From Offshore: On Singing for Christmas, and Coal
Thursday, December 15, 2016 10:54 AM
I like Christmas concerts, especially loud ones. Living on this island limits participation in organized seasonal merriment to a certain extent, but I try to get to some sort of music each year, be it the Portland Symphony or the Freeport Tuba Christmas or something around here.
Eva Murray lives, works and writes on Matinicus Island.
In Portland, on Saturday last, a tap-room and music venue on Congress Street called Blue hosted the second annual Barroom Messiah. A conductor, five excellent string players, and four expert vocal soloists held together the rest of us, we being the chorus, and we being whoever was in the bar who wanted to sing. I brought my old Messiah score which had been gathering dust for years, cracked open only once or twice since my friend Diana from South Thomaston and I sang the Easter part with the Down East Singers in 1982, back when Marion Gray was the director. I drank beer, my date drank cider, we ate pulled pork, and there were enough other altos to lean on that I managed to sing the whole Christmas section and, of course, a boisterous Hallelujah Chorus. That was fun! I would do that again, for sure!
Another thought on the subject of Christmas, in case Santa should be checking on whether we are naughty or nice this week in the paper: I notice it is common for certain gift ideas to be recklessly brandished as threats. Specifically, if we are in Big Trouble we are chastised with coal for Christmas. Back in the day, if Aunt Gertrude wasn’t paying the slightest attention to what we kids might actually want, and cared only for practicality, and had a little too much starch in her shorts, we got socks.
On Facebook there is a recurring twit for those who can’t spell (“You’re dog is cute”) or won’t spell (“Let me know if U R coming to the meeting”). The post pictures a stern Santa declaring that “You are getting a dictionary for Christmas!” I wouldn’t call that a bad present. I have several, but none is all that great. Some are pretty decrepit, one impractically heavy, and some are just lexicographical wimps. Admittedly there is no excuse for this shortage, as I can certainly buy myself a dictionary — and even better, given my line of work, I can deduct it.
Our old, brittle-cornered paperback edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary has a note scrawled on what suffices for a cover reading, “Do not look up easterly.” Needless to say, I immediately looked up “easterly.” Two definitions were provided: “1. toward the east; 2. from the east.” One understands the concern. I also found a small list stuck in the pages indicating a few unsatisfied needs. Words found missing from this volume included “epitaxial” and “ullage.” I desire a dictionary that has those.
When we were kids we never wanted socks for Christmas. We felt ourselves a tad short-changed, when rather than socks we might prefer to unwrap, oh, say, the big 64-color box, with crayon sharpener around back and no broken points. I have grown to discover that a new pair of fat, soft, high-tech hiking socks is a luxury indeed, and a very nice present. Times have changed; these days people spend way more than we used to on coffee, and beer, and bread, and water, and various stylish kinds of edible leaves, because we have decided that such humble offerings can be counted among the finer things in life (except for maybe the leaves). It’s the same idea with the socks.
I would be happy to receive coal. No, not in my stocking, no more than I want firewood in my stocking, and about that I know of what I speak. My good husband inadvertently brings in about a half a cord of splinters in his boots when he’s been cutting wood, and we walk about in our stocking feet a lot around here, and one thing leads to another. Don’t get me wrong — I get it about mountaintop removal, and mercury pollution, and black lung, and agree that there is no such thing as clean coal. But, I maintain a rudimentary sort of blacksmith shop. The village smithy, as it were. Bituminous coal—the so-called “soft” coal, which makes an even worse mess than anthracite — is exactly what I want in my forge, because I can start the coal fire with just a balled-up newspaper and a spark. Anthracite coal goes in our kitchen stove on those near-zero nights when island spruce is not enough. It requires a bit more technique to get started. They are not the same rock, and I use both. That makes me twice as naughty.
Some people who are naughty get slinky unmentionables. I’ll probably get tools for the blacksmith shop. Either is fine. Or a good dictionary.