don’t decorate for holidays much at our house.  We have dogs and a cat.  They wreck stuff.  We kind of feel that a lot of seasonal decorating is for retired people who have time and money.  Our money is tight and if we are not working we need to sleep.  Life has tired us out. We used to paint the town red every weekend, Hell, we’d give it two coats and stay up for 3 days to watch it dry.

Now we are exhausted, and things that mean more work  just don’t make sense to us. We’ve seen lights, we know a lot about conifers, and wreaths of arborvitae. Holly grows in the swamp down past the old farm. Seen it all. Did it. Know where it is if we need it, don’t feel the need to drag it into the house so we can clean it all up again in three weeks.

But if you want to see a couple in their 50’s get excited, just watch along I-94 at Exit 88 when we come by.  We’ll be craning our necks to see if we can spy Santa sitting on his perch, bringing joy to people like us, too tired to decorate at home, but not too jaded to appreciate the random gift of a stranger who thought Santa would look good on the fence.  It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if we start collecting  Santas to stick on fence posts wherever we go.  Decorating the house for Christmas is an overwhelming task.  For some reason scattering Santas around the countryside doesn’t seem like too much work.  Merry Christmas!

(Guest Blogged by Chris A. Ross, Attorney, and a BFF since 6th grade. Thanks, Tallz!)

barren
Somewhere up near West Branch, Michigan, where the hills in the distance are sand dunes.

like leaves do

as above

November is trying its level best, I get that…bringing me gifts like amber and blue light in the marsh grass and a beaver’d tree, but it’s still November. The palliative sun strokes my hair and speaks in hushed tones about the end while November just acts normal…the wet walking, the dark dinner, the numb coldness underneath it all.

What the hell am I doing back here, I text Billy Shakespeare—a nickname I gave him in English class 30 years ago—the last time I lived here.

Billy Shakespeare texts back that he spent last night in a truck with two extremely progressive lesbians from Bastrop, the only place in Texas where they (used to) have decent trees (before the Fire). They’d stayed at a concert to the very end but were too tired to drive back. So they all just slumped over in his truck. This didn’t bode well for the 10 ulcerating hours in front of a computer screen that were still ahead of him the next day in some stale office where he does temporary contract work until the next town and then the next.

After they woke up, Billy and the gurlz had stopped for coffee in Dime Box where the old timers were already setting up the dominoes. Reading the coffee grounds in the bottom of his cup, Billy predicted the waitress was madder than a rat in a coffee can at the cook.

The land is starved out down here…loneliness and despair are just coming up over the horizon, he wrote. Well, you’re not missing much, I wrote back…just a wet blanket of a morning in Michigan. Forecast calls for 50s and raining…or is that my horoscope.

Hell, he’d trade the whole damn Republic of Texas for a quarter acre of Ogemaw County in October, he replied. If he closes his eyes, he can smell the wet side of the leaves from canoe birch, poplar, oak and beech matted into a crazy quilt across the floor of the forest. If a man could just make a decent living listening for the apples to drop…if he could just come home.
If you love it that much then just come home, chrissakes, man. Decide you’re going to do it, and feckin’ do it, I tell him. Oh, you got all figured out, doncha, smalls? pause     Well, I’ve got it all figured out for you, Billy, I tell him. Not even hardly for myself. I stare out the window awhile…I wonder. How many times have I gathered myself like leaves do then just waited for the wind to choose the right moment?

right-umber-my-nose

– L. Seaver © 2013

Lookism

manning

Finally, the wine finds a topic it likes and the conversation changes to his blindness…from a gunshot during his gang years…a look he wears very well behind his Ray-Ban’s at night in the sweater from the National Theatre Company of Norway where he just completed a tour of his one-man-show…I ask him what is the best thing about being blind… his face loosens, one corner of his mouth lifting a curtain peek smile    …he says he’s glad he’s beyond “lookism” altogether…that he doesn’t even wonder what people look like any more, in fact, he long ago stopped asking his friends to describe women to him, too…none of that mattered any more…he’d finally reached a calm resignation…this is the best thing, he says…that it doesn’t matter to him what anything looks like…then we go quiet…he adds that lookism is a blind thing…an attitude…and I say, well, it sounds pretty evolved to me…he shakes his head and shrugs…we sit quiet for a while longer…sure, I can take his picture he says

manning2

Finally, he speaks again from that quiet place where the wine has settled…that maybe it’s just that he is so bad at imagining what he can no longer see…that he is really lousy at it and tired of not knowing and worn out with asking, so, like all blind people, he adopted the mantra of not caring…and I don’t know what I should say to that…but it’s too late cuz the wine blurts out “the linen on this table is white and the plates are black”…he seems to stop breathing, he doesn’t move a muscle…so the wine goes on… about what our hosts look like…their compact bodies in warm coats with wool scarves…Matt taking care of everybody cheerfully…and Su’s bright eyes always scanning the crowds…how they assess asses in seats…report to each other with knowing glances…lean into each other later still in love…after the show when they took us to dinner at the Iridium…buzzed and soaked with Freda Payne crooning Summertime … while he and I sat there like February… cuz it is February…it’s always February now unless it’s November… and now here we are just as cold as they were warm… so I pour some more… you know, Freda has aged well and the boys in her band watched her trancelike, their fingers touching the keys and strings the way their eyes caressed her…the room heating up eazzzy…then I describe the lighting in the bar where we now sit, near closing time, all stark chromed sophistication with dozens of clear vases mounted in wall sconces each holding a single bloodred rose like in a mausoleum…  that the inset lights are purple and orange fusing the air into fuschia…the exact color everything blurs to…it’s blow on your eyes at 2am in Times Square…the neon stepchild of Dr. Seuss and Andy Warhol…now he leans forward, bending his head towards me…yes, nodding, he could feel all of that… he can’t see it but he can feel it…and the wine smiles slowly into the direction of my voice and asks what I look like as he sits back, stretching his long legs out, puts his hands behind his head, takes a deep drag of Manhattan and blows it out with a whistle… he ventures that I am a tall brunette with dark eyes… and the wine says, well… I’m not all that tall…

© L. Seaver 2012

0805_NWS_LDN-Z-OBIT-LYNN-MANNING-OBAMA-LPost Script:  On 3 August 2015, my dear friend and colleague Lynn Manning (shown above with President Obama two weeks ago) died after a very private battle with cancer.  He was a force of nature–an award-winning African-American poet, a gifted performer, a brilliant playwright, the inspired and inspiring founder/artistic director of The Watts Village Theatre Company in Los Angeles, and the former World Champion of Blind Judo.  At our annual Bridge Multimedia meeting in New York City, I was with him for the premiere of the Reel Abilities Film Festival in March 2015. 

IMG_2791
It was another of those evenings when I had the privilege of seeing more than I ever do on my own.
I miss my friend Manning right now for the rest of my life.

panting for heaven

panting

The sacred harp is your voice.

When there were no instruments or skilled vocalists or ready musicians
to accompany our voices in songs of praise, which happened often enough
in poor, rural places in the early days of America, music was created simply
with voices varied in pitch and harmony.

FASOLAers

harp hymnal

So it happened that my friends Paul and Laura invited me to join them for a weekend in the Bethlehem Valley–one of my favorite off-the-grid places near the Missouri River during the FASOLA singing this spring. The event is held annually at St. John’s, a tiny white-steepled cupcake of an old church on a tall-treed, slat-fenced curve of Missouri Highway 94. “You’ve got to see this, you’re going to love it . . . bring your camera,” Laura enticed.  I never need much of an excuse, in fact, I usually invite myself to the vineyard where they live in a perfect valley between hillsides bunched with Cynthiana grapes.  My car rockets around the hills and I leave the world behind me.

steepled
This time, the FASOLA singers transported me further still.

FASOLA (fa…so…la) is also known as Shape Note singing.  ” This is a very old method of sight-reading music for those who don’t understand how to read music. The relation of pitches to each other is found by using the scale fa sol la fa sol la mi (shapes are shown above in the page header) which is similar to the one we are all familiar with from the film, The Sound of Music, do re me fa sol la ti, except that the first three notes, “do re me” are replaced with “fa sol la” and the ti with mi. Although there are some secular songs written in the shape note style, mostly all the songs are hymns.  A singer does not need to adhere to any religion to sing these hymns, though it can be more moving for a singer if the words have meaning for them.” (I ganked this explanation from http://fasolamichigan.org/)

marking time

The Shape-Note singers all mark time with their fingers or hands metronoming not side-to-side but up and down, up and down.  And they sing LOUD. There’s a sign-up sheet in the back where you can volunteer to lead the next song . . . because everyone can do this, remember?  By “everyone” I don’t mean Paul, Laura or me, of course. We declined several vigorous attempts to recruit us into the direct vocal experience.  Paul and I just smiled and did that thing people with cameras do—we acted like we were on some sort of important commission from the Pope or National Geographic and fidgeted with the equipment.  In fact, we moved straightaway up to the balcony where the best angles were waiting. I really don’t know how Laura escaped the limelight.  She just did her level best to stay under their radar in the back pew, projecting her inner Goody Moeller.  I smiled down on her from on high–Paul chose wisely with this girl.  I’ve been vetting the candidates since his bachelor days.  I would know.

boy in churchhat

FASOLA enthusiasts at this conference included some people who seemed to, ummm, not get out much….for like these last 60 years or more they’ve mainly moved between the chicken coop and the kitchen.  I imagined the FASOLA sing-in as the highlight of their year, and I’d be very concerned about giving offense with this presupposition if I thought any of them had access to the internet and were likely to see my blog.  But I’m not even sure they’ve got access to electricity. They are not Mennonite (I asked) so the mystery of their early 20th Century look and strong German names remains unresolved . . . unknown and thoroughly, entirely delightful to me.

bearded
shoez

My friend Paul is a well-equipped, state-of-the-art professional photographer and artist, so my lensvy (the envy of another’s lenses) goes into hyper-drive when I’m at the studio he shares with Laura, who is also an artist.  They’re both incredibly talented, witty, beautiful and if I didn’t love them oceans of long-time, I’d probably hate them anew for every amazing thing they manage to be gifted at–did I mention they are also foodies as well as vintners?

hairdo

Plus, Paul lets me use all of his equipment, his cameras and lenses–anything I want. He shows me ways to do things, gives me advice like “always turn around and see the shot you’re missing behind you.” He hands me a lens or filter like a scrub nurse—before I’ve asked for it because he knows what I need more than I do. And he’s a most willing mule carrying around all this stuff I don’t know the names for just to make me happy.

kissing the baby

Paul has been profoundly good at our friendship for well over 25 years now. When he reads this he will mutter uncomfortably and make a smartass remark to Laura to cover his embarrassment (wait for it wait for it… yup).

Thank you for everything, Pauly-wog . . . for being there for me every single time.

Your calm voice is a sacred harp.

watching

Words & Pictures © Leeanne Seaver July ‘12