Sunday, December 30, 2007

I have spent the past several days, since Christmas, opening my presents and assembling the contents. One of the great things about childhood and believing in Santa Claus is that you would wake up, on Christmas morning, with the gifts already opened and assembled. They were ready to play with. Santa had done all the work of assembly and didn’t bother to wrap them in impenetrable packages. It’s easier to break into a safe at Ft. Knox than open some packages and the instructions for assembly are written in multiple languages in little manuals not even understood by the Almighty himself. It’s easier to read and interpret the Rosetta Stone than the instructions in those little manuals. I rarely make it past the instructions on how to insert the batteries and the several pages of warnings before I give up in despair.

The goal of the packaging industry is to make the product totally inaccessible. I didn’t know, until a few years ago, that there are engineers who design these impregnable products for containing our purchases. There is actually a course of study in colleges for a packaging degree. It’s even harder than most other engineering courses. These folks have to be well versed in every field of science including chemistry and physics. They must be able to create materials that have the tensile strength of steel and are impervious to the knife or scissors. Even the human teeth are unable to penetrate most packaging materials. People my age are usually toothless, not from decay, but by loss from efforts to use the mouth and teeth as an opening tool.

It has taken me a week to open and assemble a new phone for my partner. The device was encased in one of those packages made of clear hard plastic. I could see the enticing instrument very clearly, but getting to it was another matter. The package has a seam that looks like it could be easily separated for a quick opening. But no, this seam is glued shut with a chemical from Krypton that makes superglue look like water. The plastic covering is made of a hard plastic with the molecular structure so compact it would survive a nuclear blast. Once penetrated, there is no way the store would take the product back because of the damage inflicted from the opening.

I got the phone so that I could program a lot of frequently called numbers into the device for easy dialing (Ha, Ha). A little window on the phone contains the date, time and displays the number of the person calling along with numerous bits of meaningless data. The instruction manual is written in multiple languages and I have to turn the book in several directions before I finally find English. With the help of my son-in-law, an experienced computer programmer, I was finally able to insert several numbers. There are more buttons on the phone than on the control panel of a jet airplane. The communication system for the Apollo astronauts now looks like a child’s toy compared to our gadget. We now have to get one of our grandchildren to place our calls. They are the only ones who understand how the thing works.

I will be spending the next several days on the porch opening the other gifts. I hope to have my new, postage stamp size, digital camera working by spring, if I can get it out of the box. Just finding the compartment for the batteries and prying it open is a great challenge, so it may even be next Christmas before I get through all the instructions and take my first picture..

Friday, December 28, 2007

I write this blog just because I enjoy keeping a little journal about the insanity which surrounds me. As the year ends, it seems appropriate to review the insanity of 07. I read through the blogs again and summarized the most insane and notable events of the year.

The antics of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears top the list. Britney shaving her head had to be the most pitifully, stupid act of the year. Of course the death and autopsy report of Anna Nicole Smith was a top story and we were held in suspense for weeks awaiting the results of the DNA test to reveal the real father of her child. The scientific marvel of the year was that the babies DNA matched that of numerous fathers. The single egg of Anna Nicole must have been fertilized simultaneously by at least a dozen sperms from different subjects. This is almost as much of a miracle as a virgin birth.

The airport toilet, homosexual scandal of Senator Larry Craig was a great story for weeks. We learned a lot about how homosexuals communicate. We finally got some relief from this when O.J. Simpson attempted an armed robbery to recover some of his football stuff and other personal belongings. This time he was carrying a gun rather than a knife. There were numerous witnesses to the event, but all this will make little difference to O.J. in the court. He will go free to strike again.

There were many great books. I wrote about several of these. Most notable was the final chapter in the Harry Potter saga. All the Potter books were great and I was even happy with the ending in the final volume, so the year wasn’t entirely bad.

More somber news items were the Virginia Tech shooting, the Iraq War and the price of gasoline. China continued, over and over, to poison our kids with toys containing lead based paint. Over the counter cold medicines were taken off the market so parents wouldn’t kill their own kids. There were numerous stories about child molesters. Everyone is trying to kill the kids.

Prophets always make predictions at the end of the year for bad things that will be happening in the coming year. Our most famous prophet today is the TV evangelist Pat Robertson. So far he is never right. He predicted that a terrible tsunami would hit the Pacific Coast in 2006. For 2007 he predicated that we would have a terrorist attack in the US that would kill millions. He also claims that he can leg press 2000 pounds. How can this guy stay on the air? The only preacher to top Pat was the son of Oral Roberts, President of the college with the same name. Oral Jr. was a lavish spender with the Universities funds. Poor students and believers footed the bill for his vacation trips and the expensive taste of his family.

The greatest event of the year was my retirement. I am out of the main stream of insanity. It’s great to just sit on the porch and observe what is happening. I’m too frightened to venture away from my fortress of solitude, so I will just record the events in my little Cyberspace journal.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mark Twain was a cynic but usually correct in his assessment of most things. Most of all, he hated hypocrisy. It was hard to tell if he was a Christian or not. He was certainly not a Christian in the mold of many who attend church and have a pious attitude because of their faith. His sarcastic, cynical behavior was a façade that he used to expose hypocrisy and human misbehavior. Beneath that cynical shell was a person with a great heart and deep understanding of human nature. I think he knew the true meaning of Christianity and Christmas.

This is what he had to say about Christmas. “The approach of Christmas brings harassment and dread to many excellent people. They have to buy a cart-load of presents, and they never know what to buy to hit the various tastes; they put in three weeks of hard and anxious work, and when Christmas morning comes they are so dissatisfied with the result, and so disappointed that they want to sit down and cry. Then they give thanks that Christmas comes but once a year.”

That statement is very true. On Christmas morning, many of the adults seem disappointed with the results. The children, for the most part, are always jumping with joy for anything they receive, because it comes from Santa Claus. I guess, that’s the reason Christmas is best for kids, and our best memories are those of childhood Christmases. Adults are always reflecting on the great Christmases in the past and children are looking to the future. If we could only have the attitude of the child with their childhood faith, we would never be disappointed.

Anyway, I hope that anyone who may read this blog now or in the future always has a Merry Christmas and is never disappointed. They certainly won’t be disappointed if they keep the real meaning of Christmas in mind. From the porch, Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Since retiring we have traveled a great deal. As a result, we have spent a lot of time in motels. Our favorites are Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn and Best Western. During my time we have also stayed in some very fancy and expensive hotels in cities and resorts. My partner likes the plush hotels but we are both content with the motels. There is sure a lot of difference in the price.

The main thing we look for in a motel is cleanliness. If the facility is less than 5 years old they are still pretty clean. The motel also allows you to park very close to your room for free. A hotel will charge 15 of more dollars a night for parking and you still have to tip the guy who brings you the car. The motel gives you a free breakfast as opposed to paying 30 or more dollars for the hotel breakfast. Motels are also usually conveniently located near the highway, rather than the middle of town surrounded by muggers.

I hardly ever pay the price initially quoted for the motel. When I tell them I’m AARP or AAA the price for the room drops.. All of the rooms are too high. When I was a student in Baylor I lived in a small room in a private home. My room rent was 14 dollars a month. My rent for the entire year was what one night in a motel cost today. One night in an expensive hotel would have almost covered my entire expenses for a semester.

The construction in most motels and even some good hotels is not much better than that of a mobile home. The walls are paper thin and you can hear all sort of action in the room next door. It’s great entertainment. I have even thought about bringing my stethoscope on our trips so I can hear more of the details. On one occasion a guy had a lady of the night in bed and it was most exciting and better than any movie or TV show. I rarely turn on the TV for fear it will drown out the fun. I just sit quietly and read, waiting for the action. I am often disappointed, because it is a family with a room full of kids with the parents threatening to kill them.

Our last trip was a little different. We heard a persistent, loud, recurrent, almost rhythmic noise. At first. I thought it was a car in the parking lot having trouble. Soon, I realized it was someone next door snoring. I have never heard anything so loud. I’m sure the guy had sleep apnea. I just hope he lived through the night. It reminded me of the story of John Wesley Hardin, the famous Texas Gunslinger who killed 44 men in his lifetime. One of those he killed was in a hotel room in Abilene, Kansas. He shot the guy for snoring. If I had been in New Jersey I might have pulled a John Wesley Hardin. Hardin would have loved living in New Jersey with the new, no death penalty law.

Motels are almost as much fun as the porch. At my age. my heart can’t handle all the action I hear through the walls of the motel and I sure hate snoring, so my best place is the porch.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The biggest Christmas gift of the year was the gift of life to several New Jersey death row inmates. The governor signed a law this week that abolished the death sentence in New Jersey. This comes as no surprise to me. New Jersey is one of those states on the East Coast that is overpopulated. I’m sure that in the near future the sentence for murder will only be a couple of weeks of community service. Who knows? In the future they may even be paying people to commit murder in an attempt to thin out the surplus population.

I suspect we are going to see a number of folks moving to New Jersey with their spouse or business partner, so when they bump them off there will be no threat of the needle. Mark Twain once wrote a great story called, “The Facts Concerning the Recent Carnival of Crime in Connecticut.” It’s about a guy who battles his conscience and wins. Because he no longer has a conscience he goes about killing those he doesn’t like with impunity. The conscience is a great deterrent to crime. Most of these guys on death row don’t have a conscience, so they are like the fellow in Connecticut. The death penalty was a good deterrent for them. The book, “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote is a good book to read about how these sociopathic killers come to be.

One of the inmates in New Jersey is the killer responsible for Megan’s Law. This fiend, Jesse Timmendequas, lived next to Megan Kauka, a 7 year old girl. He was a repeated, violent sexual offender who kidnapped, raped and murdered Megan. The Megan’s law was passed as a result of this heinous act. Megan’s Law requires repeat sex offenders to notify local law enforcement of any change of address or employment. Timmendequas will probably be released for good behavior in the next couple of years. I sure hope he obeys Megan’s Law and lets his new neighbors know about his presence.

The death penalty is probably cruel and unusual punishment for a guy like Timmendequas. Another argument against the death penalty is that an innocent person may be put to death by mistake. If Susan Sarandon and the Governor of New Jersey had been around 2000 years ago the course of history may have been entirely different. Back then the most innocent man who ever lived was put to death, but the death provided the opportunity for mankind to be saved, even Jesse Timmendequas. Maybe New Jersey is right with their new law.

I’m glad I live on the back porch in Texas rather than New Jersey. Here we dispose of them pretty quickly. If I was like the fellow Mark Twain wrote about, I might be tempted to take a few people I have known on a trip to the Garden State. Merry Christmas!!

I have tried to maintain a positive tone to the blog during the Christmas Season. That is very difficult, especially if you have been shopping. The news media claim that consumers are shopping less this Christmas. That news media doesn’t know our part of the country exist. All the folks must have come to our area to shop. The crowds are maddening. Parking is like playing bumper cars at the carnival. I just came back home and ordered most of my stuff off the internet.

A most astonishing thing did happened while I was shopping this week. A clerk in one of those large chain stores actually came up and ask if she could help me. I almost fainted. I usually never see an employee who speaks, except at the checkout stand. There are a lot of employees but they are usually in a huddle, laughing and talking with each other. This is especially true at places like Circuit City where I need the most help to explain the electronic gadgets. Although I get angry, I never want to bother them because they seem to be having such a good time with each other. It’s just as well they don’t help. Most of them are young teenagers who speak in a rapid fire, geek language, so I don’t understand them anyway. At least one of those in the huddle is probably a college marketing major who is plotting how to display items to better entice dummies like me to buy more and thus increase the store’s market share. The other sales kids are mostly talking about the opposite sex and other teenage stuff. Their main response to the customer is NO. That allows them to get back to their conversation. We did trap an employee the other day and convinced him to sell us a camera. He was an interesting looking individual with multicolored hair. I think it was a male.

The other morning we went to Wal-Mart early in hopes of beating the crowd. It didn’t work. There are about twenty checkout counters but only two had checkers. The lines extended to the back of the store with baskets loaded, ready to be charged. At the same time we saw a covey of managers walking around with clipboards. I guess they were trying to figure out where to put the happy face signs with the numbers falling off. I don’t usually see those signs except on TV.

Anyway, I have decided to stay on the porch and do my shopping. I moved the laptop to the table near the Christmas tree so I can stay in the spirit. I may need a little of that eggnog with the rum to help. The postage for the items I purchase is often more than the item itself. I figure I’m still ahead. The postage is still less than the insurance deductible I pay for the bodywork on my car after a visit to the parking lot at the mall.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

While sitting on the porch reading Christmas cards, my partner and I like to reflect on past Christmases. Some of our best were when we lived in the Washington DC area. Our children were very small then and we all believed in Santa Claus. We were a long way from our home in Texas, but it was fun. We even had a couple of white Christmases while we were there. Being in the military, we had a different set of friends who were a mixture of people from all over the country and the world. On one occasion we ask a couple from Germany to have Christmas dinner with us. This turned out to be a most memorable Christmas that gave me new insights into my ever broadening acceptance of people from all walks of life.

The German couple were immigrants to the US and had grown up in Germany and were young adults during the Nazis regime. He had become a physician in Nazis Germany. They came to the US and he was doing a residency in one of the University Hospitals in DC. He was older than the usual resident. I got to know him because he had a rotation at Walter Reed were I served.

I found him to be a very cultured and knowledgeable individual. His wife was equally interesting and charming. He was typically European and German. They were very serious and formal people but yet easy to know and converse with. In my conversations at the hospital, I continued to probe about his knowledge of what was really going on in Nazis Germany. I wanted to know if he was aware of the atrocities and the persecution of the Jews taking place in his on backyard. He claimed that he wasn’t aware of the atrocities and the holocaust, but they were aware of the dislike for the Jews but were forbidden to talk about it at home. I never knew if he was being completely truthful.

When they came for dinner that special Christmas we had a great time. He brought me a gift. It was a copy of Albert Speer’s book, “Inside the Third Reich.” He said he was aware that I wanted to know what was really going on in the mind of the average German citizen. He claimed the book gave the best account of what happened. I read the book and am not sure the question was ever really answered. How could so many intelligent people come under the spell of such a monster?

All I know is that this couple felt the same about Christmas and life as we did. He was certainly no monster. He was a good and caring physician who wouldn’t harm a soul.

As I sit on the porch and ponder the meaning of Christmas and the lives of the people I have known, I hope that most who appear to be our enemies are like my German friend. Maybe they are just under the spell of tyrants and fanatical leaders and hopefully good will prevail. In my life, it does seem that a lot have to suffer before good does triumph.

Above is an interesting photo of German soldiers around a Christmas tree. How could that be? Why even now, some of my best friends are Yankees. I’ll bet that even some Republicans and Democrats celebrate together this Christmas.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Pictured above is one of the oldest Christmas cards known. It was printed in 1843 in England. 1000 of these cards were printed and only 10 remain. One of them is in the Birdwell Library at SMU. The card was controversial, at the time, because it showed a child taking a drink of wine. Of course, cards are still controversial because they contain the name of Christ whose birth we celebrate. Like so many of our traditions, the Christmas Card was started in England. The English had a custom of writing notes to their friends at Christmas and the Christmas card became a way to do it.

I’m glad the English started this custom. I love to receive cards and anxiously await the time to go to the post office, each day in December, to see who may have remembered me. I especially like the ones with notes about people’s activities during the year. The notes are very special if they are personal. The notes can sometimes be too long and extend to several pages. Copies of these epistles are sent to everyone and contain information about how brilliant the kids are and about exotic and expensive vacations. I still read every word. We have considered sending shocking, outrageous, and confabulated stories to get everyone’s attention and let us know who is actually reading our notes.

We cherish our family and grandkids more than anything on the planet, so we usually send a picture of what we label as the cousins. We sometimes send a very short note describing the main events for us from the year. Sometimes, I will leave a little tid bit of information like my e-mail address or the address of my blog. When friends later ask if I could give them the address for the blog, it’s obvious they didn’t read my card. I suspect most people only look at the name of the person who sent the card and read nothing else. Most folks probably don’t read the great verses on the card. I like to read everything and my partner often reads the verse to me because it’s so great. Some big businesses send out a card to a faceless audience of unknowns. That’s the only card I don’t usually read.

I love the cards with a little personal hand written note and ones with a picture of the family or a favorite subject. Reading and rereading those cars provides some of the happiest and most entertaining time on the porch. It sure beats watching the TV and the news.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Recently, there has been much debate about water boarding as a torture. It is, at least, a controversial interrogation technique. I have a much better one that I am sure would be considered inhumane by Congress. Mine is to sit in the room where my partner is preparing holiday dishes and smell the aroma without being able to sample the product or even lick the bowl. I have been on a diet and have shown remarkable restraint but the Christmas food aroma is cruel and unusual punishment. I haven’t even been a threat to our country; as a matter of fact, I am one of it’s best taxpayers. So, it’s not fair for me to suffer.

In the past we have usually repeated the Thanksgiving menu for Christmas dinner. This include turkey and dressing with all the trimmings. Sometimes we have what is considered a more traditional Christmas meal with ham instead of turkey. The traditional Christmas dinner also consist of scalloped or mashed potatoes as well as other vegetable such as green beans or squash, which may be in the form of a casserole. Of course, there are Parker House Rolls and other delicacies. Of greatest importance are the desserts. The dessert aromas are the ones that drive me crazy. We have all sorts of pies including chocolate, butterscotch, cherry and pumpkin. Mincemeat pie and fruitcake are Christmas traditions but sometimes smell better than they taste. Mincemeat doesn’t seem to be as popular as it once was. Mincemeat is an interesting dish that contains all sorts of fruits, nuts and spices and the cloves make it very aromatic. Classically, the mincemeat contains a meat such a pork or at least suet. We usually make a meatless variety with the contents of a ready made product poured into a homemade pastry shell.

There is also a big feast on Christmas Eve. Tamales are one of my favorites dishes on Christmas Eve and are usually purchased from a Mexican acquaintance whose mother or aunt is the best tamale maker in the world. Since I am now retired, I have lost many of my contacts and am considering making my batch of tamales. Tamale making is quite a project. I have a good recipe. Chicken and pork along with cumin, chili powder and other spices are the essential ingredients. This is spread on a dough made of mesa and the broth from the pork and chicken. All this is placed onto a corn husk and made ready for steaming. It’s the perfect food for Christmas Eve.

Of course, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without eggnog. The basic stuff always appears this time of year in the milk counter of the grocery store but must be enhanced with Blue Bell Ice Cream and a little dark rum.

Anyway, if the aromas in my house could be bottled they would be effective interrogation tools for the CIA. Any terrorist would breakdown unless they had a taste of the goodies. For now, I have to be content to just smell on the porch and know that the aroma is food for the soul and spirit but the product corrupt for the body.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I have several Christmas books in my library, but there are many I don’t possess. When browsing through the bookstores, I think I have the best of the lot. Rather than buying new ones, I reread many of the classics I own.

One of my favorite Christmas stories is A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. It was made into a short movie a few years ago and stars Geraldine Page. I have read and watched that story many times and recently read it to some of my grandkids.

Interestingly enough, Christmas is the time for scary ghost stories, even more than Halloween. I have a great book of Christmas ghost stories. One of the stories is about a couple spending Christmas night in a very old spooky country inn off a remote road in England. There is a very creepy innkeeper who gives them some mulled wine. They are the only guests until about two in the morning when a car pulls up and they look through their window to see the new guest. It was a very unsettling and sleepless night with the door to their room mysteriously opening and strange noises occurring throughout the night. They departed early and caught a ride into London. Later that day, they read in the paper about the murder of a man fitting the description of the other guest they had seen. His body was discovered in a field, near his car, at the location of the Inn. The problem is that, on investigation, there was no inn to be found. No building existed at the site where they stayed or where the body was discovered. An inn had been at this site over a hundred years before, but had been torn down long ago. All I can say is, I sure don’t want to stay at a country inn off a remote country road in England. I’m also going to lay off mulled wine.

The Christmas ghost story of all stories, of course, is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I have read and reread that one multiple times and seen many movies versions. Last night we saw the old black and white version with Reginald Owen. It’s a classic. There have been many fancier productions and even musicals, but I like the old black and white version because it has a great Marley’s ghost. Marley is my favorite character in the story. Marley’s ghost needs to visit a lot of folks. It would be great if everyone could be enlightened about the meaning of Christmas like Scrooge was. Unfortunately, the world seems to have a lot more Scrooges than Bob Cratchits, so, the ghost would be rather busy with his visitations.

The Christmas ghost stories are especially good on cold, foggy nights like we have had this week. I have a few more to read before Christmas. That’s the reason you might see the porch light on very late in the evenings. These stories, of course, are best read at night.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

We are about to celebrate the birthday of the person who founded the Christian faith. It’s almost certain that Jesus was not born on December 25. There is no historical evidence to support this date and really no biblical evidence. Based on clues from the calendar and Bible, the date of Herod’s death, the reign and decree of Augustus Caesar, and the most likely theory of the celestial event to account for the star of Bethlehem, Jesus was most likely born in the spring of 6 BC. There is no good historical evidence to support any of the theories regarding his time of birth. As a matter of fact, there is little historical evidence outside of the Bible to support much about Jesus. The Bible, the course of history and the lives of people since the birth of Jesus all support his claim to be the Messiah. He has been referred to as the Prince of Peace and set the example of how our lives should be lived. To Christians, he is the savior with the promise of eternal life for those who believe in him and his death and resurrection. In short, Christians believe Jesus was the Son of God; if true, that is very significant.

In studying the practices of this man Jesus, he had a ministry of love, healing and forgiveness. When a woman who had committed adultery was brought to him by the Pharisees, he was told that the law demanded she be stoned. The Pharisees ask what he would do. He replied, “he who is without sin cast the first stone.” No one picked up a stone and Jesus told the woman to go and leave her life of sin. This is in sharp contrast to a woman in Saudi Arabia who was recently gang raped and because she was in a car with a man who was not a relative was sentenced to receive 200 lashes and 6 months in jail.

In another recent incident, a British schoolteacher in Sudan had a Teddy Bear naming contest in her class of 7 year olds. The children wanted the Teddy Bear to be named Muhammad. For this, she was arrested and put in jail until high level government intervention had her released. For a Teddy Bear to be named Jesus in this country, no one would have even noticed, and I suspect that Jesus would have been flattered that a child was acquainted with his name and used it to name a toy she loved.

The Jesus I have read about would not have condoned suicide missions or crashing planes into the twin towers in New York. His famous Sermon on the Mount said nothing about killing the infidels, but was about love, forgiveness and how to get along with our fellow man.

I’m sure not a preacher and don’t even attend church every Sunday, but I like the teachings of the man whose birthday we are about to celebrate. I don’t adhere to those teaching as much as I should, but I think about them all the time. Those teachings make me a better person and give me hope for the future.

I’m surely glad I live in this country and can celebrate Christmas. I can sit on my porch, read what I want, and go where I please. I can even keep by trusty and rusty single shot 22 I have had since 14 years of age. It really doesn’t matter about the exact date of Jesus birth. The important thing is, in a country founded on his teachings and religious freedom, we should acknowledge his importance to mankind.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christmas time fires the imagination. Little children’s thoughts center around everything associated with Santa Claus; toys, the north pole, reindeer and snow. As we get older, we are Santa Claus and then begin to look like him. I am in the latter stage without a beard.

Mostly, at Christmas we reflect on our childhood and friends through the years. I have never seen chestnuts roasting on an open fire and have only seen a White Christmas a couple of times, so these things aren’t in my memory bank. I do think about some special foods such as old fashioned chocolate-covered cream drops, which were sort of coned shaped. The chocolate covering was thick and wavy. I got these only once a year as stocking stuffers. I also remember ambrosia for dinner, which was a mixture of oranges and fresh ground coconut. It was always my job to crack the coconut and dissect the delicious meat away from the shell. This could be a tough job for a little kid but I got to sample the wears. Too much sampling was a good purgative. The other special refreshment at Christmas was eggnog. This concoction was rich and thick, and oh, so delicious. It was the only sampling of alcohol I was permitted other than a hot toddy for a cold.

Next to the man who started it, Charles Dickens has had as much to do with our vision of Christmas as any other person in history. His story, A Christmas Carol, is a classic. He also has other great stories about Christmas. One of my favorites is from the Pickwick Papers in Chapter 28. “Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days, that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth, that can transport the sailor and the traveler, thousands of miles away, back to his own fireside and his quiet home!

I love to conjure up the vision of Dickens characters, standing in the snow by a lamplight, singing Christmas Carols. Some things in Dickens times are hard for me to appreciate, like the Christmas Goose the Cratchit family had for dinner. I just don’t care for a fat goose, even on Christmas. Turkey in Dickens day was a meal for the more affluent. After Scrooge’s enlightenment by the ghosts of Christmas, he sticks his head out the window on Christmas morning and ask a little boy to run purchase the large prize turkey hanging in the market and deliver it to the Cratchits. The boy receives half a crown for his effort. I’m sure Mrs, Cratchit was thrilled to see the boy on Christmas morning with a large feathered, undressed turkey in his hands. At my house he would have been greeted with, “you have got to be kidding.” If I brought an undressed turkey or goose to the house, my goose would have been cooked. I’ve always wondered how Mrs. Cratchit went about preparing that bird in short order for lunch when the family was already getting ready to sit down for the meal.

Anyway, as I sit on the porch and ponder about Christmas there are pleasant thoughts as well as some unanswered questions.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Christmas tree has changed a lot in the past few years. The live tree is disappearing and being replaced by the artificial tree or none at all. Several years ago it was common to see lots in town filled with trees for sale by service clubs and other organizations. Trees for sale were also stacked in front of almost every grocery store. These don’t exist anymore. Now days we see lots and stores filled with pumpkins for sale before Halloween but Christmas trees have almost vanished.

I grew up in East Texas, so, a couple of weeks before Christmas, we would go out into the woods and cut a fresh pine tree. It smelled great and was so green and fresh it wouldn’t think of catching on fire. The few trees we have today come from the north somewhere and must have been cut months before December. They are kindling before they reach the customer and are ready to spontaneously combust. People start decorating right after Halloween and there is no way a live tree can stay fresh through New Years.

When I was a kid, I got to do most of the tree decorating. I would make ring links out of construction paper and drape them around the tree. We put those large lights with different colors on the tree rather than the tiny white ones of today. I liked the red bulbs the most, and white was considered sort of ugly. The fun part was putting on the icicles and then crowning the tree with a star. Angel hair was also another popular decoration. To me, those were the golden years of the Christmas tree.

We then went through a phase of buying flocked trees, which made it look like it had snowed in the house. These were a mess and didn’t last too long. The first artificial tree for us, was the aluminum tree that was the tackiest tree ever devised. The metal tree was also an electrical hazard and simply no fun to decorate. Then came the artificial tree of today, which already has the little white lights attached. If you get close, it is pretty obvious why it is called an artificial tree. These trees don’t look like any real variety I have ever seen, and they cost more than several tanks of gasoline. Many of the artificial trees come from China and contain lead based paint, so, will kill you if eaten.

The Christmas tree has now become politically incorrect. Some towns have been criticized for having them erected anywhere for public display during what has now become known as the Holiday Season rather than Christmas. The word Christ has been completely removed and replaced with an X, and it is more politically correct to just say the Season or Holiday. The tree has also disappeared from schools. My grandkids tell me they are not allowed to display a Christmas tree at school because it might offend some other religious group.

To make matters worse, there is no place for me to cut a tree anymore, so, I have one of those artificial ones on the porch. It is much smaller than the trees of my childhood and has so many fancy ornaments I have a hard time seeing any green. We also have a second smaller tree that has fake pine cones; it’s a pitiful thing to see, but does help me conjure up memories of those golden years. The most pitiful thing of all is today’s prevailing attitude about Christmas and doing what is politically correct. To all this, I say, Bah Humbug!!