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A Christmas Tradition Gone

Volume X, Issue Four | December 2015

Last summer our basement flooded. The glass in a basement window broke, and rain and hail from a tremendous storm poured in like a waterfall. The deluge was expensive–$7,500 just to dry out the basement, and thousands more to replace the carpet, none of that covered by insurance, of course. We spent more money adding brick courses around the window wells and window well covers.

We were lucky. Dollar damage to our possessions was negligible. Still, we lost things we valued. They included my wedding portraits, hundreds of snapshots, boxes of files and records, and–I just discovered–my collection of bottle-brush Christmas trees.

I’d collected the trees over 50 years, dozens of them, picking them up in antiques shops and shows, and at flea markets. Some were gifts. Originally, they’d been cheap Christmas decorations, tiny stiff trees set on square bits of wood. Now such decorations are collectors’ items, and the good ones are not only expensive but harder to find. Most of mine were four to six inches high, although the most valuable were just an inch. While many of the trees were green, there were also blue and bright pink ones. Some were plain, but one had a gold star on top, several had sparkles. Others were decorated with miniature ornaments.

I don’t know how many I had. I never counted them. Probably 50 or more. When we moved three years ago, I discarded most of the Christmas decorations—the plastic holly and fake magnolias. But I’d kept the things that meant the most—the post-World War II German houses and the Crazy Quilt stockings. And the trees. They’d decorated the mantel in the old house and were set on shelves and a table in the new one. They’d become a tradition. But when I opened the tin container last month, I saw they were a sodden mess of decayed wood and bristles, the bright colors muddy. They went into the trash.

In the scheme of things, such a loss ranks pretty low. That’s obvious when I see news reports on television of people who’ve lost cars and houses and even family members in floods. I can count my blessing. I’ll miss the trees but I still have the wooden houses my folks’ G.I. friend brought from Germany. And the stockings, made from bits of finery saved over the years. And I have the memory of the little trees. After all, that’s a big part of Christmas. Not the things themselves but the memories. The fact the trees are gone doesn’t change the pleasure of our having unpacked them each year and put them out. Like the other traditions we build up over the years, they represent not themselves but the joy of Christmas. –SD

A Meeting in Istanbul

Dana and I were in The Columns, a beautiful textiles and jewelry shop in the heart of Istanbul last fall, when the proprietor introduced us to a friend, an American woman, Christine Martens. We chatted about textiles, and I asked if she was interested in quilts. She said it was odd that I had brought that up, because she was in the midst of acquiring quilts for a show of Asian quilts at the quilt museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. The show will open in January, 2017.

Christine invited us to tea the next day at the Grand Bazaar, where she was restoring one of her acquisitions. I wondered about that. The Grand Bazaar is a wonderful, cavernous collection of hundreds of shops, an exciting place to lose yourself for a day or two, but except for jewelry and a hodge-podge of old stuff, we hadn’t found much in the way of antiques. We’d seen dozens of goldsmith shops and places selling pashmina shawls and knockoff handbags, rugs and pillows and yard goods. Plenty of trinkets. But we hadn’t encountered any antique quilts.

But they were there, down a hidden hallway. Christine took us into one shop where we examined a lavender silk coat, covered with thousands of tiny stitches, priced at $7,000. (We passed.) There were fine old rugs and textiles and brightly covered Asian quilts. Then we went up a set of narrow stairs, to a clutter of rooftop shops filled with antiques, surrounding a grape arbor. Over tea, served in Turkey’s iconic tulip-shape glasses, Christine told us Asian quilts are made by professional men, not by women snatching time away from household chores to sit with their needles. In the dappled light coming through the grape leaves, we examined the quilt top Christine was restoring, which was made up of appliqued squares in bright colors.

It was a delightful afternoon, one of the highlights of our visit to Turkey. And it made me think that all over the world, quilts bring women together. –SD

Sandra’s Picks

Last Bus to Wisdom

By Ivan Doig. Riverhead Books.

Ivan Doig, who died this year, was known for his nonfiction as well as his novels. His final work is the story of the adventures of an eleven-year-old boy who travels across the country on a Greyhound—the so-called dog bus. Doig surely drew on his own memories of boyhood to write this engaging and light-hearted novel.

Donal Cameron lives on a Montana ranch with his grandmother, the cook, who is taken i