In December 1969 my 19-year-old brother came home for Christmas in a green Pontiac Firebird. That same year, my friend Florence’s brother came home from Vietnam in a body bag.
A few weeks before my brother’s arrival home from college, my family sat around the television and watched, our collective breaths held, as the Selective Service broadcast the Draft Lottery. One by one, birth-date capsules were drawn from a large container and assigned numbers. We knew that a low number would almost certainly send my brother to Vietnam; a higher number would keep him safe and allow him to finish out his college career in New Hampshire.
As we stared intently at the screen, the first number was drawn: Sept. 14. My mother gasped, thanking fate for slowing her labor 19 years earlier. My brother had been born in the early hours of Sept. 15.
For my family, Christmas that year continued as usual, with a 14-foot Christmas tree, a plethora of presents, visits from relatives and the traditional plum pudding, delivered aflame to the dining room.
My brother returned to college in January, and I returned to junior high school. I wore some of the new clothes I had received as Christmas presents. Florence returned to school wearing a black armband. Guiltily, I realized the best present I had received was my brother’s safety.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about those gifts we receive, both literal and figurative. When the three wise men arrived at the manger, carrying their precious gifts, did they envision how, hundreds of years later, we would carry on the tradition? Is a 96-inch television, obtained during the door-buster sale on Thanksgiving Day, our equivalent of a canister of myrrh?
The advertising circulars accompanying this newspaper today are what keep the newspaper alive, and its writers employed. Still, the flood of promotions overwhelms and even depresses me; I am not motivated to buy, buy, buy. My consumerism emerges, though, when I make a stop at a favorite fruit stand.
Donna Cody has closed Cody’s Fruit (located in a large grey barn in Odell) for the winter, but what remains open is a self-service annex on the barn’s west side. Inside, boxes of pears and apples await the hungry consumer. Hand-written signs remind us we are supporting a local farmer, and give us instructions on how to weigh our produce. Payment is the honor system. We calculate our bills and drop our money through a small slot in the wall.
The Oregonian newspaper reported recently that Americans no longer trust each other; thank goodness that people like Donna Cody still do.
Years ago, the local business association created a slogan for the holidays, asking us to “Stop Trade Leakage” and shop at home. While the slogan wasn’t the catchiest, the sentiment was right on. Just as Donna Cody asks us to support local farmers, so too should we support the local merchants who in turn support our schools, our sports teams, and our communities.
There are the institutions of downtown commerce, including the Hood River Stationers (in business for over 50 years) and my former employer Waucoma Bookstore (in business since 1976). There are also some young upstarts. I recently discovered Kids In the Hood/Art on Oak, a very long name for a charming new store located at 13 Oak St., next to Hood River Bagels.
Owner Noelle Newton represents around 20 local artists and craftspeople. She began her own artistic career as a sculptor, but changed mediums when her children, now 7 and 10, were born. She encourages artists of all ages to sell their wares in her store, and also supports several nonprofits by handling their fundraising items.
Currently, you can support Owen Stolte as he battles a life-threatening illness, purchase coffee from the May Street School PTO, and buy cards made by Mid Valley Elementary students.
Local arts and crafts may also be purchased from the Columbia Center for the Arts, Made in the Gorge, or from the rich and varied community of artists and craftspeople who call the Columbia Gorge home.
Gorge Owned, known by its acronym “GO!”, has improved on the “Stop Trade Leakage” slogan with a catchier phrase, “Keep Your $ Where Your © Is.” This year, you can support local businesses and win prizes by taking their “GO! Local” challenge. Simply go to GorgeOwned.org/LOCAL, enter at least three purchases or donations (totaling at least $50) and prepare to win prizes! Even if you don’t win, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you supported local businesses.
Although I’ve barely started my own shopping, I have been preparing gifts since our garden, and those gardens of our friends, began bestowing their gifts on us. Dried cherries await their transformation into chocolate-covered delicacies; pickles are absorbing their flavorful brines; and crispy cherry tomatoes lay waiting to be sprinkled on holiday salads.
And this year, when I bestow my handmade gifts on my brother, I’ll thank those three wise men for teaching me to share, and thank fate for keeping my brother, and all those I love, safe.