October 20th, 2016

Stringing Popcorn

By G. E. Shuman
When I was a child, a long time ago, in a galaxy far away, many things were different than they are today. That statement seems to go without saying, but I still said it. The world has changed so much since then. Traditions, celebrations, and even seasonal decorations are not the way they once were. I’m not sure if such changes are good, or bad. I will tell you that I was not impressed with the first ‘pre-decorated’ Christmas tree I saw in a store.

One thing that my family used to do, when I was a child, at this time of the year, was to string popcorn to use as a sort of garland on our Christmas trees. I’m not certain if we did this every year, but I do remember the ritual taking place several times in the 18 Decembers of my youth. What would happen is that my mom would pop a big batch of popcorn on the stove, provide us children with a needle and a lot of thread, and we would proceed to spend that evening watching whatever Christmas special was broadcast that night, assembling the corn into long strands, to be placed on the tree as soon as we were done. The challenge, at least for us younger children, was to string at least a bit more popcorn than we ate, as we watched Rudolph, Frosty, or Charlie Brown make their once-per-year Christmas appearance on the big old, wooden-boxed television in our living room.

It would be an extreme understatement to say that things have changed in my life, and in our world, since that long ago time. This year, if you were to describe my Christmastime, you would have to move, not only past that child of the sixties, to one whose years now number in the sixties. You would need to talk about the fact that not only have I grown older, but that my children have also, and that my grandchildren are in the process of doing so, too. The TVs that Rudolph and Frosty still appear on have gone from being clunky, blurry, heavy things which took up a good amount of floor space in our living rooms, to inch-thick, huge and brilliant devices we take for granted as they hang on our walls.

Yes, things change, as years pass. There is no longer anyone in our home who believes in Santa, or who is interested in many of the traditions of that jolly old elf, or of our family. This year, Lorna and I decided to embrace that fact, as fighting it would be stupid and futile. We still went out and bought a tree, but a much smaller one than at any Christmas past, in an effort to simplify things, this year. We, without the fanfare now relegated to seasonal memories, set up the smaller tree in that familiar corner of the living room. Lorna, the wise one in the family, then suggested that we use some of our older ornaments, sort of making this tree a symbol of memories. She then went to the attic, and located those things, and also the angel treetop her family had used on their trees, since she was an infant. She brought that aging angel to me, and I tried plugging it into an outlet. To her and my astonishment, the 1950s era bulb within it glowed as if it were brand new. We immediately put that beautiful, angel on the tree.

After that, Lorna began fretting a bit over what would be the perfect garland on our new, ‘old fashioned’ Christmas tree. I didn’t know what she wanted to do, and we actually went to several stores, trying to find a beaded type of garland she had remembered from the past, but we never located it. We then checked the totes of Christmas stuff in the attic, and found nothing suitable there, either. Then, in probably the only good Christmas idea I have ever had, I asked Lorna if she had ever strung popcorn, as a child, to put on a Christmas tree. To my amazement, and partial delight, she said that she had not. The fact that I wasn’t aware of this, in the life of my wife of 43 years, was astounding. The idea that she agreed to string some popcorn with me that evening, was even more so.

So, that very night, I went to the store and got two boxes of microwave popcorn, even as my dear wife located needles and thread. When the corn was popped we turned on our favorite shows, and then strung it into what turned out to be the perfect garlands for our wonderful, old fashioned, Christmas tree.

When this issue of the paper is published, it will be nearly Christmas day. When you read this column, the holiday might actually have already passed. So, it is very likely too late to ask you to try decorating your tree, in an old fashioned way, as we did this year. That is fine, as next year will be here before you know it. As you look forward to the new year, you might want to consider the idea of simplifying, and retrofitting other holidays with just a few things from the past. Some of those things really are worth doing again. I got to spend an evening watching TV and stringing popcorn with my best friend.

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