Anyone eavesdropping lately would swear I’d already gone woods queer. “So, it’s December 3rd! Do you know where you’re going today, little fella?”
I’m in the diningroom in my PJs, paused at the cellar door on my way to the coffee pot. I’m not talking to Tom because, even though I sometimes use pet names while reminding him of his full social calendar, he’s not my little fella. I’m not addressing the beagles, either. They are, collectively, “big boy” or “littlest guy,” and can only mark the passage of time with their innards. I’m alone, it would appear, carrying on another in-depth conversation with myself—a dialogue I mastered way before moving to the woods. “Today, you need to look outside in the mailbox,” I declare, and shuffle off to get caffeinated.
“She needs a lot more than coffee,” the neighbors would say, “if she woke up thinking somehow we got door-to-door mail delivery in Rangeley Plantation!” But if they looked real close, they’d realize I’m not alone. I’m with DecemBear, a three-inch stuffed teddy who lives with me this time of year. His mission is to search around his house for “the true meaning of Christmas”—checking his mailbox, beside his snowman, and inside each and every room—until at last he discovers it on Christmas Eve next to the tree with the rest of his little bear family. His search starts each December 1st, when he must hang out in each day’s spot until the 24th. It is my mission to see that he’s successful every year, a responsibility I’ve carried on for more than 20 years, through two houses and sending my “little girl” helpers off to college and beyond. I’m not sure what would befall me if somewhere along the way I shirked this duty. What if one year I just left DecemBear rolled up in his red flannel wall calendar in a box in the closet? What if, for a day or two, I lapsed into complacency and didn’t properly position his safety-pin spine? I hate to imagine.
Since moving to Rangeley, I am learning to flow with the seasons, to live by nature’s timetable. Like the first inhabitants of this land, I strive to tune into my internal rhythms instead of relying on clocks or calendars. But, as I said back in Happy Half Anniversary, I do tend to be hyper vigilant about special occasions, and observing my first Rangeley Christmas makes this year ever so special. I also have some quirky control mechanisms that seem to be triggered by the shortening of daylight, making me seek comfort in childlike routines and all things bright and sparkly. All in all, this month finds me pretty far removed from the traditions of the wiser, real Maine natives. They watched moon phases and traded ceremonial wampum. I track a cloth cartoon character hanging off my cellar door.
Who knows, maybe I missed putting a dime in an advent calendar during my formative years and I got fixated. Then, one fateful Christmas when my girls were little, my mother-in-law made DecemBear from a fabric store kit and my quirkiness found an outlet. At first, I commandeered his travels because the girls were too short to reach the top of his house where it hung on the kitchen wall. Not to mention that a tiny teddy with an open safety-pin sticking out of his back would not have won any “best toddler gift” awards. The girls grew up, went off to college, and I still maintained the ritual. Part of me must have felt that, as long as the little bear made it safely around his calendar house, that meant my “little ones” would always return home, safe and sound, each Christmas, too. As the years went by, putting him up in the attic with the tree decorations became too threatening for me, so I began parking him right in the hall closet behind the coats. Like clockwork, come December 1, I’d take down Helen’s picture from when she won a scholarship and was featured in the newspaper and toss it under her bed so DecemBear could take his place front and center in the kitchen.
More times than I care to admit, I made emergency phone calls from my office back home when she was visiting this time of year. “Hi honey, did you sleep in today? You must be still recovering from studying for finals. Gee…you sound like you’re getting a bad cold. Cough medicine? Yes, that’s in the bathroom cabinet. You should take some right away. And, oh, before you do, could you do me a huge favor and move DecemBear for me? I forgot this morning!”
As you can imagine, finding my little seasonal friend in all the moving boxes was top priority recently. The day after Thanksgiving, I started getting nervous and wasn’t quite myself till I found him, rolled up in his calendar cocoon underneath the stockings and tree ornaments. Phew…all was right with my world! DecemBear had survived storage in the garage and was in the house again!
I know this is not normal behavior. Right now, I’m in denial, immersing myself in a holiday routine that disguises my core issues. I have a real problem, my own form of wintertime “affective disorder.” I suffer from Seasonal Attention to a Decoration (SAD) and I intend to help myself get better…right after the New Year when DecemBear goes back into hibernation.