A Chicago Christmas

Although I only spent 5 years in the city of my birth…I remember it well!  There was a snow on the ground and more in the air, as mom announced that she had retrieved Laughing Santa…and that I must come to see him!

Before me was the little, stuffed, Chief Elf…with his brightly painted face and the crank on his back.  The more that mom turned the crank…the more heartily Old St. Nick laughed.  I watched his antics and reveled in his laughter and wondered how he was able to be so human and yet…seemed not to be so?

There were many, uniquely wrapped, gifts under the 8 foot aluminum Christmas Tree.   Pointing at the shiny artificial  Tannenbaum was a rotating light with a cover of multi-colors that diffused the spectrum of color of the subsequent glow of the beam.

We had returned from our excursion into the city where we saw the new release of Walt Disney’s movie, Lady and the Tramp.  And, the information overload for me, at 3 years old, was tremendous…and ‘visions of sugarplums danced in my head!’

Soon dad and me and mom sat under the Tree as a, mysterious visitor, took our photo…’and that is the rest of the story.’

It was after dark and our outside Christmas lights were lit…and we heard a terrible commotion on the roof of our house in Sauk Village.  It sounded like someone had been on the roof and fell off.  As dad answered the door, I heard him proclaim…’Why come right in!’  There before us…was Santa Claus in all of his red suited, and white bearded, and pipe smoking glory!

Santa laughed, a lesser laugh, than what I had expected…and he wondered if he could use our phone to call Mrs. Claus?  He went on to say that he and the Missus had been involved in a spat when he left and he needed to ensure that there was a home for him to return to…when the Christmas Eve work was completed.  Dad showed him our one phone in the hall…and he began to dial.  We gave him his privacy…he looked like that he needed it.  We heard him say, ‘but…but…but,’ on several occasions, and then he joined us in the living room.  Santa said that he had patched things up and inquired was there anything that he could do for us…before he resumed his journey.  Mom responded that she would like for him to snap a family photo of us under the Christmas Tree.  Santa took her camera and took two pictures…in case the first one did not come out right.

Dad poured the, ‘spritely old elf,’ some eggnog and asked if he wanted something stronger in it…and he smiled with the rosiest of cheeks and said, ‘absolutely!’

As Santa left, on our carport were the reindeer and a bright red glow…from Rudolph’s nose.  Donner and Vixen called out to Santa and asked, ‘where’s ours?’ referring to the spiked eggnog.

So, that is how the Brooks Family Photo…was taken.

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‘Waiting For Godot’

‘Waiting for Godot is a play by Samuel Beckett.’    Wikipedia

”The play is a typical example of the Theatre of the Absurd, and people use the phrase ‘waiting for Godot’ to describe a situation where they are waiting for something to happen, but it probably never will…’    Wikipedia

So, I often say that I am, ‘waiting for Godot!’

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Aren’t we all waiting for many things in our lives…that have not exhibited themselves ever…or at least not on a semi-regular basis We wait for Godot when we seek justice and fair treatment for all peoples…not just the majority or those who are favored by the political class.  We wait patiently for our elected leaders to care more about their constituents than their own interests.  What a treat it would be to witness a concerted focus to address global warming!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

We live in a country that, by all available measurable criteria, live in multiple realities.  There was a famous book, many years ago, that was entitled, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus.  This book demonstrated the difficulty in men and women communicating with each other and understanding and empathizing with each others point of view.  Today points of view are dictated by the television news network that you receive your news from.

When I was a teenager, men simply understood that they were going to be drafted and be sent to Vietnam.  My cousin, Billy, was drafted.  The only reason that I was not drafted was due to President Carter abolishing the draft before I became of age to go!

We all watched Walter Cronkite on CBS or Huntley and Brinkley on NBC and we basically received the same news.

We wept when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 at 12:30 pm, central standard time.  Somehow, we understood that we would never be the same…and we have not!

We are told by our parents and our elders to work hard and ‘pay-our-dues’ and seek to excel in our careers!  We are assured that if we will apply ourselves…we will climb the ladder of success…and we will be another example of the American Dream!  We are told that anyone can be President of the United States and anyone can be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company…the Horatio Alger story of rags to riches…is ours for the taking….

But, what if the person who is doing the hiring…does not play by the rules?  What if it is not…what you know…but who you know….?

Institutions agonize regarding their low morale.  They engage is studies….and consultants….and large committees…too investigate and conduct in depth research into the quandary of ebbing excitement about the work-place!

The answer is simple….we all wait….much as our Jewish friends wait for the Messiah…or justice and equity and fairness…and recognition of consistent hard work and a passion for the job….and someone who has placed their heart and soul into their career….being recognized for their efforts…rather than being passed over for a friend of the boss!

We are still, ‘Waiting for Godot!’

 

 

Moving Forward

It was brisk in the Woods this morning. For our part of the country, December through February is meteorological winter. I try to acclimatize to each change in the seasons but it gets more difficult as I become older…but then again what doesn’t. In days gone by our University Mall would be packed with holiday shoppers. Now it is a shell of its former self. The retail environment has changed…as the Amazon delivery man who met Santa on the rooftop said…’Well, this is awkward.’

We, humans, are compelled to move forward…as bad as we hate to. Christmas tells us that another year has passed…’And what have we done…,’ John Lennon asked us. The groceries that we purchased in 2021 did not feed us in 2022…unless you really like to stock up!

We have things that distress us. Deterioration of our town and a reduction of students at our University. Churches are losing members in a rapid manner. Our church has lost members. Our Pandemic and Wars and Rumors of Wars surround us and have become a new reality in our lives. Money equals power and power corrupts. The rich and powerful rejoice while the poor watch with tears in their eyes.

Mister Roger’s mother told him when he was a boy that when disaster or difficult times come that he should always look for The Helpers. The answer to our distress is to become a Helper. The best feeling that can be had in this life is the feeling that you obtain when you help someone in need. A Christmas Carol is my favorite Christmas Story! The account of Mr. Scrooge and Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchitt warms my heart every time that I think about it. Christmas is primarily about change…Christmas is about Moving Forward and improving the lives of others. Christmas is thinking of others before you think of yourself.

Mary and Joseph were not narcissists. They did not raise a little narcissist. They were like the Blue Brothers…they were on a mission from God… I told my dear friend Michael T. the other evening when he and I and Jeff L. were speaking on a conference call that Christ and his message of love and acceptance had been a throughline for me for nearly 55 years. Whatever I have done and wherever I have been…Jesus’ love and message of loving my neighbor better than myself have captivated my imagination.

Believing in others and trusting in your family and friends and neighbors is not a lost art…it may have a little dust on it from where it has been sitting on the shelf… alongside the elf…but it is as true today as it was in the stable with the animals surrounding and the wise men and shepherds…and the humble mom and dad of the one for whom our upcoming celebration is named…

Ask many questions. Jesus asked a lot of questions. Perhaps things do not have to be as they are…if we will Move Forward and be The Helpers…

Christmas Hunger

The storm clouds are rolling in. Sixty-one degrees and windy. Christmas shopping is in full Elf-Assisted mode…with Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus working nonstop in the Toy Factory with Howard the Super-Foreman. Howard says that there are more poor children than ever before as well as more who are food insecure…or as we old folks commonly term it…hungry. Santa is determined to do something about the hungry kids. Suggestions have been numerous and varied…from gift cards to Panerras or Cheese Baskets from Harry and Davids…to Food Vouchers from the North Pole that can be cashed in at any participating restaurant in the North Pole Food Voucher Program. Howard told Santa that already schools are the primary food providers for many children in America. The School Food Programs began with hot lunches in the days of Billy B. and Chet and Jane. Now the schools provide breakfast as well and many of them have their students stay for a light supper that is provided. It was discovered several years ago that during the weekends and the holidays and the summer break…kids went hungry or were at least…food insecure. The combination of reasons for this terrible sin was many, such as single moms without jobs or with two or three jobs in the endeavor to put food on the table. Dads and moms who were captive to addiction were another more prevalent reason for the suffering of their children. Of course, the lack of sufficient jobs or economic opportunities was a strong contender for the hunger of kids in the midst of their families. Howard the Super Toy Factory Foreman went on to inform Santa that many of these hungry kids had uncles and aunts and other family members that turned a blind eye to their sunken eyes and listless demeanor due to their selfishness.

‘This year…2022…we will deliver food along with the toys to every little girl and little boy,’ Santa said. Mrs. Claus hired a nutritionist to advise her on what were the most nutritional foods that could be delivered to each child with their rocking horses and toy trucks. ‘Santa’s Food For Kids will be distributed each month by hundreds of thousands of his helpers across the world. ‘It will be similar to the Commodity Program that Billy B. remembered so well when he was a kid in the early ’60s,’ Santa proclaimed! ‘The only difference is that Santa’s Food will be distributed with love and not with disdain for the poor and the hungry,’ Howard added.

‘Twenty-twenty-two will be the beginning of the end of hunger on earth,’ Santa laughed so hard that his belly shook like a bowl full of jelly. ‘I have been talking to precious children all year who climb upon my lap and when I ask them what they want for Christmas…they tell me some hot dogs or a hot bowl of Malt-O-Meal,’ Santa noted with a tear coursing down his cheek.

Howard smiled a satisfied smile. He had seen the hungry kids firsthand. They liked toys…but toys did not feed their hungry stomachs. Many of them were waiting up for Santa on Christmas Eve and when they caught a glimpse of Howard…as almost no one ever catches Santa…they would ask for a cookie or a piece of pumpkin bread. Howard had inspected the refrigerators of the hungry kids and found beer and mold and fermented eggs. He understood that things could not continue like they were.

‘How do kids go hungry in the richest country in the world,’ Santa asked?

Home For The Holidays

We have simply had a lovely week with our good friends Margo and Jeff from the United Kingdom. When they left yesterday…MJ and I and Aaron and Jonathon were sad to see them go…Mylo was low as well. He and Margo bonded over the week and he has looked longingly for her since her departure. Mylo is our Maltese. We had the fantastic opportunity to see our old friends Thelma and Brent as well as Brent’s daughter Hannah and her daughter Jules. The years melted away and I remembered Brent and my camaraderie and our time not only installing carpet together but also our time working on building our church in Elkville, Illinois.

Thanksgiving Day was great with Tara, Mike, Paige, Tyler, Ron, and Ira Kaye joining us. I learned the efficacy of drinking a shot and then one more Jack Daniels…for the young folks’ enjoyment. Brent told me at one point that many years had passed…and I asked him if he ever wondered where they went. I shared that sometimes I feel like I must be Rip Van Winkle and have subsequently slept part of my life away.

It seems surreal that Christmas is less than a month away and it seems that yesterday was Labor Day. Often we are so focused on making a living that we forget to make a life. We worry about our possessions and our bank account as we march toward the grave. We fret over missed opportunities when others look at us and wish that they had been afforded the opportunities that we have taken a bit for granted.

Christmas brings hope and peace…a reset for the coming year. How kind can we be in 2023? Focusing on one person at a time…how can we make their lives better…and make them feel seen and heard and appreciated.

Hungry people need food. Lonely people need another human to take the time to know them. It does not happen over a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. It does not happen during a Christmas Eve Church Service. It happens over days and weeks and months and years. It is somewhat like raising a puppy that you receive as a wonderful and exciting Christmas present. When the cold winds of January blow…many Christmas Puppies are returned or forgotten…and so it is with the broken souls of our neighbors and friends and indeed our family.

Heart Healing is the gift of the Maggi. A vision for love conquering loneliness and suffering and ultimately death.

Fried Egg Sandwiches

It is Black Friday again. Last year we visited the Lemp House and stayed the night in its haunted confines. This BF we are enjoying our friends Margo and Jeff and we are soon to have some birthday cake for Jeff’s Birthday.

Jeff and I spoke with Michael T. last evening. Michael T. is such a kind and considerate gentleman. As I was listening to his voice I transported in time 50 years ago when we first met. He is one of the most positive people that I know. It is an encouragement to just hear him speak and his kindness to me so many years ago has never been forgotten.

My Buddy Brent looks just like I remembered from our days of installing carpet out of his old Checker Cab. The Cabs headlights were malfunctioning thus if our installation job ran after dark…I shined a flashlight out of the passenger window in order for us to stay on the road and not cross the center line. MJ would make Brent and me a fried egg sandwich for our lunch and often Brent would inquire as to whether MJ had made the egg sandwiches. When I answered in the affirmative he suggested that we eat the fried egg sandwiches for breakfast and that he would buy our lunch…and so we did…with gusto. One morning MJ accidentally put a lot of salt on the sandwiches. As Brent drove us down the road to our first job he began to munch on his favorite breakfast…his face began to flush and his eyes to moisten. Upon my taking a bite of my sandwich…I immediately understood the problem. When I asked Brent how his sandwich was…he responded that it was just like he liked it.

The Sound Of Turkey

Goble Goble Goble is what I just heard as I sat down on the Writing Porch. Indeed the time has come to enjoy a day of family and friends and appreciation for the profound gift of life.

‘Save me the drumstick,’ Chet said with a gluttonous grin. ‘I am a breast man,’ Billy B. commented. ‘The giblet gravy is to die for,’ Jane pronounced. ‘I simply can not get my fill of the stuffing,’ Jonathon B. proclaimed. ‘More wine…it is Merlot…my favorite,’ Neva J. laughed as she refilled each glass to the top of the rim.

Did you see Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this morning,’ Aaron B. asked. ‘I thought it was the best one ever…especially the resplendent Santa Claus at the end,’ Grandma A. added. ‘The Macy’s Parade always puts me in the mood for the Christmas Season,’ Debbie R. said with a smile. ‘Here are my special mashed potatoes,’ uncle Ron said as he ladled a generous helping on each hungry holiday reveler. Cousin Paige was busily making the Margaritas…which had become a new Thanksgiving Tradition. Cousin Tyler announced that after dinner…the Thanksgiving Party begins!

The Thanksgiving weather was so mild that the grand feast was held on the Writing Porch. Margo and Jeff had come from London to enjoy the uniquely American Holiday. Soon ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town was playing on the stereo…from a Vinyl recording…followed by Berl Ives’s Holiday rendition of ‘Silver And Gold.’

Then the dancing commenced with Margo and Jeff doing the Turkey Trot. Soon everyone joined in. It was a sight to behold.

Mylo ran from one dancer to the next wearing his new Christmas Sweater and searching for apple slices and blueberries.

Old Friends & Good Times

We have been enjoying our dear friends Margo and Jeff as they visit from London. Jeff accompanied Jonathon and me to church Sunday morning. Not only was he well received at First Presbyterian but we had a lovely visit with Rick and Dori Jefferson. Whenever MJ and I have the opportunity to visit with our United Kingdom friends I am reminded of how short life is. Yesterday Jeff and I were teenagers…now we are not…

A benefit of knowing someone for over 50 years is that even though you may not have seen them for some time…it is as if you have not been separated. The memories of years gone by seem to morph into the present time without a ripple. Shared experiences make a wonderful holiday catalog of hope for the future.

It is warming up a bit and that is welcome. It has been unseasonably cold for the past several days. We joined Margo and Jeff and Thelma, Margo’s mom, for lunch yesterday. I always enjoy seeing Thelma. On more than one occasion she shared her family dinners with me when it appeared that there was just enough for her and her sons and my friends…Brent and Bart. Thelma always made me welcome and at home.

I often said to MJ when we were just starting out on life’s journey that we must strive to enjoy every day as we knew not how long we would live and if we lived to be old…it would whisk by rapidly. I see that I was correct. Why worry your life away…it is a gift…unwrap the pretty paper and take off the lovely bow…and live…

Deja Vu…40 Years Later

It was the Southern Illinois Blizzard of 1979. Eighteen inches of snow and impassable roads. MJ and I had the pleasure of hosting Margo and Jeff in our home…which I think was still our first home…the trailer. We had a blast enjoying the winter wonderland and eating homemade biscuits. Mom was with us as she could not return to her home in Eldorado. Finally, we embarked on our frontier journey to follow the snowy path to the City of Gold. We made it with our hands frozen to the steering wheel and our hearts in our throats.

We were yet to begin our family and Margo and Jeff were years away from moving to the United Kingdom. Everything seemed possible and yet a bit of a scare of the unknown. Often what appeared to be frightening turned out to be fascinating. Challenges that seemed too high to climb…turned out to be foothills with lovely scenery.

Opportunity knocks every now and then in our lives…it is important to answer the knock.

MJ and I are picking up our lifelong friends in a couple of hours…they will be with us for a few days…I don’t think that we will have biscuits…but I will be thinking of the Blizzard of 79’…

Marley’s Chains

From our earliest days, our parents and teachers and friends and family illustrated for us how we should live and what we should think and where the lines of our behavior were drawn and to therefore not cross them. Often parents attempt to fashion little replicas or mini-mes of themselves. Unhappiness and depression and even a bad stomach come from trying to fit our lives into the expectations of society.

I have taken some pleasure in reading the writings of one of my dear friend’s son who has entered the ministry. He seems to downplay the old religious saw of pointing to the man of god for all of the answers to a Christian life… or being a member of a small sect that is to be saved while the rest of honest-hearted Christians burn under the judgment of God.

God is inclusionary, not exclusionary. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ John 3:16. NIV

The chains of the expectations of others…grow very heavy indeed. It is often the case that a person can go through their entire life and never realize who they are. The certainty with which our advisors speak to us about our life is not reflected in theirs. The Cult Leader Keith Rainere spoke to his acolytes with clear pronouncements of what they must do to meet his expectations. These expectations always redounded to his benefit and when they failed to do something that he thought they should do he told them that they were guilty of an ethical breach…that they could never recover from…although they tried and tried and tried. One young woman was captive in a room for two years in the struggle to regain Raniere’s confidence.

Illness can result from attempting to be someone that we are not. Mental and physical maladies occur when we attempt to form ourselves into the rigid ideology of men and women who have interpreted either the Bible or Faith or simply our life…after their idea of right and wrong and who is in and who is sadly out…

‘Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat…won’t you please put a penny in the old man’s hat. If you haven’t got a penny a hay penny will do…if you haven’t got a hay penny…God bless you…’

Aaron #41

Forty-one years ago… not long from now…Aaron came into the world with a lusty cry. MJ and I were excited and ecstatic with our newborn son. It was cold like it is today. When I made my first visit to the nursery the nurse in charge of the babies asked me if I wanted to feed my new son some formula. He had on a little blue hat. He was quite dapper. I held him in my arms and fed him his bottle and he looked very content with his new surroundings. I thought what a miracle and hoped that I would be a good father. The nurse said that he has a lot of character…and he still does…

His first words were ‘Di Da’ whereupon he would slap his bottom lip and grin. When I carried him into our little four-room house in Elkville, Illinois…I knew that we would never be the same…life had changed.

Aaron and I are much more alike than he realizes. Many of his thoughts and ideas are identical to mine. On the rare occasions that we disagree…I listen to his opinion and often change mine due to his well-thought-out hypothesis.

Aaron is kind and thoughtful and considerate. He is a hard and dedicated worker and gives his job all that he has to give. He helps his mom some in the kitchen and he can cook the best hamburgers that I have ever consumed. I am continually amazed at the depth of his knowledge of a multitude of subjects.

Aaron is a natural manager. A consummate photographer and a gifted artist. His smile lights up any room that he is in!

If Aaron is 41…how come I am only 50? Indeed I was 24 when he was born and I thought that I was old and had seen it all. After Aaron joined MJ and I…I knew that I had not even begun to live…

Aaron gave me a Zippo Lighter for my birthday. I remember my dad and his grandpa carrying a Zippo Lighter. I would watch dad light his Zippo and he looked like a man’s man…a father of the 60s… Aaron reminds me of dad…

Dust

It is a few days until Thanksgiving. The Holiday Season is here. It is time to purchase Christmas presents, decorate the Christmas Tree, and visit St. Charles, Missouri. We have not visited St. Charles since 2019. Then came Our Pandemic which never left… We saw Aaron Neville at Powell Hall in January 2020…and then we went home and stayed for a year or more…with little contact involving people, all the businesses were closed as well as SIUC and theatres and our church. It was a Brooks Family tradition to visit St. Charles each Black Friday…until it was not. There will be Santa Claus and St. Nicholas and Father Noel and elves and Mr. Scrooge and Tiny Tim…and even the Ghost of Christmas at St. Charles.

Margo and Jeff are coming and we are excited… We had been visiting Europe and the United Kingdom every two years…until Our Pandemic. Being with Margo and Jeff is great fun!

Life as we knew it changed…and is still changing due to the Pandemic. History will be the judge of just how drastically we have changed. We are in the middle of the Great Change…and can not truly see the ramifications of it due to our myopic perspective.

Cold and misty was the order of today. The leaves are mostly on the ground. Change surrounds us. We humans believe that we are in control. Many of us are control addicts. We do not enjoy feeling out of control. We like every I dotted and every T crossed. We enjoy our routine and we do not enjoy having it disrupted.

I enjoy my trips to Eldorado. Each time that I am there I recall how I felt when I was walking the streets of the little town…and how it feels to walk them now. It seems like just a short time since I was a child in Eldorado…but it has been over 50 years. Time is a peculiar mysterious and liquid dimension. When we think that our exploits are memorable and compelling and something that deserved to be memorialized…all we have to do is watch a family member scatter the ashes of their cremated loved one over the ocean.

I saw the most interesting of movies the other night where the ending revealed that the characters in the flick had been living in a computer simulation. I was totally blindsided at the surprise thriller ending and reflected on the Quantum Physics idea that all of us are simply members of a computer simulation and that helps explain the occasional glitches that we encounter from time to time.

It has been said that dust we are and to dust, we return… Indeed we are spiritual beings in earthen vessels. What we see…and do we see the same things…is malleable and breaks down into its molecular components.

Love is what we leave behind after we are no longer here. Love is our legacy.