This past Saturday was ‘Buy Local Day’ in Belfast, an annual event to promote small local merchants. During the week I had spoken to my sister Jean, now a resident of three months in Maine, about our making a shopping morning of it. This conversation took place outside the hearing of my husband. He is morally opposed to shopping except at hardware stores where he can stand transfixed for hours contemplating whether he should buy a new wrench to add to his collection. Knowing this I didn’t bother producing the contention that supporting our small businesses was a noble endeavor equal to saving the whales or rain forests. I preferred that he stay at home rather than hover over me tapping his watch, but on the Friday evening before the event Jean and her husband came for dinner and somehow or other the beans were spilled.
I had planned to slip away in the dead of dawn leaving a note on the kitchen counter. Not to be. Suddenly both men were saying they were willing come with us. I was so appalled I was tempted not to give them dessert. My brother-in-law Philip is no keener on shopping than is Julian, but he has the newcomer’s urge to embrace everything Maine. He keeps a running total of all the people he has met since moving here and tossing out their names to test Jean on how she is doing in this regard. She and I both knew how it would be on Saturday morning:
“Oh, look, dear! There goes Sandy!”
“From bridge. Wednesday’s duplicate bridge, not Thursday’s party bridge. She’s from California, moved here in 1997, and has three children, five grandchildren and a dog named Bruce. Jean, you must have met her.”
“I don’t think so.” An answer that would leave one of them feeling smug.
She and I parted on Friday evening determined not to allow the male element to blight our enthusiasm for a descent of Main Street. I’m not an early riser but I was out of bed at five-forty-five the next morning and outraced Julian in getting dressed. He was looking positively cheerful. I assumed this to mean he had decided shopping small businesses meant buying only what would fit into one tiny paper bag. Even so, I eyed him suspiciously.
“Why are you doing this?”
“Because it’s an adventure.”
I looked at him and saw not only the little boy inside the man, but the little girl I had been on a morning when my mother had looked around the kitchen table and asked my two sisters, brother and me if we wanted to go up to London to see Father Christmas. What had made the question extra magical was that it was a school day and we were already in our uniforms ready to set off with our satchels. I’m sure many people would think offering such a choice reprehensible, but that treasured memory is worth more than any tangible Christmas gift I ever received. It was a lesson about drawing outside the lines, walking off the beaten path, climbing the stairs backwards. If I could frame love it would be that moment, and here I was being offered something very close to it by the man with whom I’ve just celebrated our forty-ninth wedding anniversary. What made this ‘now’ even better was that it became obvious when we met up with Jean and Philip that it was the same with them – a gift from the season of belief in small joys.
At six thirty a.m. Belfast glowed with lighted windows. In Coyote Moon, a women’s clothing and gift store, we met Sandy who was sure she had met Jean somewhere before. I bought a meat thermometer and four New Yorker cartoon Christmas cards at a wonderful kitchen shop – the Good Table. Neither Julian nor Philip hovered. They vanished into the hardware store. We did not see them again until meeting up an hour later at Traci’s Diner for breakfast, and it turned out that my husband had made the pick purchase of the day – a wireless doorbell to replace the electric one that had never worked since we had moved into our house five years ago.
He set about installing it the moment we got home. I’d told myself there was nothing I wanted for Christmas, but oh, the delight of listening to that first experimental peel heralding the holidays. I’d decided not to bother decorating the house this year, but maybe I will. Just a little tree.