A Tale of Two Doves

Joe Lavin's Humor Column

A Tale of Two Doves

December 24, 2002

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One day. One Scrooge. Two Christmas shops. Could someone who has always disliked Christmas survive more than a few minutes in a Christmas shop? It was time to find out.

My plan -- based on the shaky premise that when I do stuff I hate something funny often happens -- was to take photos for my web site of two Christmas shops, one in Rockport, Massachusetts and the other at Faneuil Hall in Boston. While taking the pictures, I also planned to interview the shopkeepers. What would I ask them? Unfortunately, I didn't have a clue. It appeared that I would have to wing it.

The Original Christmas Dove, Rockport, MA

A few moments after entering this store that sits just across the street from the Atlantic Ocean, I ask the older woman at the cash register if I can take some pictures. I tell her that I'm doing an article about Christmas shops for a web site -- which strictly speaking is true.

"Oh, web sites!" she exclaims. "I don't know anything about web sites. You'll have to ask John about that. He's the owner. He knows all about web sites."

Before I have a chance to explain that no technical proficiency is necessary to answer my questions, she has dragged me to the back of the store. "Oh, John knows all about web sites," another old lady repeats. "He designed one for the store. He's upstairs. I'll go get him."

And so, suddenly without trying, I have an interview with the owner of The Christmas Dove. Great! Now, all I need are some questions to ask him. Yet again in my writing career, it is time to pretend that I'm a real journalist. As you would expect, no questions come to mind.

Luckily, it doesn't matter. "John, someone is here to ask you about your web site," I hear another old lady tell John as he comes downstairs. And with that, a feature idea is thrust upon me. Yes, indeed, I'm here to do an article about Christmas shop web sites. Why not?

John, a man in his forties with glasses and a mustache, comes out and shakes my hand. Before I know it, he's telling me all about the store's history and its vast online presence. He painstakingly answers all the questions that I haven't actually cared enough to ask. He tells me that his parents started the store in 1965 and that it's one of the "pioneers among Christmas stores." Five years ago, after his father passed away, John took over the store and immediately created a web site for it.

As I stand there with him, it's obvious that he's quite proud of this web site, and you can tell he's thrilled someone else is finally willing to give it the publicity it so richly deserves. He tells me how quickly it's growing. "Last November, I think I got three orders for the entire first two weeks. This year, I've already got five in the first week, so it's really growing."

"It's listed all over the place," he adds, telling me that he recently paid someone to register it with over a hundred web directories.

"I found it through Google," I say helpfully, though this garners no comment whatsoever. He looks at me blankly. ("Google? Is that a type of Christmas ornament?" I imagine him thinking.) I let it drop and ask instead about the store's name. "So, you say that this is the original Christmas Dove. Are you affiliated at all with the other Christmas Dove stores in New England?" (Wow, a well-informed question. See, I am a real journalist!)

It turns out that his parents used to own the four other Christmas Doves, but they didn't enjoy the hassle of owning so many shops. They wanted to concentrate on just the Rockport store, so they sold all the others. Considering how much bigger the other shops have become, it seems like a remarkably bad business decision, but I say nothing and instead wander about the store with my camera.

As I walk through the four large rooms of Christmas decorations, I chat a little with the cashier, and she tells me that she has worked there for 35 years.

"It's nice to work in a Christmas store," she says as I buy a Christmas ornament from her. "Everyone who comes here is usually in a good mood because they love Christmas. Not too many crabs here, although we do get our share of crabs. Let me tell you."

On another day, I suspect I would have been one of those crabs.

The Christmas Dove, Faneuil Hall, Boston, MA

I have never been more gay. I am standing inside The Christmas Dove at Faneuil Hall asking another grown man if I can take pictures of Christmas displays. At this point, all I have to do is exclaim, "Oh, I just love everything about Christmas, don't you?" and I'll never be allowed to date women again.

The somewhat effeminate salesman seems overly excited as I describe my plan to do a photo essay of Christmas stores in New England. He thinks it's a wonderful idea, and he explains that he's the one responsible for many of the Christmas displays. Meanwhile, a saleswomen in her fifties stands next to him and tells me about all the many other people who ask to take photographs. "You know who really loves to take pictures?" she says. "The Chinese. That's who. I don't know why, but they just can't get enough pictures."

This Christmas Dove is nothing like the Christmas Dove in Rockport. While that store was a small house, this one has about a dozen rooms. There are Christmas trees galore, ornaments wherever you look, an entire room devoted to Christmas candles, and even a room that for some reason holds Halloween decorations.

One room features about six tiny toy Christmas towns, including a display of the North Pole, replete with an operating ski lift. Another room has several sports ornaments, and it seems somehow strange that the only two Black Santas I see are in the basketball and baseball ornaments. In another spot, there are about seventy toy Christmas figures -- all about two feet tall and all staring back at me with their mouths open as if in song. Maybe I'm just imagining this, but wherever I go in the room, the little Christmas figures seem to be staring back at me. Frankly, they scare me.

Downstairs, I ask the girl behind the counter if I can take pictures in her area. She is about fourteen, and she looks at me as if I'm the lamest person on the planet. "Yeah, sure," she says. The "whatever" is merely implied.

Back upstairs, though, the salesman is quite happy to help. "Let me know if you need to have anything fluffed before you take the picture," he says with a smile.

"No thanks, all set on the fluffing front."

I don't quite know what he means by fluffing, but I think it's best to decline his offer.

I do buy a few ornaments as gifts. At the counter, I'm planning to ask more questions, but I'm suddenly taken aback. When I reach into my wallet for my credit card, it's not there. I do have another card, but nowhere is the one I normally use. As I stand there, I suddenly realize that the last time I used it was at The Christmas Dove in Rockport.

After a moment of panic, I'm remarkably calm. After all, if I'm going to lose my credit card, The Christmas Dove is probably the safest place to lose it. Somehow, I just don't think the Christmas people will be committing credit card fraud.

Then again, people who love Christmas aren't necessarily law-abiding. It is theoretically possible that the Christmas people could be racking up extravagant charges on my card at this very moment. Suddenly, I have visions of ferocious arguments with my credit card company.

"Look, I didn't buy six geese-a-laying. Somebody stole my credit card, okay? I live in an apartment. Where the hell am I going to put six geese-a-laying? No! No! No! I did not buy five golden rings either! The Christmas people stole my card!"

In the end, all was well. I found my credit card at the original Christmas Dove, and luckily, there were no strange Christmas charges on my statement. Later, I stopped by a Christmas shop in Cambridge. I planned to write about that store too, but somehow I didn't like it because it just wasn't Christmasy enough. What has happened to me that I'm now complaining because a store isn't Christmasy enough? Thank God the Christmas season is just about over, because I've almost come down with some Christmas spirit.

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