Saturday, December 4, 2010

Currier and Ives, A Story


Just got our 2011 (Ye Gods and Little Fishes!) calendar from our friendly insurance company, but am still admiring 2010's December's page. (As my mother used to say, “Another year, shot to hell.”) Anyhow, this particular calendar has been a household staple since the ‘60’s. It always features pictures by Currier & Ives. We have grown fond of these Victorian scenes, even the ones awkwardly rendered, in a style now officially dubbed “primitive.” This month’s scene isn't as carefree as usual. It's a humble creek- side home with a lean-to covered in straw before and a tacked-on shed behind. A woman and child stand out front, apparently watching a neighbor family coming to visit. Over a rickety bridge they march, a family of five, the mother carrying a baby in her arms. Everyone else is carrying wood. The oldest child has a bundle in his arms; the smallest, accompanied by a bouncing black dog, drags a fallen branch. The man is bent beneath a heavy load of neatly sized firewood.

There’s a Christmas theme here, but not one too many modern consumers with charge cards burning in their pockets would immediately recognize. We see no man at the house, and my husband and I, melancholy by nature, have decided that he has died. We imagine these visitors are bringing not only their company, but a plain necessity, wood to feed the little home’s winter hungry fire. Tellingly, there are no cows or pigs in the farmyard, only a few ducks floating in the still unfrozen creek. Perhaps this woman has had to sell her livestock. No one in the picture looks prosperous, but it seems those that have a little are sharing with a friend on the brink of losing everything. Things are tough at that creek side house, but at least there are neighbors who care and who are willing to help out.

Christmas is the time of year to celebrate, and in the last 100 years it's become about corporate balance sheets and "shop till you drop." To me, this scene is a reminder that it's also a time to remember the old folk song about “there but for fortune…” or, if you prefer, the more modern admonition to "Put a little love in your heart..."

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