My 2013 list, “Gifts For Bohemian Tories,” is over at The Imaginative Conservative. I tried to make it varied with affordable options (“a new yacht” usually isn’t a practicable suggestion).
Part of Wendell Berry’s long running Sabbath series of poems, “St. Vith, December 21, 1944” captures a moving moment during the brutality of the Battle of the Bulge. American forces withdrew from St. Vith on that date, leaving the Belgian city to the Germans. General Bruce Clarke ordered the Americans out having said, “This terrain is not worth a nickel an acre to me.”
This limited edition signed broadside was handset and printed by the great Gray Zeitz of Larkspur Press in Kentucky, under whom I apprenticed sixteen years ago. It was commissioned by Michael Courtney, proprietor of the best bookstore in Kentucky, Black Swan Books (where I also worked years ago). Michael commissioned annual broadsides for several years from Gray. For me, the confluence of Larkspur Press, Black Swan Books and Wendell Berry brings about a perfect match.
It was one of the first Wendell Berry broadsides I ever purchased, possibly the first. It was framed in Columbia, South Carolina while I was a graduate student. Special instructions were given to display the lovely deckled edges.
I suppose this entry isn’t really “Off the Shelf,” but “Off the Wall” didn’t have quite the same connotation.
A Merry Christmas from Pinstripe Pulpit.
The child wonders at the Christmas Tree:
Let him continue in the spirit of wonder
“The Cultivation of Christmas Trees,” T.S. Eliot
Growing up we never bought a Christmas tree. Every year, my father and I would walk through the hills around our home, find a wild cedar tree around seven feet tall, and cut it down.
One year, out for a December walk, we came across a good candidate for a Christmas tree, but we had no hatchet. My dad did have the gun he usually took with him into the woods. Rather than walk back home for a hatchet he simply shot the trunk of the tree. This was eastern Kentucky, after all.
From childhood I have equated the smell and look of fresh cedar with Christmas. These were trees from the fields and the woods, weeds really, not carefully trimmed conical perfections barely distinguishable from an artificial tree.
My dad told me how when he was growing up, this would have been in the 40s and 50s, eastern Kentucky farmers looking for extra Christmas money would cut down a pickup truck full of cedars and drive them to Cincinnati. Parked along a roadside, they would sell their trees to city folk, many of whom were likely from the hillbilly diaspora, Kentuckians moving north for work.
But commercialization set in. People bought fake trees they could store in a box. Northern trees began to be imported, perfectly shaped firs and such. As an essayist at Garden & Gun called them, “Yankee trees.”
While I’ve always insisted on a real Christmas tree, for years I’ve been forced into buying such Yankee trees. I would drive by roadside cedars in fence rows that taunted me in their inaccessibility. Many times I considered just pulling over and cutting one down, but figured I might have a hard time explaining it to the officer who would surely appear.
This year my fortunes changed. Someone with some land convenient to us granted permission to fell our cedar.
After initial skepticism, Daughter No. 1 has pronounced the secured cedar The Best Christmas Tree In the World. I agree. For the first time in at least a decade we have, if not the Best tree, at least the Right tree. The adolescent me of thirty years ago would heartily agree.
[I note with interest, and pleasure, that the Land Between the Lakes in western Kentucky offers free permits to cut down a cedar Christmas tree. I would love to see this become a growing trend.]
Nothing speaks to those of my generation at Christmastime like A Charlie Brown Christmas. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t aware of it. As a true classic, it rings as true now as it did then. Peanuts’ creator Charles Schulz had to fight the studio brass to keep in Linus’s moving recitation from the Gospel of Luke. We all know it would never fly today. Every December, we collect the girls for the annual watching of TV’s best Christmas special on DVD.
Likely inspired by the Peanuts’ time of year, the fun site Retronaut recently posted this picture of a young Charles Schulz. Yes, he’s cute–a real life Charlie Brown–but what a smashing dresser!
Of course, I just think that because I still dress the same way.
Sometimes I still try to kick the football, too.