The Aroma of Pine

Excerpted from A Journey For Our Times, the autobiography of Harrison E. Salisbury, © 1983:

In the bay window where the Christmas tree stood, stiff lace curtains hung. Father had had candles on his tree since childhood in Mazomanie, and he had them as long as we celebrated Christmas at 107 Royalston, small candles of red, white, blue, green and yellow affixed to the branches with snap holders.

The tree was lighted at evening. Mother presided over a pail of water. Dad, matches in hand, climbed a stepladder and lighted the candles, one by one, until the tree sparkled with captured stars. Almost immediately the aroma of pine filled the room as the candles warmed the needles. Janet and I sat beside the tree in delight edged by fear communicated by Mother. Dad seemed oblivious of the moment, his gray-blue eyes distant, a smile on his face such as I never saw at other times. Mother hovered beside the water pail, nervously calculating the distance between herself and the tree, an exercise in emotional geometry. Hardly were the candles lighted than she said: “Perce– that’s enough, don’t you think?” Dad would stare at the tree. He was years away from the present. God knows what thoughts were passing through his mind. He would not answer. Possibly he did not hear. He sat and watched the play of lights, the reflected image on the plate-glass window. Three or four minutes passed. Mother spoke again: “Really, Percy, I think we’d better put them out. They’re beginning to burn down.” Soon, very quickly, she would stride to the tree and begin to snuff out the candles, and Dad, with reluctance that slowed every muscle in his body, rose and helped at the task. Christmas was over.

I just love the way he writes.  This is a book to read slowly, so every line is savored.



The lead story in today’s paper was about a shoving match between a County Commissioner and an old lady.  The commissioner apologized.

Below that was a story about the filing dates for the upcoming school-board elections, and a picture of a priest putting ashes on a man’s forehead.

Below the fold, at the very bottom of the page, was the story of a gunman in Florida killing seventeen high school students.

“My country, tears of thee…”  ~Lawrence Ferlinghetti


“I’m humbled, honored, proud.”  ~Michelle Obama, at the unveiling of her official portrait (source)

I don’t think she knows what the word “humbled” means.

Of course, the word “literally” now literally means “figuratively,” so maybe the definition of “humbled” changed, too, while I was distracted with other things.  Maybe I’m the one using it wrong.

That’s a humbling thought.

“Hide me.”

“You can really learn something about a person when he’s put into circumstances in which civilized values place his own identity, even his very being, in jeopardy… I often think: How would a friend with whom you’ve drunk a lot of vodka and had a lot of fun respond when one morning you plant yourself on his doorstep and say, ‘Hide me. I’m being chased by the Nazis.'” ~Roman Polanski

Polanski’s mother died at Auschwitz, his father barely survived imprisonment at Mauthausen–Gusen concentration camp. Polanski himself survived by assuming a new name and hiding with a Catholic family for the duration of the war.

This was not just an idle contemplation for him.


This is a pretty esoteric list:  words that end with “sm,” excluding ones that end with the suffix “ism.”  If you include the ones with that suffix– ageism, sexism, dadaism– the list becomes too unmanageable.

So, with that caveat, I could only come up with three:

  1. chasm
  2. prism
  3. spasm