Merry After


by Frances Edstrom

We had an early deadline for today’s newspaper so that our mail room and carriers wouldn’t be working on Christmas Day. So I’m writing this column before Christmas Day, and you’ll be reading it after Christmas Day. Since I can’t tell you what happened on Christmas, I’m going to have to wing it.

What I do know is that this Christmas wasn’t like the Christmas John and I spent in Seattle, while he was going to graduate school, and I was working. I hated my job, and I hated the fact that he got to sit around and shoot the bull with his fellow students while I was hunched over a big ledger full of numbers like Bob Cratchit from “A Christmas Carol.” I didn’t have a little Tiny Tim at home to feed, but our dog and several neighborhood bachelors counted on us from time to time for sustenance.

We had very little money, but I did manage to make enough to buy a six-pack of beer every now and then, which I began hiding in the washing machine in our rental house when I’d see the guy across the street coming up our walk.

On Christmas, all the neighborhood weirdos were apparently with their families. Our grad school friends had all gone home for the holidays. We had been invited to a pre-Christmas party at the home of one of John’s English professors, but it was so bizarre—all half-bent billiard pipes and leather-patched sport coats, long hair and stultifying conversation. I remember hoping that when John began teaching in a college somewhere, the people would be more…uh…fun. I am happy to report that although John didn’t end up teaching, we have met some pretty entertaining college professors.

On Christmas Day, though, there were just the two of us. I know I’ve told this story a million times. It’s our own personal Christmas hard luck story. I had knit a sweater vest for John two years earlier. (Well, actually three years earlier I had started knitting it for another guy, but that was a short-lived relationship, and I’m a slow knitter.) The vest got a hole in it, so instead of throwing it away, or trying to mend it (fat chance of my being able to do that!), I unravelled it and used the yarn to knit gifts for family members…with limited success, I can now admit.

For John, though, I wanted something special, so I saved my change, and finally had enough for a pair of gloves, which he needed badly. We had the idea that since it mostly rained in Seattle in the winter, it wouldn’t be cold. John always maintained that a sunny, below-zero day in Minnesota was much more comfortable than a rainy winter day in Seattle, and I wholeheartedly agreed. So he needed gloves.

On Christmas morning, we first opened gifts sent from our families. I wanted to save the best for last…the gloves. I think John got a shirt from my mother in size XXXL. For some reason she must have thought we were bigger than life, because she always sent clothing two or three sizes too large for us. Then he opened the gift from his mother.

It was a pair of gloves! Leather!! No wonder people have mother-in-law problems; she stole my thunder. I have since forgiven her, but on that day, 1,800 miles from home, I burst into tears.

I know that Christmas Day 2012 won’t be like that, because my daughters make sure I let them vet the gift list and I never make a purchase unless at least the general idea gets the stamp of approval.

I also know that Christmas Day 2012 will be tons of fun, because unlike in Seattle, in Winona I am surrounded by family, and lots of love. However, this year, if my mother-in-law pre-empts one of my gifts to the kids, we’ll have to have a serious talk!

Almost no Trouble

When I heard Vanessa (Gernes) Trouble was going to be in town as part of St. Mary’s Off the Page music series, I immediately got tickets. Vanessa’s mother, Ginny, was a childhood friend of the Edstrom family, so we have known Vanessa since she was a little kid. (She was trouble with a little “t” back then!)

I met Ginny when we were both in the chorus of “Little Mary Sunshine” in Winona Summer Theater. We were a group of fun girls, with either weak soprano or bellering alto voices, so the addition of Ginny, a trained singer with a gorgeous soprano voice, was more than a little welcome.

Vanessa is a professional jazz singer in New York. Anyone who has followed her through the years has seen her grow and mature into an accomplished musician with a style that is very Vanessa. The concert was billed as holiday music.

After I bought the tickets for the Friday concert, I was invited to the Thursday concert by a couple of friends. I sold my Friday tickets to another couple, and waited for my Thursday treat.

It snowed. It snowed so hard and so much that the Thursday concert was cancelled. This put me out of the Christmas spirit. All my friends and I could do was to go early on Friday evening to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum, where the concert was to be held, and put our names on the list for any extra tickets.

I saw Vanessa, and she immediately told me her mother had an extra ticket I could have! Yes! But what about my friends? Luckily my friends have friends in high places. When the St. Mary’s Page Theatre people saw that my friends had missed the Thursday concert and were on the waiting list, they found tickets for them. Now we were all happy. It seemed, though, that everyone on the waiting list was accommodated. And after Vanessa’s concert, we were even happier.

The three-piece band that accompanied her included another Winonan, Jay Epstein, on drums. We see Jay from time to time at jazz clubs in the Twin Cities, where he also plays professionally.

Part of Vanessa’s attraction is her unpredictability. She is a great stylist and an engaging stage personality. Her inventive mind likes to play with the music and surprise the audience. That night, she and the band did “Silver Bells” to a cha-cha rhythm, a delightful change.

Thanks to St. Mary’s for bringing Vanessa Trouble to town. Wouldn’t it be great to make it a Christmas tradition?


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