I drive by this store in Tuscumbia, Alabama, at least twice a day. It’s a discount/closeout/salvage type of retailer that has all sorts of bargains to browse through. Plus, since it’s gotten warmer, the owners have put this patio furniture outside in an fenced-in area right beside the highway. For weeks as I’ve driven past, I’ve glanced over and thought to myself, “Oh, that’s so nice that they’ve put signs on their furniture warning folks that it’s ‘hot wood’ so they don’t touch it or sit down and maybe hurt themselves.” Yeah, I know, I know — but how else to explain signs that say “Hot Wood”? I suddenly one day realized, of course, that the signs actually say “Not Wood” instead of “Hot Wood” and are advertising furniture made out of sturdy wood-like plastic. Sort of reminds me of the sign in Huntsville, Alabama, that I mistook for a neighborly invitation to “Drink Locally” when I was really being asked to “Bank Locally” — although I’m a big fan of both. But surely your first thought when you saw the furniture photo was “Hot,” too. Right? Please??? A little help here??? And in more drive-by double-takes, my Dear Husband was the one who first spotted this John Deere tractor parked in the car lot of a dealership in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. “You’ve got to go take a picture of it,” he said. “I’ve never seen a tractor for sale at a car dealership.” So I checked it out, and he was right: The sight of a farm tractor parked in the midst of mini-vans for sale is a bit jarring. I mean, did somebody trade the tractor for a car? Would people wandering through the lot looking at the latest sedan models suddenly decide they wanted a tractor instead? Or maybe are tractors now the new family vehicle and we’re at the beginning of a surprising new trend? I’ll keep you posted. In any case, I love living someplace where cars and tractors happily co-exist.
My dad — my parents live in Manchester, Tennessee — is retired from John Deere, but that’s only given him more time with tractors, not less. He and my mom are serious antiques collectors, and while she heads for the linens and Depression glass, he can spot a rare tractor part or tool from a mile away. Also: Actual tractors. At least the wrenches and oil cans and other portable items he collects are easier to store and organize. He does a great job of documentation and has an impressive library of tractor advertisements, manuals, giveaways and other tractor-related paper goods. He even led a workshop on “Industrial John Deere: In the Beginning” at the recent Gathering of the Green conference in Davenport, Iowa. My dad also likes fish. Not to catch or to eat, but to stock the pond at his tree farm/nursery. The fish eat the algae and pretty much keep the ecological system going strong, although I think my dad likes to talk to them them while he’s mowing. Just as long as they don’t talk back …
I know y’all think I’m a chic and urban big-city sophisticate — isn’t that right???!!! — but the truth is that I’m just a country girl at heart. Okay, that’s a lie, too. I did not grow up anywhere near a farm, except when I went to visit my friend Debbie out in Beechgrove, Tennessee. But my dad has a nursery and tree farm and I love going out there, so I figure that’s close. The Ponderosa Tree Farm is just a couple miles or so from my parents’ house in Manchester, Tennessee. My dad grows and sells pines, hollies and burning bush — and has loads of fun. Well, again, that may not always be true — in the right-hand photo above, he’s trying to pull a mower out of the mud. I did not take photos of the resultant tractor pull, when the back wheel of the tractor reared up what looked to be several feet in the air and I was running through the calculations in my mind of how soon after the tractor flipped over could I call 911 and somebody would be out here or would I have to rescue my dad myself which I would, of course, although it would mean ruining my shoes in the ankle-deep mud but he’s my dad, for gosh’s sake. Luckily, everything turned out OK, although he did admit that perhaps he shouldn’t have been mowing in ankle-deep mud to start with. Farmers!
I’m 51 and a grandmother and somewhat capable of handling things on my own (no, really, I am) but I still want to go home to my parents’ for Christmas and have everything as it always has been. Like the John Deere village my mom puts up — my dad had a John Deere dealership before he retired and now he buys every JD catalogue and ad that comes up for auction anywhere in the world, or at least in Illinois. And like the ornaments I put on the tree when I was a kid, and now my 20-something-year-old children help me put them on their grandparents’ tree — great-grandson 8-month-old Nolan is no help since he would only eat the hooks. And then there’s the great holiday food that only Grommy — what my children call my mother — can make: TV Mix eaten in 40-year-old wooden bowls, graham crackers covered in butter and brown sugar and hot cocoa stirred from scratch in an ancient heavy saucepan. Grandmas definitely are special, and I’d better get my act together if I’m going to be the same for Nolan. But I’ve had lessons from the best, so hopefully I”ve got a headstart. One of my favorite parts of going home during the holidays is coming back to my house with fresh-cut holly and fir branches from my dad’s nursery — one of his other retirement projects. I cannot keep up with them! At least this year I’m making my own Chex mix — I’ll have to call my mom, though, to talk me through.
And now for No. 4 in my Favorite Christmas Movie list — the 1946 “It’s A Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. I know, I know. It’s a heartwarming American classic. It’s a Frank Capra masterpiece. It’s a multi-layered holiday icon. It’s everybody’s favorite. So why isn’t it No. 1 on my list? Because it used to scare the #$%^ out of me! The drunk pharmacist who boxed young George’s ear and made it bleed, the mean and rowdy crowd at the bar, the cheap and hateful Mr. Potter who caused such misery — these disturbing black-and-white images did not bring me comfort and joy when I was younger. And as I grew older and understood the sacrifices George made and the dreams he lost and the drab and dreary life he felt he was living, it made me sad. George did have a wonderful life but bitterness and regret kept him from realizing it — what a waste for all those years. I mainly feel sorry for him. It’s a good thing Clarence comes along to shake him up because I sort of want to do that myself. And here’s the thing: Where were all George’s friends before the bank shortfall? Why does it take a crisis to bring them together and make them value him? Do these people ever stop by to say “hello” or to eat lunch or go to a ballgame? And will they do that now? Or am I being too cynical? You have to admit, though, it’s the kind of movie that breeds cynicism if you didn’t have a healthy dose of it already. Like me. Come back tomorrow for No. 3 — a bonus two-fer. Can you guess what they are?