The day after the election, I did a quick Google search for “uncertainty” in the news and received 120 million hits. It appeared I wasn’t alone in my despair. One result from the University of California connected the pervading sense of dread with ambiguity and “trying to predict what will happen.” I have hundreds of dollars in JetBlue credits to prove that there’s no sense planning ahead in 2020.
As an antidote to this year’s chaos, I’ve taken to watching the Hallmark Channel. A lot. After all, their programming is built on certainty — that the girl gets the guy after rushing home to save the town festival in a sudden snowstorm. Or, more recently, that the girl gets the girl and the guy gets the guy. I feel much better about my habit since the channel added diversity to its stream of seasonal entertainment.
Good enough to allow my 8-year-old daughter to join me on the couch in the pandemic. Initially, I worried about the message the movies send in terms of romance being the end goal but decided the positivity outweighed my concern. That and keeping “We Should All Be Feminists” on the coffee table. Plus, it’s cute when Elinor says, “There’s D.J.!” during the promos featuring Candace Cameron Bure.
Not to date myself, but I’ve long been a fan of both D.J. and the Hallmark formula. Back in the spring, my mom texted me a MediaVillage report titled “Hallmark Channel offers comfort and escape during uncertain times” with the note: “You were ahead of the curve!” Apparently, viewership was up, and the channel was winning the cable ratings race. They later unveiled 40 new titles as part of their “Countdown to Christmas.”
“People need an hour where they can sit down and know that everything’s going to be OK,” Hallmark star Catherine Bell explained in the article. “You’re going to feel good at the end of it.” To be fair, I also feel good watching Sarah Cooper lip-sync President Trump’s words. Still, I like to temper my satire with something saccharine to pretend “that everything’s going to be OK” even though I haven’t seen my parents since February.
I especially like the Hallmark Hall of Fame films, which is how Elinor and I ended up catching “The Christmas Train” on a recent fall evening — because, if one thing’s certain, it’s always Christmas on Hallmark. As the characters pursued their happy endings, I looked at Elinor in her American Girl pajamas, a total innocent in this wacky world. From the screen Danny Glover told Kimberly Williams-Paisley that “life can be like a movie sometimes.”
With Glover’s words weighing on my mind, I hatched an idea for a mother-daughter trip that would capture the spirit of a Hallmark special. Living in New England and not wanting to venture far in a health crisis, I figured a Christmas tree farm would serve our purposes and booked an Airbnb on one in Bennington, Vt., that also promised a house cat. Only a prince from Cambria would’ve been more on script.
Sure, we’d have to wear masks! Sure, restaurants might be closed! Sure, we’d have to cancel if our town left the low-risk zone! But with Santa as my witness, we were going to experience some holiday cheer. Like any good Hallmark movie, we had the help of our host, Lisa Grenning, who bought the five-acre farm in July 2019 as her own escape from the pricey Bay Area after her youngest was in college.
The plan (risky!) was to have a festive night away, to make wreaths and to trudge among the trees. In other words, to connect in a natural setting that didn’t involve Zooms or the political zeitgeist. “That’s what true love is. Finding a way to be together,” in Vermont, “no matter what. And what better time than Christmas to give someone your heart.” That’s according to Glover, mostly.
Seeing as I just celebrated my 15-year wedding anniversary, the love here would be of the parent-child variety. And seeing as we hit the road just days after Kamala Harris became the first female vice president-elect, it would be of the sisterhood variety. As it happens, Springfed Tree Farm is woman-owned and operated; Grenning is a single mom, balancing her day job with the new demands of harvesting.
Pulling up to the property, I understood how she could be persuaded to try farming. We parked in front of a red barn with a peace symbol-shaped wreath, spotting Christmas trees in every direction. It was a short stroll to the 1820s farmhouse, where Elinor got to work petting Mochi as Grenning greeted us. Showing us to the in-law apartment, she admitted, “I’ve had several friends say that I’m living in a Hallmark movie.”
Elinor and I exchanged knowing glances, arranging to meet her at the barn to learn how to construct wreaths. Inside it was like Michaels craft store mixed with Santa’s workshop with bins of balls, berries, and pinecones. Pulling from a pile of balsam, Grenning was a generous and patient teacher. Our trio fell into an easy rhythm as Aretha Franklin sang from an old CD player. “You’ve got a good eye,” she told Elinor, who beamed, fluffing her burlap bow.
It was two of the loveliest hours we’ve spent this year, but remember when I said there’s no sense planning in 2020? Around the time we arrived in Vermont, the governor changed the travel guidance, requiring out-of-state visitors to quarantine in response to rising COVID-19 cases. Leaving in the morning seemed like the best option so we ate the oatmeal I’d packed and gave Mochi a final rub.
Crossing back into the Berkshires, we passed homemade signs urging “love” and to “beep for better days.” I looked on and felt the possibility of those messages, the result of our change of scenery. Kind people exist everywhere. My daughter can visualize a path to becoming a maker, a farmer, or even president one day, and here’s predicting she won’t have to wear a mask by then. I like to think it’s a story line worthy of Hallmark.
If you go …
Springfed Tree Farm, 1378 Morgan St., Bennington, Vt., 802-440-0362, springfedtreefarm.com
The farm is open for tagging now and for cutting starting Nov. 21. Small gifts and wreaths are also for sale, though not ours. Those are hanging on our garage as a beacon for better days. Check the state’s travel guidance before going.
Megan Lisagor Stoessell can be reached at Megan.Stoessell@jwu.edu.