Sunday, December 25, 2016

December 25: Cardamon Bread, New Phone, Classic Saint Marty

It has been a good Christmas, even though my son crawled into my bed at 4:30 this morning and wanted to open his presents.  I had been asleep for about three hours, so I told him "no."  Disappointed, he went to bed.

My Christmas morning actually started around 6:30 a.m.  We all gathered in the living room, and I made hot chocolate with marshmallows for my kids.  And we opened presents.  It was lovely and relaxed, with no sibling fighting or arguments between my daughter and son.

Because Christmas fell on a Sunday this year, I had two church services to play for.  So, officially, the holiday festivities of gifts and food didn't really begin until about 1 p.m. at my parents' house.  We had baked ham and cardamon bread, and then the carnage began.

I am excited to say that I will officially be part of the 21st century in a couple of days.  My sister got me an iPhone 7 Plus with a contract.  That's right.  By Wednesday or Thursday, I will be chapsnatting and Bookfacing regularly.

In a few minutes, I will be heading out to my second family Christmas at my sister-in-law's house.  Turkey dinner, sledding, and special hot chocolate.  My wife's cousin is bringing the cocoa, and I will be bringing the special.

Today's episode of Classic Saint Marty first aired two years ago . .  .

December 25, 2014:  Regular Conspiracy, Merry Christmas, Christmas Essay

"They're going to what?" screamed Wilbur.  Fern grew rigid on her stool.

"Kill you.  Turn you into smoked bacon and ham," continued the old sheep.  "Almost all young pigs get murdered by the farmer as soon as the real cold weather sets in.  There's a regular conspiracy around here to kill you at Christmastime.  Everybody is in the plot--Lurvy, Zuckerman, even John Arable."

Okay, Wilbur doesn't really look forward to Christmas dinner, simply because he is Christmas dinner.  By the end of the book, of course, his destiny has been altered by Charlotte's web.  He lives to see many springs, summers, autumns, and Christmas seasons.

I have no problem with eating ham on Christmas day, even after spending a year with Wilbur and company.  This morning, I sat down after church with my family and had ham and scrambled eggs and fresh-baked rolls.  It was absolutely delicious.  Then, at my sister-in-law's house this afternoon, I feasted on a bacon-wrapped turkey.  Delicious.  That means that two Wilburs gave up their lives to make my Christmas merry.

Sorry I have been absent for the last couple of days.  The rush to December 25 sort of overwhelmed me.  I had a poem to write.  CDs to burn and package.  Shopping to finish.  Church services to sing and play the organ at.  It was quite the mad holiday dash.  And now, at 7 p.m. on Christmas evening, I'm more than a little exhausted.

Tonight, I'm going to share my annual Christmas essay with you.  I hope you enjoy it.

Saint Marty's going to have a Wilbur sandwich now.

VOTE FOR ME FOR U. P. POET LAUREATE (voting ends December 31):

U. P. Poet Laureate Voting 

Just Like the Ones I Used to Know

1.  Remembrance in the Bible

I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times.

I call to remembrance my song in the night:   I commune with mine own heart:  and my spirit made diligent search.  –Psalm 77:  5-6 (KJV)

2.  A Confession

I listen to Christmas music all year long.  In the middle of August, when dusk sneaks in around ten o’clock at night.  In May, when the world is all lilac and “Pomp and Circumstance.”  In October, when pumpkin and zucchini appear on doorsteps.  In the dead of winter, when the moon gilds snow with silver light.  I listen to Nat King Cole crooning about chestnuts.  To Judy Garland hanging a shining star.  To Bing Crosby dreaming of ones he used to know.

33.  Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby

Harry Crosby was born in 1903, twenty-four years before my dad.  He was old enough to be my dad’s dad.  Yet, for some reason, I’ve always thought of them as contemporaries.  I imagine them playing stickball just off Gratiot Avenue in Detroit on one of those July days when every breath tastes like gasoline and asphalt, my dad calling to him, “Knock it into next week, Bing-o!”  Or sitting at the Woolworth’s lunch counter together, watching a pretty, red-headed waitress shovel French fries onto plates.

Harry and my dad shared the same triangular features.  High foreheads.  Hawkish noses.  Wedge chins.  Harry’s face was softer, kinder.  My dad’s is more severe.  Yet, they could have been brothers.  Of course, Harry Crosby grew up in Spokane, Washington, at the turn of the twentieth century, and when Harry’s recording of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” became an anthem on Armed Forces Radio for homesick troops during World War II, my dad was a fifteen-year-old kid in Michigan, shoveling snow instead of singing about it.

44.  A Definition from Merriam-Webster

Nostalgia:  pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again.

55.  Pleasure

Smell and taste are strong memory triggers.  Marcel Proust, in Remembrance of Things Past, describes eating a madeleine with tea:

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me.  An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin…

66.  More Pleasure

For me, it’s baked ham.  When I smell or taste it, the brine of its meat and ginger of its skin, I experience that same detachment Proust describes, like I’m dangling at the end of some ribbon of time.  Stuck between now and then.  It’s December 24, and I’m in bed, my mother’s Christmas ham in the oven, filling the house with clove and Vernors and heat.  It’s December 25, and my father is spreading thick mustard on homemade bread, adding warm ham, making a sandwich.  My brothers and sisters drink Faygo cream soda.  Rosemary Clooney sings in the background.

77.  Sadness

In 1928, about ten years before he wrote “White Christmas,” Irving Berlin lost his three-week-old son, Irving Jr., on Christmas day.  Berlin never got over his death.  Every year, on Christmas, he and his wife went to the cemetery, stood by their son’s grave, thought of all the might-have-beens:  days at the beach, school programs and dances, birthdays, graduations, partings and reunions.

88.  More Sadness

This Christmas will be the first since the death of my brother, Kevin.  In May, I sat in the funeral home, watched my parents mourn.  They looked like Russian immigrants, newly arrived on Ellis Island, not understanding the process of admission.  They sat.  Listened.  Nodded.  Got their papers stamped.  Passed through the gates.  New citizens.  Just yesterday, I caught my father staring at my brother’s picture on the wall.  My dad looked tired, poor, wretched, tempest-tost.

99.  Arizona or New York or Beverly Hills

Nobody knows where or when “White Christmas” came into being.  Irving Berlin’s daughter, Linda Emmet, once said, “I believe it was written in either 1938 or ’39, possibly in Arizona, possibly in New York or perhaps in both places.”  Jody Rosen, author of a book about “White Christmas,” said, “Possibly over Christmas in 1937 when he was separated from his family for the first time in Beverly Hills…”  When Bing Crosby originally recorded it, he turned to Berlin and simply said, “I don’t think we have any problems with that one, Irving.”

“White Christmas” is a song without a home, written through loneliness and longing for something temporal, like a snowflake on your tongue.

110.  A Little More Pleasure and Sadness

For my wife, it’s pumpkin puff pancakes and eggnog.  The cakes were thick, orange, seeped in butter and maple syrup.  The nog, sweet, golden, freckled with cinnamon or nutmeg.  My wife’s mother started the tradition, everyone sitting around the breakfast nook, tired, eating, drinking.  Roy Orbison on the record player, singing about pretty papers, pretty pencils, ribbons of blue.  My wife’s mother has been gone twenty years now.  But, on Christmas day or the day after or the day after that, my wife will sometimes make pumpkin puff pancakes, and we’ll sit and eat and talk about her mother’s laugh.  The waterfall of it.  How it would leave her breathless and weak.

111.  An Abridged List

Bing Crosby didn’t take much credit for the success of “White Christmas.”  He said, “A jackdaw with a cleft palate could have sung it successfully.”  It has been recorded over 500 times.  Some of the other jackdaws who sang it include:

  • Elvis Presley (Irving Berlin thought Presley’s rendition was a sacrilege)

  • Mantovani

  • The Drifters

  • Ernest Tubb, backed up by The Troubadettes

  • Ella Fitzgerald

  • Smokey Robinson & the Miracles

  • Bob Marley

  • The Beach Boys

  • Barbra Streisand

  • The Partridge Family

  • Slim Whitman (sans yodel)

  • New Kids on the Block

  • Neil Diamond (a rocking do-wop version)

  • Boney-M

  • Rockapella

  • Crash Test Dummies (a Halloweeny bossa-nova arrangement that frightens my six-year-old son)
  • The Moody Blues
  • Twisted Sister (heavy metal with a screaming guitar solo)
  • Rascal Flatts

  • Andrea Bocelli (his recording hit the Portuguese and Hungarian Singles Charts)

  • Boy George (think funky, dance-club Irving Berlin)

  • Cee Lo Green

  • Keith Urban

  • Iggy Pop

112.  In the Field for Soldiers

Bing Crosby still holds the Guinness record for the biggest-selling single ever.  Fifty million copies of “White Christmas” worldwide.  Bing once tried to explain the song’s popularity:  “I sang it many times in Europe in the field for soldiers, and they’d holler for it.  They’d demand it.  When I’d sing it, they’d all cry.”

113.  A Dream

There are bombs exploding.  Mortar shells whistling.  I can hear gunfire in the distance.  I’m four or five, wearing an army uniform, and I’m surrounded by other GIs.  They all look weary, wounded.  My brothers and sisters are among them.  A rocket sails overhead, and we duck, cover our ears.  My brother, Kevin, is in the mud beside me.  He smiles at me.  Then, somehow, the battle sounds fade.  Quiet descends.  And in the quiet, a music box plays, like wind chimes on a clear December morning.  My dad stands up in front of us.  Or is it Bing Crosby?  I can’t tell.  He sings in a deep baritone.  “I’m dreaming…”  Kevin is listening.  I’m listening.  My other siblings are listening.  The war is gone.  We’re all together, thinking of baked ham.  Homemade bread.  Cream soda.  Deep.  White.  Christmas.

I bet he ate baked Wilbur on Christmas, too

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