Tag Archives: Christmas

Snow in Africa?

This post really should have gone up before Christmas, but… well, you know. It’s Christmas. Still, I think this is close enough for it to remain topical.

Like everywhere else in the country, the radio stations around here play Christmas music starting at least right after Thanksgiving, good in some cases, not so good in others (one, which shall remain nameless, goes wall-to-wall, twenty-four-hour with holiday cheer. I avoid it like the plague). The station I’ve been listening to the most plays classic hits, so naturally, one of those songs during this season is “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band-Aid, the charity supergroup.

I remember when this song came out—as well as the response song, “We’re Stars” by Hear-N-Aid, the heavy metal charity song organized by Ronnie James Dio—and thought it was okay. I mean, I was into metal at the time, so anything that smacked of pop music was too commercial, even if it was put together by Bob Geldof.

To show you just how much attention I really paid to the song, it’s been out since 1984, and this year is the first time I’ve really listened to what the lyrics say. Most of it is fine, but there’s a passage in there about how there won’t be snow in Africa this year, implying it’s such a truly sad thing, and that means the Ethiopians—the famine there is why the song was released in the first place—are to be pitied that much more. Because it won’t snow. In Africa.

Look, I get it. Africa has its problems. Has had for who knows how long, and probably will for who knows how long. And there’s the idea we’re supposed to help our fellow man. All well and good.

But please, don’t insult my intelligence (which must have been at an especially low ebb, considering how long it took me to pick up on this particular passage) while you’re doing it. I mean, I guess we’re all aware that the pictures we see of starving kids are culled from the way starving kids really look. Evidently, someone somewhere in some marketing department said, “Yeah, that one there? The one that has flies in its eyes and the skinny arms and big belly? He looks too pathetic. Now that one, the one who can still stand up? Use that one. It’ll elicit more sympathy.”

But wanting me to feel sorry for Africans because it won’t snow there? First of all, they should count their blessings. I hate snow and ice. But that’s just a personal thing. Let’s look at reality a bit, shall we?

It’s Africa. As far as I know, with the possible exception of the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, it doesn’t snow in Africa anyway! And since the song is aimed at Ethiopia, a country that sits close to the equator, it’s near enough to the Southern Hemisphere it’s damn near summer in December at any rate.

Yes, I’m poking fun. A quick Google search reveals that it apparently does snow in parts of Ethiopia, so I’m kind off-point here, but I’m honest enough to admit it. Even so, when you picture Africa, do you picture snow? As I thought about this, I thought it might be more common for it to snow in South Africa, but I doubt snow is commonplace on the continent at large, so my dig at the song still applies, in my mind. After all, they’re addressing Africa itself in that particular lyric, right?

The main thing here, folks, is that it’s Christmas—or was yesterday—and we need to lighten up, whether we celebrate this holiday for the religious day it was for so many years (and don’t bombard me with emails/comments about the Catholic Church stealing Yule and all that; I’m well aware of it), or for the commercial fiasco it’s become—or somewhere in between—the point is, maybe for one day a year, or one week, or even one month, maybe we can let go of all the Trump-gay-conservative-liberal-whatever bashing and bash something that really doesn’t matter.

Like a song that plays on our sympathies by pointing out it won’t snow on a country that isn’t necessarily known for getting snow. A song that’s over thirty years old. A majority of whose performers are retired or dead. Or both.

In other words, lighten up, Francis.

And have a wonderful New Year.


The Two Sides of Nostalgia

I’ve talked about nostalgia on here before. At my age, I suppose it’s a fact of life. At some point—I’m not sure exactly when, and I’m sure it varies—a person realizes there are fond memories of youth you’ll never get to relive, except in your mind.

But nostalgia can be a two-edged sword. I’m sure all of us have had the experience of trying to enjoy something from our past only to wonder what in the world we saw in it. One of those items for me is the series The Dukes of Hazzard, a show I watched avidly as a young teen, though interest in it waned as I grew older—and as the show began to outlive its original creativeness. I don’t think I watched hardly any episodes after John Schneider and Tom Wopat—Bo and Luke Duke, respectively—briefly left the show to be replaced by their cousins… who also happened to have blond and brown hair. I can’t even remember the cousins’ names, which is probably just as well.

But, sometimes things do feel the same. I had both experiences recently and, lacking much else to talk about, thought I’d subject you to stuff you probably don’t care about.

Way back longer ago than even the Dukes, a movie came out called The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, starring Dan Haggerty in the title role. Mr. Haggerty—according to what I found about him on Wikipedia—led quite an exciting life, being an animal wrangler for many movies. Like the character he played in the movie—and the later TV series—he had a way with animals.

My wife and I recently checked Season One of the series out from the library and managed to get through the pilot episode. I remember the series fondly, but the reality didn’t quite stack up against those memories. I’d love to find the movie, but it apparently is unavailable.

The series—inspired, no doubt, by the popularity of the movie—lasted only two seasons. The pilot episode was fairly unexciting, and there were plot holes in it a mile wide. For instance, unlike the real Grizzly Adams, the TV version wouldn’t eat animals—which left one wondering just exactly what it was he lived on up in those mountains. Sure, there are plants to eat, but the winters are long, and I’m not sure how he could get by without dying of malnutrition.

And what about Mad Jack, the character played by Denver Pyle (incidentally enough, the actor who later played Uncle Jesse on The Dukes of Hazzard)? What, exactly, did he do? He visits Grizzly on a regular basis, always griping at and threatening the mule he called Old Number 7—because that was his seventh mule, presumably—a pack animal he never rode, and whose character evidently existed solely to bring supplies from down below to Grizzly—and provide some comic relief.

And where did Jack get those supplies, anyway? If the show were historically accurate, the man would had to have traveled all the way across the Great Plains to Saint Louis, a journey of about three months, if I recall correctly.

Despite all this—which didn’t bother me when I was a kid, of course—there were still some things about the show I liked. My dad took me to see the movie at the old Madison Theater (which I talk about elsewhere on this blog) when it came out, and it was the only time my dad ever took me to anything like that. He wasn’t big on going to movies, so even though I remember no real details, the event itself is burned into my mind, lo more than forty years later.

On top of that, the movie—and later the series—started my fascination with mountain men. It’s probably my favorite era of the expansion into the Old West, a brief period when men ventured into the mountains in search of beaver pelts to sell to the fur companies. Beaver was exceedingly popular back East and in Europe, and the mountain men and fur companies catered to that demand. Of course, there were only one or two fur companies to sell to, so the mountain men pretty much got fleeced every year at rendezvous, but they must have figured it was worth it to go for a year without seeing very many other people. When the public decided to move on from beaver to something else in the mid-1830s, many of the mountain men stayed on, eking out a living as best they could, while others came down out of the hills to serve as guides for rich hunters or the military in the latter’s growing war against the Indians.

Watching The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams made me fall in love with the mountains. The scenery in those shows is spectacular, even if the plots were less than stellar. I spent all my youth in love with places I’ve yet to see, and I still have enough fondness for them that I long to visit them yet.

That love was only enhanced later when I saw movies like Jeremiah Johnson and The Mountain Men, and even the recent movie The Revenant.

So, the results of indulging in that nostalgia were a bit mixed.

On the other hand, Saturday I got a much-needed haircut. The place I go is a hair academy, where students cut your hair. They’re supervised, and I’ve never had a bad experience, but as I waited, I looked up at the whiteboard where they post their specials, and someone had drawn a snowman and evergreen trees, along with falling snow, on the board to accompany the weekly special. I don’t remember what the special was—it wasn’t something I would want—but I remember that picture, because it reminded me so much of the Christmas cards that used to fascinate me when I was a kid.

I can’t tell you exactly what it was that enraptured me of these cards, but I’ve always been a sucker for good artwork. Most of the cards my family received during the seventies were very atmospheric—sleighs, snow-laden trees, houses covered with snow, their windows glowing buttery yellow with warm light. Some had actual glitter on them to make them sparkle, and I can still remember their rough texture under my fingers. Wreaths adorned them, and so did Santa in hundreds of poses—though usually laughing, sometimes with kids around him, sometimes standing in a room lit only by flames in the fireplace as he ate milk and cookies left out by the more thoughtful families.

And, of course, Christmas trees, clad in lights, ornaments, and garland, a large star on top, brightly wrapped presents around its feet—who could forget that?

All of this and more I saw in this simple yet elegant drawing on the whiteboard, and it brought a smile to my face. I can’t go back to those times—alas—but I can cherish them in my head. There was magic on those cards, and, to me, that magic isn’t there on modern cards. The subject matter seems to have changed, maybe gotten more generic or more politically correct, I’m not sure, but they don’t have that same allure they did to me as a child.

Probably because I’m a jaded adult now and, let’s face it, Christmas really is for the little ones—what my wife fondly calls tiny humans.

I hope you have a Merry Christmas, full of joy and love…

And more than a touch of magic.


A Seasonal Pause

In the midst of all this hustle and bustle, I want to slow down for a minute. Maybe even stop for a spell.

It’s been enjoyable and yet somewhat hectic going through this publishing process, and I know I have to keep the momentum going. Even as I write this, I’m in the middle of going through my galley for Spree, and I’m enjoying it a lot. I haven’t dipped into the entire ms in quite a while, and it’s like happening upon some old friends unexpectedly.

But for the last few days, something else has been weighing on my mind. And while doing all this promo-type stuff is important, I want to stop and go back in time a bit, and maybe take you with me. Maybe share a little season pause together.

I grew up on a small tributary of Glade Creek in western Madison County, Arkansas. We were close enough to the highway—where 412 crosses Glade Creek, in fact—to hear the traffic going by—though there wasn’t near as much of it back then as there is now.

This little nameless creek the flowed into Glade—at least it is nameless to me—passed right in front of our house, in between it and the dirt road. No telling how many times I went up and down that dirt road on the various bicycles I owned. Miles and miles I put in, I’m sure, far beyond counting.

What I’m remembering of that time—the late seventies and early eighties, specifically—was Christmas.
I know it sounds so cliché, but we were a farm family. I’m not sure what you call this arrangement, but my dad worked for the guy who owned the farm. In exchange, he received a very meager salary along with a house and paid utilities. The only thing my parents had to pay for was long distance phone calls.

The farm was typical for the area, a mixed beef and chicken operation. When it snowed—and it snowed a lot more around here in those days—Dad would have to get on one of the tractors and go feed hay to the cows, along with making sure none of the water froze up in the chicken houses.

For this, he got paid less than a hundred dollars a week.

So it’s not like we had extravagant Christmases. Most of those bicycles I mentioned were hand-me-downs, second-hand things I was glad to get. I remember the year I got a ten-speed that Mom found in a pawn shop. I’d owned nothing but the old eighteen-inch bikes up to that point, and I was so proud to have that ten-speed. Problem was, it was a girls’ bike, or at least it looked like one, and no self-respecting teenage boy of that day would be caught dead on one. So I managed to find a boy’s ten-speed frame somewhere and started changing everything over to it, a project that never got finished.

The sad part of this is, I don’t think it was a girl’s bike at all, but a unisex one. But we’d never heard of such a thing back then.

But what I remember most about Christmas is that tree. We always had a real tree, one we cut from somewhere on

English: A Christmas tree lit and decorated, s...

the farm. The smell of cedar still makes me think of Christmas. Mom would carefully save all the ornaments, even the icicles that were made of some silvery stuff and hung on the branches. I can remember how much I hated gathering that stuff up with it came time to take the tree down.

Taking the tree down was something I didn’t think about much, though. Mostly, it was seeing those lights nestled down in the deep green boughs, the cedar scent mingling with that of some kind of Christmas goodies Mom was making. Maybe it was fudge, or peanut brittle. Maybe it was some kind of Christmas cookies, or a pie. Didn’t matter what it was. The smell of it mixing in with the cedar, and the lights glowing in their green depths, the fake icicles glittering with every draft of air—that’s what I think of when I think of my childhood Christmas.

And then there was the mystery. Those presents—and they always managed to get me and my brother good presents—sitting there under the tree, square shapes hidden by bright wrapping paper. The anticipation was almost too much, at times, but all the same, I often didn’t want it to be over with. In a way, I dreaded Christmas day—we were never a family that opened presents Christmas Eve, the thinking being that Jesus wasn’t born the night before His birthday, so why should the presents be opened early?—because it meant the end of the speculation, the end of hoping.

One of the best years was when I got my first brand new bike. I guess I was about twelve or fourteen. I can’t tell you what brand that bike was, but it sure was a beauty—bright orange, about the color of the General Lee on that show The Dukes of Hazzard. Of course I noticed that, because I was crazy about that show back then.

The sad part was, here was this brand new bike, and I couldn’t ride it. Not only had it snowed about four inches—which that alone meant we weren’t going anywhere for Christmas—but I was stuck on the couch with stomach flu.

Can you imagine? A brand new bike, my first, sitting there in the living room, and then on the front porch, and all I could do was look at the thing.

You can bet I rode the crap out of it when I could, though.

So I want you to stop a minute. Slow down, pause, in your shuffle and rush to buy the latest video game or device, and go back in your mind to a time that, no doubt, was simpler. Childhood always is, isn’t it? Take a minute out of this hectic commercialism that Christmas has become, this rush to acquire things, and remember the real reason for the season—joy.

I’m not gonna tell you to subscribe to some particular religious view, and I won’t be passing a hat around. But just take a minute, go back in your mind to when your heart was maybe happier, more at peace with itself, and soak all that in before you go back to fighting all those shoppers out there.

Remember the simple joy Christmas used to bring.

And maybe you’ll be a little happier with this Christmas when you do.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!