From the Vineyard Gazette edition of November 21, 1980 by William A. Caldwell:
Naturally, this being the week before Thanksgiving, the subject was how to make Christmas wreaths. Naturally.
This is not quite to be construed as a complaint. Quite the contrary. There may be grounds for grumbling about the onset, just after the regattas and just before Labor Day, of mail-order Xmas season. That becomes a little too much of muchness.
But when it comes to the Christmas we really mean, it is generally agreed that certain mystical things must be done now or indeed day before yesterday if we’re to do them at all. And the doing of them filters fragrance and glow and the sound of small bells into a meantime during which we can use all we can get of warmth in any form.
The fabrication of Christmas wreaths is one such thing, and we’ll get to that. Another is the composition of the fruitcakes and steamed suet puddings, with their jewel-toned rinds and confits; they have a lot of communing to do in their brandy-soaked swaddling, and should be hard at it.
A third, I take it from the ticktock of needles wherever two or three craftswomen are gathered together for tea and finger-counting, is knitting. A fourth is the packaging of lucent jellies and marmalades that look like stained glass for timely shipment to people who need to be reminded that spring and the beach plums come on forever. And...
And so here, looming over a long table in the parish house of the West Tisbury Congregational Church, was urbane, mustached, aproned John R. Perkins, the Edgartown horticulturist, showing a roomful of Garden Club do-it-yourselfers how to make Christmas wreaths. Naturally. Correction: how he makes Christmas wreaths.
“By this time,” murmured Mrs. John Robert Krantz, president of the club, watching Mr. Perkins fasten a sprig of evergreen Russian olive, still blossoming and smelling of summer, onto the ring he had made of a coat hanger, “by this time I’d have my thumb wired into that wreath.”
For one humbled onlooker’s part, I’ll never again take a wreath for granted. I couldn’t help being reminded of the day Phil Dube was laying up the chimney at the far end of our house, with its arcane shelves and dampers and smoke chambers, and I asked a young carpenter why Mr. Dube was taking so much care to make small eyelets between the bricks of one course. “Weep holes,” he said, “so’s rain water coming down the inside of the chimney will run out, not into your nice new room.” “Gosh,” I said fatuously, “there’s a lot more to building a chimney than just making a hole in the roof, I guess.” “I guess there’s a lot more to anything that you’d think,” he said.
On the table lay the raw materials of which John Perkins was about to make works of art — a bag of nuts; a litter of cones, mainly black pine and blue fir; red berries; the chenille stems and wires and pegs that can be had at florist shops; coat hangers; and naturally, a dozen kinds of evergreens indigenous to the Island. He likes balsam (“Smells nice, smells somewhat like a skunk”), but he’s allergic to Norway spruce, and he counted off white pine (“very pitchy”), bayberry (“brittle and will shatter; pick lots”), spruce (“use it outside; indoors the needles dry fast and fall”); native holly (“wear heavy gloves”); Cryptomeria japonica (“Polly Hill suggests using in reforestation; it takes the salt air”); cherry laurel, aborvitae. Some he pruned from trees in his own yard on Main street, some from the My Toi plantings on Chappaquiddick. A friend of his buys Christmas trees for makins and gets four wreaths out of a five-foot tree. To make a wreath like the one you’ll be wanting to hang on the front door takes John Perkins maybe seven minutes (“that’s after making maybe 200, maybe 250 a year”) and might take duffers like us 20 minutes. He has spent as much as five hours drilling many-splendored nuts and wiring them into a Della Robbia wreath for the ages. “At home you can be kind of casual,” he said.
Just as it is impossible, without illustrations or a dance company, for you to tell me how to tie a simple bowline knot, it will be impossible for me to tell you how John Perkins shapes a clothes hanger into a perfect circle and then wires to it successive handfuls of six or eight sprigs each of evergreen. How the successive sprays of these are made to flow over each other smoothly — at one point Mr. Perkins set a somewhat tousled wreath on the table and whomped it flat. How the berries and cones, gilded if you like, and the nuts and sprigs of contrasting blues and grays and silvers are mounted on their pegs and slipped into the wiring of the basic greens. How the two yards of ribbon are folded into a many-winged bow. That was a flurry of hands. People gasped. “Really all it takes is practice,” he said.
The balsam smell of Christmas was in the air. Naturally.
Compiled by Hilary Wall