O come all ye faithful. A childhood friend of The Observer's returned home for his brief annual visit the Tuesday before Christmas. Since his company is always in high demand, the old gang decided well in advance that this year we'd designate a time and place to make sure we spent some time together, instead of playing the usual catch-him-if-you-can-while-he's-home game. We reserved a row of tables at a bar, with the sole objective of turning a Tuesday night into a six-hour weekend throwdown. For awhile, time stood still, and the only outsiders who existed to our 20-plus wrecking crew were our Herculean cocktail servers and anyone who got in our way in the fast lane to the bathroom. It was a bit like The Big Chill without the funeral. All was right in the world, flash floods be damned.
Then came Wednesday. We got a phone call about another guy, someone we'd known only five years, someone 10 years younger, an elementary school art teacher. He'd died in his sleep, about the same time in the early morning hour our celebratory group was paying a mighty bar tab.
No parent should have to bury his or her child, and never on Christmas Eve. Mother Nature didn't give two damns; no reprieve from the rain came that day. Mud, heavy sheets of rain and miserable howling winds added to the hollow mood.
In a little outdoor pavilion on cemetery and church acreage, we heard the pleas of grieving parents and his childhood friends: Make peace with your loved ones. Hang on to your old friends. Catch them while you can.
The Observer is here to tell you that you need to get your gutters cleaned out regularly if you don't want to stay up all night, and we do mean all night and into the next day, in the next record-setting downpour emptying from a tall plastic wastebasket a couple hundred gallons of rainwater that you captured from a leak down the wall with a system of tin foil weirs, all the time hallucinating about ways to capture the rain and drain it out the window through a garden hose stuck into a flower pot (which you finally actually attempt just at the time the paper boy turns up, so that you say good morning to him while you are sticking the hose through a screen into the house only to later discover the pot-hose idea doesn't work) and having to stand in water deep enough that sweeping it into (another) wastebasket is the only way to control it and keep it from running into the living room, ruining the wood floors, the Christmas presents, furniture feet and your life.
Just get the gutters cleaned out, OK?
The Observer can't vouch for Herman van Amsterdam — though we Googled him and found he'd authored a book on Holland, now out of print — but we don't see any harm in passing along his request to us asking for old photographs of the Bollenstreek (the Netherlands' tulip-growing area).
His message to us said he wanted photos taken by touring Americans during the middle part of the 20th century — from the 1930s to the 1960s — “to write a book about the ‘lost' past of this famous Holland landscape.”
Van Amsterdam says the Bollenstreek has changed so — from industry and residential development — that he needs the photos to reconstruct what the tulip fields once looked like.
This is vaguely depressing to The Observer, who's never visited Holland. Is it too late to see masses of the flower that so fired-up 17th century Europeans that they went broke to buy a single bulb? Has the time of the tulip passed?
Typical. We missed the ivory-billed woodpecker, too, apparently.
If you have old snapshots of your family tiptoeing, as it were, through the Bollenstreek, Van Amsterdam would like to communicate with you. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the What Nonsense department, our friend relates this story about her local grocery store:
She discovered that the cranberries she'd bought at the grocery store were mush. On her return to the store, she saw why: They were in the direct path of the water sprayer that keeps the veggies cool.
She hailed a store worker. Your cranberries are being ruined, she said. His reply: He couldn't move the sprayer.
To the obvious suggestion that the berries be moved, he couldn't do that either. It's traditional, he said, to place the cranberries next to the celery.
If you want good cranberries, the gentleman said, he'll get them out of the cooler in the rear of the store.