Suburban Soliloquy #95

Season's Greetings

Every year Ms Keogh (my more significant other) and I try to produce a homemade Season's Greetings card to send to family and friends. We succeed to varying degrees and don't always have it done on time.

This year's Season's Greetings card began a few years ago. I was driving along Wood Lane in Langhorne and was witness to a vision. In the distance was the Styer's apple orchard and its twisted trees silhouetted against snow. Sadly, by the time I returned with the camera, it was too dark. I was determined to capture it and came back multiple times, hoping for the right amount of snow, the right angle of the sun crafting the same shadows as I saw that first time. It took years of waiting for the right snow to happen on a day I was off from work.

I had lost the habit of seeing the world as would the camera. The brain edits what appears in the retina. The vision of the apple orchard in snow as I had it in my mind, did not include the disrupting foreground and distracting background. When, finally, the right combination of sun and snow came together, the camera saw more than I wanted to record. The brambles by the road had grown taller, further blocking the distant view. Switching to a telephoto lens took away the orchard's depth, flattening it. There was no other choice than to get closer on foot.

This little adventure began with parking the car on the opposite side of the road in an unplowed parking lot of a lonely machine shop that hadn't opened because of the inclement weather. Removing myself from the coziness of a warm car, I confronted the frigid air, harsh against my cheeks and earlobes. Crossing the street, I sought an opening in the brambles and zigzagged my way through the gaps, often pressing down a thorny stalk with my boot. They would spring back behind me.

There were deer prints in the snow. I tried to follow, but the deer was thinner than me and must have also been indifferent to thorns. The tracks led to the animal's droppings, then to a place where the animal had laid on the ground. It had rested there long enough to melt the snow to the grass underneath. It all seemed fresh, but I never saw the deer.

Coming out the far side of the brambles, I had to cross a small gulch, then climb the slippery gradient of gravel to the railroad track. On the other side of the tracks I had my shot looking out over the tilted landscape, the rising apple orchard with a house at the top. I waited for the sun to come out from behind a cloud. Then I waited for the sun to go back behind a cloud, just not one as thick. I waited until there were no cars on the road behind the house. No matter how long I waited, the power lines that draped across my picture were not going away. Of the several pictures I shot, not one satisfied me. The trip back through the brambles was twice as long. But the image would be rescued.

Ms Keogh received a commission to paint four murals on the empty walls of a local medical facility. She chose as her subject the four seasons represented by four different local landscapes. She painted with our daughter's help and I am quite proud of what they accomplished together. Furthermore, I was honored to have her base the winter scene on my failed photograph. She excluded the power lines. Painters can do that. There it was, spread nine feet along the otherwise drab walls of the clinic, a winter scene that I knew could serve as our Season's Greetings card. I photographed the mural. We reproduced the image on this year's cards.

Déjà vu! There was an earlier winter when I stood knee-deep in snow to photograph sheep standing outside stables at the Thompson-Neely House. This is a stone house that was used by General Lord Stirling while he commanded the Continental troops stationed along the Pennsylvania bank of the Delaware River. They were there to prevent the British crossing from New Jersey. None of this had anything to do with the sheep penned into stone stables covered in snow. It was another case of taking several years and multiple return visits to get the perfect picture. Each time Ms Keogh and I ventured up the river, we had to hope the sheep would be outside. Once we were pulled over by a policeman in his four-wheel-drive vehicle. He said we had no business being out in a small Japanese car during a blizzard, but that was the day we got our shot. To this day we still argue whose image was used, since we both took multiple pictures.

Perhaps our funniest card was the one year an idea didn't come to us until after the New Year. The very lateness became our inspiration. We took a photo-image of ourselves and had a computer program convert it to appear as a sketch. We then doctored our images further with felt tip pens until I looked like a uniformed Cossack and Ms Keogh had the appearance of a Chinese maiden. We photo-copied the results, cut them out, and posted them onto note cards. The inside caption read, "Merry Russian Christmas & Happy Chinese New Year (You see, our card wasn't late after all.)"

My favorite was a note card that was decorated with the large knocker on Ebenezer Scrooge's door, a lion's head with the brass ring passing through his mouth. When the card was opened, the lion's face was replaced, the brass ring was in the mouth of Marley's ghost. Inside I quoted Marley's ghost, "Business! ... Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business."

I asked Ms Keogh which was her favorite. She said it was the one in which I drew the manger scene - ah, yes, the one where everybody said my cow looked too much like my Newfoundland dog with horns. There was the infant Jesus in his mother's lap being breast-fed while the rest of the barn-life looked on. The caption was my poem about the Christ being a mammal, his first apostles the occupants of the stable before the Three Wise Men arrived.

The invention and manufacture of our own Season's Greetings cards, I do believe, are more fun for Ms Keogh and me than they can be for their recipients. The time sacrificed in the endeavor, and the effort to be original, focuses our appreciation on the significance of this time of year and the value we place on our friends and family.

This essay is the most recent in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"