Still Acceptably Quaint, But Flirting With 'Odd'

My grandchildren, who live away, think it is terribly quaint to have a grandmother who lives with six cats in a big old house in Maine and writes fairy tales. Their parents suspect I've long slipped over the border from Quaint and now dwell in the capital city of Eccentricity.

My children's suspicions began years ago, when they discovered the world outside the family. Their schoolmates brought baloney-on-white sandwiches, no lettuce, no sprouts, nothing to corrupt the purity. My children had bread made from wheat kernels and oat bran, laced with peanut butter so thick they couldn't talk for an hour after eating. I learned years later that they used to throw their lunches out the school-bus window and barter fruit leather (then an oddity) for Oreos from the other kids.

Then there are the gummy worms, which accompanied birthday presents and all other auspicious celebrations. (The latest was a grandson's graduation from medical school.) And the Christmas patchwork scarves, a tradition based on the premise of using whatever comes to hand.

Ground rules: Nothing new is purchased for the scarves. All materials are found or picked up at rummage sales, cut into six-inch squares, and matched, two by two, into a compatible pattern 10 squares long. Scarf ends are tasseled with whatever yarn has also been "found." Incredibly, it works. And it is acceptably quaint.

Then there's the Christmas crche. I was a normal child of normal parents, who laid out a traditional manger. It had the proper number of shepherds, angels, lambs, sheep, oxen, and wise men complete with entourage of camels and servants. When I married, I started out with my own appropriate manger, bought at a religiously correct gift shop.

But something happened. I think it began when my son brought home a red-velvet deer, one golden antler missing, bought at a school bazaar. It joined the crew at the manger.

That paved the way for other pilgrims: a glass bluebird, a china calico cat, a wooden rabbit with drum, a turkey salt shaker, a black ceramic pony with flowers in its mane, and three see-, hear-, and speak-no-evil monkeys joined at the hips. They sat on the roof of the stable with the angel.

Each year the company of characters grew, until the manger had to be brought out from under the tree onto a table. It was the most delightful of scenes. And, in retrospect, more than acceptably quaint.

What might have pushed me over the edge was another Christmas venture that I thought was terribly clever and a gem of recycling. Last year, after most of our Christmas tree's needles had fallen to the sheet beneath it, I noticed that they still gave off their sweet pungence. I gathered up almost a bushel and wondered how best to use them.

Then I had a "Eureka!" illumination similar, I'm sure, to that which inspired the vacuum cleaner. I remembered the little muslin bags and pillows filled with pine needles sold in tourist shops. Perfect! Only I would take it a step further: I would make them for the bath.

I had seen such things advertised in catalogs for exorbitant prices, and I had enough for a cottage industry here. Perhaps I could mix oatmeal or foaming sea salts with them.

All I needed were a few pairs of porous pantyhose that I would cut into small pockets, stuff, sew up, and vol! Eau de pine for the bath. I pulled out the few pairs that I owned (a grandmother who writes fairy tales in her dining room doesn't need pantyhose) and found that none had any rips, snags, holes, or runs. Just baggy knees. Some frugal scruple wouldn't let me sacrifice that which was still usable.

Another flash of inspiration: I would simply fill the pantyhose from waist to toe with the needles and lay them on the bottom of the tub, which I would fill with hot water. Then I would climb in and arrange myself on top of the stuffed stocking.

This I did, but found myself not enjoying the earthly aroma rising from under me. Instead I was thinking: "Thank goodness there's no one here to see me."

That thought led me further. Suppose something happened to me in the tub - toe irretrievably stuck in faucet, cat attack, ceiling collapse caused by earthquake. I could see the headlines in the National Enquirer: "Woman Found in Tub Wrapped Around Stuffed Pantyhose! Satanic Ritual Suspected!"

Reluctantly, I gave up on my great inspiration. I used the needles as circumspect mulch around the roses. Let the kids live with quaint. Even if they suspect it's worse, why give them the certainty?

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