When you look at this snowperson ornament — which, by the way, did not make the Christmas-tree cut this year — do you see a) a well-loved symbol of sweet childhood memories or b) a maniacal crazy-eyed snowcreature that makes you very very nervous? I guess it depends on whether you believe you’re looking at a) mittens and a broom or b) hooves and an ax. There’s no denying the crazy eyes, though. And, truthfully, I’m sure “Frosty the Zombie Snowman” will be the Next Big Thing. (Note to self: Ask always-zombie-alert husband if zombie snowpeople would actually carry axes. Or wear holly in their hats.) Before you scoff, know that I am extremely sensitive to the possibilities of Evil Toylike Objects because of the Tree Toys. Would you like to hear the story? Pour some eggnog, settle down by the fire and I’ll tell you. See, when we lived in Alabama and my two now-mid-20s daughters were young, an elderly woman who lived down the street from us would celebrate the holidays by hanging stuffed animals and dolls from a tree in her front yard. With fishing line. Around their necks. People from surrounding states would drive over just to see this because nothing, obviously, says Christmas like a tree in a front yard with dozens of eerily silent teddy bears and Cabbage Patch Kids swaying in the breeze. The woman scoured yard sales and flea markets all year for her Tree Toy collection because, it was said, she wanted to do something “for the children.” However, my children — and every other child around as well as most adults — were traumatized every year and refused to drive, walk, run, bike, skate or otherwise go anywhere near that house during the holidays. Younger Daughter later admitted she’d had nightmares about the Tree Toys coming to life and it was a long and dark time before she could pick up a teddy bear without shuddering. The Toy Tree appeared for several consecutive years … until one year, the tree was empty. Rumor had it that the woman had given in to public pressure and decided to give up her decorating scheme. But it seemed as if her spirit was broken, because no sign of the holidays ever showed up in her yard again. No wreaths. No inflatable snow globes. No Santa Claus standing at the manager along with the shepherds and the Three Wise Men. The crowds abandoned our neighborhood and started driving over to the five-acre light extravaganza in the next county. Our street was (relatively) safe again, and all we have left are memories of the Tree Toys … and maybe, with Crazy-Eyed Snowperson here, the start of a new tradition.
There is a turf war going on in my neighborhood — literally. Younger Daughter was the first one to point it out to me, and after that I saw evidence of this fierce competition everywhere: The pink/green-banner crowd versus the black/cream coalition. Seems as if in the past few months, these two-toned initial banners have been planted in almost every other yard, with some families going for the traditional and classic cream-and-black combination with others picking the perky and cheerful green-and-pink option. And now I see these banners all over — in neighborhoods everywhere I go lately. Is this a nationwide trend? Are there any other color choices? How do you know if you’re a pink/green family or a cream/black? And is it true that I have nothing better to do than skulk around my neighbors’ houses surreptitiously snapping photos of their front yards? I think we know the answer to that one, at least.
My friend Polly has one of the most beautiful home gardens I’ve ever seen. She’s a retired teacher, and most of the work she’s done in these photos has been in the past three years. Can we say “incredible energy?” She and her husband travel around the world, but I think I would just park myself in the backyard if mine looked like this. I especially love her zen approach to gardening: It’s organized, but not formal or structured — the plants, flowers, herbs and vegetables just sort of spill out in exuberant joy. And she’s got such whimsical touches everywhere: Birdhouses, sculptures, yard art, chairs, gates, fences, stepping stones, arches. It’s a treasure everywhere you look. Polly and her husband live within the city limits of Florence, Alabama, but with the deer grazing in the front yard and the creek dancing over on the side and the abundant shade trees cooling everything off, you feel as if you’re at a wonderfully isolated woman-made Eden — yet bustling civilization is just at the end of the driveway. To my mother’s eternal frustration, I remain ignorant of all things gardening. I mean, I can tell a rose from a daisy (that’s the yellow and white one, right?) but that’s about it. Yet even a non-garden person like me can recognize and appreciate a green paradise such as Polly’s garden. I’m just glad there are folks like her in the world who know what they’re doing with seeds and dirt so folks like me can enjoy.