Friday, December 20, 2002
The Carlisle way of life
Our adult city-dweller daughter came home for Thanksgiving weekend. Waking up early one morning, she stood at the window and looked out at the deer tracks in the fresh snow, the rays of the low sun slanting through the trees, the feeding frenzy at the birdfeeders. Earlier in the month she had met one of her Carlisle teachers manning a polling station at Town Hall. "You really shouldn't take Carlisle for granted," my daughter said to me. Fortunately, most of us don't, or Carlisle would be very different than it is.
While this is no longer the small mid-century agricultural town that long-time residents Jim Davis and Larry Sorli have described in their oral history interviews, it is still a small town where business is transacted on a very personal level. For example, the post office delivered three extra copies of the Mosquito to our mailbox the week that our son's wedding announcement appeared on the Friends and Neighbors page.
It is also a place where the individual citizen can really make a difference. In the past year, while the town has been challenged by the slowing economy, residents have shown a remarkable willingness to offer their time and resources to find solutions and protect our treasured environment, schools and citizenry young and old.
When Town Meeting decided that taxes could not rise above the Proposition 2-1/2 limit, the Carlisle Public School was dealt a significant blow, threatening to close the school library and discontinue some valuable programs. Despite this unanticipated disappointment, the Carlisle School administration and school committee accepted the no-override vote as the will of the town and declined to ask for additional funding. Parental response was impressive. The Carlisle School Association and especially the Carlisle Education Foundation rapidly raised $75,000 to support the school library and other functions through this fiscally difficult time.
Among many other town volunteers, members of the finance committee have spent endless hours analyzing current and future needs of our schools and town departments, working with their Concord counterparts, looking for money in forgotten places, and peering into a very murky crystal ball.
Inevitably, time has changed and will change Carlisle, but hopefully not its small-town, over-the-fence, person-to-person way of life. Thanks to all who made a difference in the past year.
Happy holidays. Happy new year.
Of Christmas trees and joy reflected
We have an authentic Carlisle Christmas Tree at home this year, a beautiful blue spruce cut from the side of the road. When we pulled up beside it, handsaw and gloves ready for the harvest, my sons were dubious. I had already told them about successfully bidding for the tree in the church auction. I assured them I had stopped by that very morning to check with George and Nadine Bishop, to make certain we took the correct tree from their plantings. The boys were still uneasy. Faced with the living tree, they wondered whether it was ecologically justified to cut it down. After further assurances that the row had been planted for this very purpose, they felled our beauty in short order. "Let's get out of here," said the elder son, glancing around in the gathering darkness, "before somebody calls the police!"
Years ago I began my life's work in ministry, serving as interim at "The Christmas Tree Church" in Lexington. The founder of that congregation, Charles Follen, had been born in Germany. He was a preacher, radical abolitionist, and Harvard professor, mostly forgotten. Follen might be surprised to learn he gained enduring fame for introducing the decorated tree custom in 1832. The English writer, Harriet Martineau, was traveling in America and visited the Follen family at Christmas. Her published account helped popularize the tradition. It also secured the historical claim of the first Christmas tree in New England, thus garnering a competitive edge for the tree lot run by the members of the congregation.
Charles Follen went into the woods with an axe and brought back a spruce tree. It was set in a tub, and the soil was covered with pretty moss. The minister sequestered the tree in the parlor behind closed doors and proceeded to decorate. The cook had been saving him eggshells for weeks. These were painted, and filled with barley sugar candies. Bright paper was formed into cones and hung with ribbon, nuts and dried fruits inside. Small dolls decorated the boughs. Finally, candles were affixed to the branches and lit. The parlor doors were thrown open and children rushed in to see the bright, sparkling wonder. "I liked to see Christmas best, " Charles Follen said, "reflected in the eyes of the children."
As families gathered in the snowy darkness by the Town Tree in Carlisle, awaiting the Red Balloon tree lighting party, I heard children asking parents, "What are we doing outside?" "How long till the lights go on?" "When will we sing carols?" and "Where are the cookies?" They were full of doubts and questions. But when the lightoliers threw the switch and colorful bulbs lit up the tree, the children dropped all their questions in glad delight. I saw a parishioner with her daughter and infant grandchild. "Through the eyes of the children . . . " she said, expressing the timeless experience of reflected joy.
We are often uncertain before the surprise of joy. My religious tradition is plump full of questions about matters of theology, but we know the wisdom of throwing ourselves into the wonder and beauty of this season. I'm not surprised my sons were tentative before bringing home the beautiful tree. After all, it fits with the Nativity. The shepherds trembled in fear before the angel heralds, and had to go see the manger to believe what they had been told. Mary must have questioned, "What me?" Surely Joseph had a reaction to the impending birth. But I imagine that when they looked into the eyes of the babe and beheld the light reflected there, uncertainty dropped away before joy.
© 2002 The Carlisle Mosquito