WabiSabi is Moab's non-profit community thrift store. From the Japanese, it is the WabiSabi belief that beauty lies in the imperfection that surrounds us, that new is not necessarily nicer, and that our discards could very well be our salvation. Yesterday, there was hardly a Moabite who wasn't trying to be saved.
Because Moab is a rather eclectic town, our donation-based inventory is quite unique and impressive---the racks and shelves at our two stores are filled with name brand, lightly-used, and/or pure funk. Between the mountain bikers, river runners, climbers, jeepers, backpackers, and plethera of other recreationists or second-home owners, somebody is always upgrading equipment and belongings. We get the hand-me-downs.
I was more than relieved to see all the Christmas gee-gaws flying out the door, being the bah-humbug that I am. I have no tree, no tinsel, no ornaments, no lights, no cards....and as some probably think, no tradition, no sentimentality. Probably true, but it's stressful enough watching other people deal with Christmas; and I have no boxes to store. I watched people cramming crap in their baskets, running around tighter than a spring, glad to be on the outside looking in.
But there was one Christmas for which I spent a great deal of time preparing, and the memories of it are so tangible to this day. Maybe no subsequent Christmas could ever match up. It was the 1989 REIDUNION at the Grizzly Ranch in Paradise Valley, Montana. Doug planted the seed a year early to see if the idea would sprout amongst his three sisters. There was interest, but coordination, timing, arrangements, were key.
We said we would do the leg work, looking for "the place" to hold the event. Everyone agreed on spending five nights in Montana. There would be about 15 of us, moreorless. Two ground rules were established, but they were critical:
- Every family member would only receive ONE PRESENT, and all presents had to be HAND-MADE. Names would be drawn to determine the giver and givee.
- Family members would pair up to cook Breakfasts and Dinners. Names would be drawn to determine the pairs.
Doug and I held the official drawing, and with a few minor adjustments, announced the results. Pairs were told to submit their 'grocery lists' prior to departure so food could be bought in one lump sum. It appeared that we would be consuming copious amounts of butter, wine, beer and cream. Yum, yum, yum.
Doug and I scouted out potential locations for the Reidunion fete. We didn't want it too close to town and its amenities, wanted to be able to ski out to cut a tree, wanted to sled and toboggan, had to have a huge fireplace, sleeping for 15, needed good kitchen facilities, etc. The Grizzly Ranch is tucked away in Tom Miner Basin in Paradise Valley south of Livingston, MT. Removed from just about everything except drop-dead views, we decided it worked.
After arriving, we assigned chores, and some skied off to the National Forest in search of a Christmas tree, with sled in tow. The decoration elves were busily prepping clothespin ornaments, construction paper cutouts, popcorn and cranberry strands. Did I mention and all decorations had to be hand-made? Luckily, Doug's family boasts some extremely creative sorts so the tree was spectacular.
I'm sure everyone has over-indulged at holiday gatherings, so I won't dwell on that aspect. But over those five days, some of my fondest family memories remain---the water balloon fight, the Christmas pageant, and the opening of the gifts.
One evening, creatively prompted by alcohol consumption, the re-enactment of the Nativity began. With hooded jackets draped over our heads, an afghan wrapped around a stuffed animal, and a few shawls and scarves tied loosely, we assumed our roles without direction. The 'play' unfolded without script---some gentle lowing of animals in the background, soft soothing cooing of townspeople, and Mary and Joseph did Christmas Montana-style! The way they all performed without a hitch, I honestly thought that Doug's family must have done this every year. Then I found out that they were just such hams.
Everyone was chomping at the proverbial bit on Christmas morning, anxious to learn the official present-opening order. The ultimate decision was left in the hands of the youngest family members---they could open first or let the oldest open first (and thus be last). Darrell, the unofficial elder of the extended Reid clan, thus began the opening festivities. One by one, working down the chronological pecking list, we each discovered how our chosen "elf" had been toiling away on our gift all year.
Bearing in mind that within a family of 15, no two members will have equal or identical artistic or skill levels. And the ages ranged from single digit to probably 50. Everyone was travelling about 700 miles and would have to transport their presents enroute. The Christmas elf families had to put all this into their equations. I can imagine the brainstorming sessions going on, as everyone eventually figured out what they wanted to make and then what they realistically could make. I'm sure there were a few (who will remain nameless) with young children, who were thinking "raw deal" every so often. But, nothing was ever said.
I think it goes without saying that no one, no one, was disappointed that morning. In fact, everyone was overwhelmed....not only by the 'present' itself, but by the creativity that went into it. A life-sized black plastic bag leaned against the living room window, as if a peeping Tom. It hardly went unnoticed, but no one would admit they knew it was Doug's present. When his turn came, nephew Andrew hefted the body bag inside and dumped it in front of him. Black plastic flew and RamCrow rose from the depths. Half Rambo, half scarecrow, RamCrow was a twist on GI Joe. Imagine a skeleton of metal fenceposts wearing olive drab and camo Army fatigues, topped off with helmet and goggles. He was, of course, amply stuffed. He rode the 700 miles from Seattle to Montana in his body bag on top of the Oldham VW bus, and I couldn't help but be reminded of National Lampoon Vacation. RamCrow adorned our Bozeman yard in various postures for a few years, just outside the fence. At night, more than a few people caught their breath to accidentally look up face-to-face into RamCrow's crooked googles. Over time, pieces of his uniform started walking off. Finally, when a couple neighbor kids asked for the rest of him, we let him go with dignity.
I could go on and on reminiscing about everyone's gifts, who made what and who received what. Instead, I'll send out the request for stories from other family members about what you remember. Here's the gift list as I recollect (fill in the holes or correct, please).
- Leslie: Funnelator (John)
- Doug: RamCrow (Andrew)
- Nancy: Flavored Oils & Vinegars (Darrell)
- Peggy: Turned Wood Boxes (Nancy)
- Tony: Yard Salmon (Sarah)
- John: Framed Watercolor (Peggy & Tony)
- Amy: Fisherman's Knit Sweater (Leslie)
- Anna: AnnaDido Stationery (Noah)
- Ellen: Wooden Cradle (Doug)
- Kate: Purple Polka Dot Shoes/Book (Amy)
- The Extra:
For any non-family members who happen to read this, I recommend borrowing this event and tweaking it to fit your family. It's not easy to pull off, it takes lots of commitment, it requires some sacrifices and it takes work. But it's the only time I have ever liked Christmas. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.