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!’

 

 

Don’t Give Up

Life is about movement. The more that we move the better we feel. The longer that we sit with our ills and aches and pains of age…the more we want to continue to sit. We tell ourselves that we are much too old for this activity or that pleasure…and soon our prophecy is self-fulfilling.

Some of the most inspirational folks that I have cruised with were on our first Holland America Cruise. In those days they seemed so old…now they seem like contemporaries. Some couples were pushing their husband or wife in a wheelchair. Others walked very slowly to the Dinning Hall and held on to the rails for steadiness.

I reminisce about the elderly that were around our flat in Paris and in the Park. Walking with canes and often with a little dog…they were out and about to see what the world had to offer.

Activity is transformative for all of us. Nothing battles the blues better than a brisk walk. Things can look a bit bleak until we put on our walking shoes and dive into the ocean of life and enjoy the immersion.

Hope is generated when the neurons in our brain our firing and our synapsis are connecting. Activity causes thought and thought solves problems. Love emanates from bright eyes.

The light must rage against the darkness! I have witnessed many cases of those of us in the Golden Years giving over to what society and our peer group suggested was best for us. Berl loved to fish and could be found at a certain lake almost every day in nice weather…for hours on end. Upon attaining a certain birthday he decided that he was too old to continue to enjoy his favorite warm-weather pastime. Berl also enjoyed planting a huge garden. His vegetables were Blue Ribbon quality. However, he had determined that he was now too old to engage in either activity and thus stopped them cold turkey.

When you are dead…you are done…this is a natural fact that can not be denied. Why give in to fears and fantasies that may diminish the quality of your life and perhaps shorten it as well?

July Temperatures In June

Ninety degrees at 5:30 P:M: and 92 is forecast for tomorrow. Spring slipped right into midsummer. Eldorado was bustling this morning while I took a hot stroll. We visited the other side of town last Monday and I reflected on how many of the occupants of Wolf Creek Cemetary had trod the very street that I was walking today.

Many a hot and humid day I spent in the confines of Eldorado. I would duck into the Ben Franklin Dime Store as it possessed Air Conditioned Comfort according to the stencil of the laughing figure blowing frigid air at the passersby. Air conditioning was something to be treasured in those halcyon days. As a custom, we sought out a box fan and sat in front of it, and thought cool thoughts. The little red food pantry had its doors open and a can of Vienna Sausages propped precariously on one of the fragile doors. Food is an issue across our nation. We brag about how great our country is…and I agree…but many of our citizens and many of our children are hungry…they in today’s parlance are Food Insecure. Mom and I stood in the Commodity Line not long after we moved to Eldorado. We were not the only ones there… Times got a bit better…but not for a while. Today in Eldorado as across our land…there are still hungry people.

Easy answers we have for herculean problems. Thoughts and Prayers.

Poor people know how to have fun. Once Neva J. and Billy B. and Chet and Jane were out in the 57′ Chevy and the ragtop was down and it began to rain down buckets of water. We pulled over the now vintage automobile and struggled and strove to lift the recalcitrant top for many minutes to no avail. Seeing that our efforts were futile we proceeded on to Pounds Hollow for a swim day in June. The more that we thought about our 57′ Chevy Rain Debacle the more we laughed as we were pre-showered for our day of lake Fun…

Hope In Time Of Trouble

I know there is a God. I have known it my entire life. I am not given to shivers up my spine or dancing in the Spirit…but I know that my Guardian Angel is with me. Now you may say…give me your evidence…and I will say to feel it is to believe it. Church and faith can be two different things. A church may wrong you…it may be a cult…there is a fantastic amount of them out there…but faith is in your soul and nourished by your spirit. You carry faith with you and is readily apparent under challenging times. Love and faith are a bit the same. When someone wrongs you and you wish them well that is Love/Faith in action.

Billy B. lost his Dad. Not to death but to a fondness for another woman. Until that time the Sun rose and set in his Dad as far as Billy B. was concerned. Neva J. was devastated. She cried day and night and repeatedly apologized to Billy B. Billy B. understood that he was now the man of the house and that he must care for his Mom. Billy B. thought of the Bible Story Books that he had read in Dr. Ferrel’s Office. The brilliant drawings and the hopeful text gave him hope that everything was going to be alright. Time is a healer. Billy B. began to read the Bible and found its words comforting. He read that Jesus loved everyone and was no respecter of persons. Billy B. saw that Jesus was often sad over the condition of Jerusalem and the avarice and money changers and strife that had entered the Temple. Billy B. considered that there was no greater vocation than to follow Jesus. He looked at the painting of Jesus overlooking Jerusalem with a sad countenance. The painting spoke to him. Not audibly for again let me say Billy B. was not given to overt emotionalism…but he saw the living Christ as a reality in his life.

Older became Billy B. and somewhat wiser. He learned that although he had spent his life in church…some churches will take advantage of him. He learned that God and Church were not one and the same. A bad church did not affect Billy B.’s Christian Walk. God was not tied or restricted to any church. God lived in the hearts of men and animals and trees and sky and earth. God was much larger than the narrow minds of humanity that sought to control their brothers and sisters. A sense of place is what God gives each of us…not an artificial title in the church that is used to beat the sheep.

Freedom of thought is God’s way. Freedom of action and freedom of speech is his intention for his children. God is not into clones…

Two Books for the Road

On January first I set a reading goal for 2023. This year the number of books to aim toward is 52. Now, before I’d usually set the goal at 40. My …

Two Books for the Road

Memorial Day 2023

The day started early for our annual quest to see our deceased family at three different cemeteries. First to Wolf Creek in Eldorado to see Aaron and Jonathon’s grandfather, Earl.
Aaron brought some wonderful peroxide cleaner with him and a scrub brush and we did some cleaning of the monument. It looked much better. Wolf Creek is the prettiest Cemetary that I have seen. With rolling hills and some shady spots, it is peaceful and serene. As we were leaving we noticed quite a number of people gathering for a Memorial Day Ceremony.

Next was Hickory Hill near Rend Lake where Mom is buried. Now she and her sister Guelda’s stones were very dirty and looked much older than the years that they have been deceased. MJ reminded us that Mom and Guelda had purchased their gravestones in the 1980s’ and they were very pleased with the good deal that they had obtained them for. The nearly 40- year -old stones looked their age. Aaron went to work on them and now they look nice.

Hickory Hill is not far from Pheasant Hollow Winery. Lunchtime seemed fortuitous. Between Orange Kiss and Red and Blue, we were set for Memorial Day repast. From the time that Jonathon and I went to the outside food truck that was selling Philly Steak sandwiches and fries until I returned to the Winery…a humongous crowd had gathered seemingly all at once. The line was three abreast out the door and into the parking lot. Our neighboring town of Herrin has what is called Herrinfiesta and the people waiting for wine were participants in a Jeep Poker Run and Pheasant Hollow was on the list. Having spent an hour longer than we had anticipated at the Pheasant…we chose to do the last cemetery in Elkville…soon.

Satisfying and sobering are the feelings I felt as I stood at the final resting place of my stepfather and my mother. I remembered the many laughs and good times that we had together. Mom was an eternal optimist. She was always grinning and laughing and working to ensure that those around her knew that she loved them and that no one was left behind.

Earl loved his grandkids and took every opportunity to show them that he did. When Aaron was no more than a toddler Earl took him to Walmart in Harrisburg and wanted to know which ball that Aaron wanted. Aaron pointed at a regulation basketball…and he came home with it. Earl loved Cracker Barrel and he availed himself of going on every occasion available to him. Jonathon loved the Peanut Butter Pie at the Barrel and Earl delighted in seeing him eat the first piece and asking him if he wanted another…to which Jonathon replied yes with a wide grin.

Cemeteries remind me of our shared mortality. We are here but a short time and we are gone a long time. Kindness should prevail in our little human experiment. Love is indeed the answer…

The Old Man In The Woods

The brilliant blue sky was dappled with wispy white clouds. It was quiet except for the singing of the birds and the skittering of the squirrels. The little creek was full of rushing water from the recent rains. The sun shone thru the gaps in the forest green. There was a solemnity and a joy in being one with the woods. A sense of almost having missed the point of life and in later life finding it. The news was hopeless…but the woods were hopeful.

The narrow paths were close but comforting. The old man walked on and identified over 100 species of trees and plants. Each time that he found a new one he was happy. Vines curled up into the sky and trees peered at him as he peered back. They seemed to say, ‘Where have you been Old Man…we thought that you had forgotten us?’

The Great Creator was close to the Old Man in the woods. The Old Man had studied him and wondered regarding him and sought him within buildings made of brick and mortar and stone. In the woods, he could see him firsthand. Live and let live. No gossip…just love.

The visitors saw the Old Man. He seemed to be out of place. Content, he was identifying his trees and taking a plethora of photos…and sitting and thinking with a small smile on his face. ‘Who is the Old Man,’ asked the lady? ‘He is here most days taking photos and walking …sometimes slow…and seeming to have not a care in the world,’ said the man. ‘Perhaps he is retired,’ the man continued. ‘He has been searching for the secret,’ said the Old Lady. ‘When he smiles his little wistful smile…you know that he has found it…’

Happy Days

Mel Brooks said it is good to be the king in one of his movies. On a picturesque Saturday before Memorial Day, life seems pleasant and serene. I observed that MJ had a new seersucker garment and decided nothing would be finer than ordering a seersucker shirt for my summer travels and experiences. I had some seersucker shirts many years ago and liked them very much. I even possessed a seersucker sport coat one long ago time. I like saying seersucker…it has a unique ring to it. As I entered Giant City today I noticed what a difference a day makes when it is Memorial Day Weekend. Yesterday the parking lots were either empty or had one or two vehicles in them. At the same time, today they were packed with family picnic revelers and family reunions and those of us who had decided that now is the time to enjoy the out-of-doors.

Decoration Day is what my family referred to Memorial Day as. They purchased flowers and pots to put them in and wreaths to place on or near the Gravestones of their loved ones. Our dearly departed were never far from us. We spoke of them often and laughed about the antics and wondered what they would have said in situations where we found ourselves. Neva J. remembered her brother Dutch. Dutch went missing during the Second World War. Grandma Askew always believed that Dutch would either come home one day or contact her. Dutch was known to disappear for periods of time before the War. Indeed he must have performed his disappearing act during the conflict.

Soda Pop and slow days were the order of the day when Billy B. was young. He slept until noon if he wanted to. Bacon lettuce and tomato sandwiches for Brunch when he arose. Pounds Hollow Swim Days with Chet and Brenda and Jane and Neva J. driving the beloved 57′ Chevy. You literally could lay on the beach and watch the sunset. No homework is to be done…no schedule to keep…no book reports being given. Ralphie was not the only one who had a Red Ryder BB Gun. There was target practice at tin cans and once in a while a bird in the oak tree. Billy B. actually hit a little bird and it fell out of the tree and it was dead. He felt so bad that he never shot another.

Hot it is on Memorial Day Weekend…especially when you do not have air conditioning. Memorial Day signified the days of waking up hot and sweaty and remaining so for the entire day and evening and then as they say…wash and repeat. Bicycle time came with Memorial Day. Riding up the gravel road to town and enjoying the warm breeze. No need for the woolen hat of winter or the flannel shirt…just the open road and bugs in your teeth.

We sat and talked about the meaning of life and its brevity. Billy B.’s classmate Neal died suddenly. He was a friendly person who spoke each time that he saw you and never wavered from his wide grin and peaceful manner. Soldiers were dying then…soldiers are dying now. We tell ourselves that we are on that perfect quest for the Peaceable Kingdom. Elvis put out at least a movie a year as did John Wayne. Both were Amerian Icons and people to be emulated and admired.

President Kennedy was assassinated. Our next President sought to fulfill his predecessor’s vision and political agenda…but not on Vietnam…on that subject, he did just the opposite.

African Americans asked to be judged by the content of their character. Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Still, we marched to Pretoria…Pretoria…Pretoria…

Bobby Kennedy wanted to help the migrant workers and the poor and he ran for President…and he was assassinated…and yet we marched on hoping to get it right… someday…

The Old Ways

‘Come and get it kiddo…we have liver with fried onions,’ Neva J. proclaimed. ‘You know that it is good for your blood the doctors say,’ she continued. ‘My blood has been feeling fine,’ Billy B. answered. ‘I hear that Gone With The Wind is on at the Orpheum this weekend…I want to hear Rhett Butler tell Scarlett that, ‘Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn,’ Jane laughed. ‘Buckley said damn the other day in class and Mrs. K. washed his mouth out with soap,’ Chet observed. ‘I do not usually condone curse words and no one should ever take the Lord’s name in vain…but I do enjoy watching Gone With The Wind,’ Neva J. said with a lilting laugh. ‘You know Mr. Dillard has the most mannerly sons I have ever encountered,’ Neva J. said. ‘Yesterday Billy B. and I went to his home to pay our insurance premium and one of his boys answered the door…he called me mam and thank me for dropping off the payment,’ Neva J. continued. ‘Did you know that their father has a chair that aids him in standing…he had polio as a child,’ Jane said.

‘I have got to practice my cursive writing more…you know the old saying…reading, writing and arithmetic, Billy B. said with a concerned look on his face. ‘Gas has gone up…I paid 32 cents a gallon this morning and Ethyl is 35 cents. It won’t be long before I will not be able to fill up the 57′ on a five dollar bill,’ bemoaned Neva J. ‘I suppose we will be alright as long as we can afford bologna, said Billy B. ‘Hot dogs are my favorite…right out of the package…cold and good,’ Chet grinned a Cheshire Cat grin. ‘It will be good to return to my summer job at Western Auto…Mr. Slim says that he will raise my pay a dime an hour…imagine 60 cents an hour…I will be rich,’ Billy B. exulted!

‘I just do not like thongs as my primary footwear in the summer…I have trouble getting them to stay on my feet,’ said Jane. ‘On seventh street, all the kids go barefoot all summer but I tried it and do not like the feeling…the rocks hurt,’ Chet said. ‘My shoes make my feet sweat…I think that they look like leather…but they are not leather,’ Billy B. moaned.

Well, the badminton net is strung and I have some new birdies…did everyone bring their rackets,’ Neva J. asked? ‘Will there be Cokes and Sweet Tea,’ Jane asked? ‘Do not forget Oscar Meyer…and do not scare them with the fire for the hamburgers,’ Chet smiled.

‘Cousin Gene has been drafted…probably headed to Vietnam,’ Neva J. said with a sigh. ‘Six U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday,’ Chet said with a stone-faced expression. ‘Why are we fighting in Vietnam…I know three people who have been killed and many more who are not the same when they return to the States,’ Jane said. Mr. Feazel said the other day in class that we should negotiate a peace treaty and withdraw…he is a minister,’ Billy B. said. ‘Many boys are moving to Canada to avoid the draft…I do not blame them,’ Neva J. mused with tears in her eyes. ‘You know all I have heard is that we must do what our President tells us to do and if he says to go to another country and fight and die…then it is our duty…but I can not shake the nagging question in my mind…what if he is wrong,’ Chet asked?

Swim Day

‘Well, Monday is the big S. Day,’ said Neva J. ‘Monday is Memorial Day…what is the S. for,’ Jane asked? ‘Swim Day…Pounds Hollow will be open once again and we are all going there to celebrate. Billy B. had thought for a few seconds that Neva J. was referring to her dedicated schedule of restroom focus. She had a condition whereby she believed that she could not void her bowels without laxatives and mineral oil and in the early years prune juice. Have you ever tried prune juice…it is an acquired taste. However…I digress. ‘I will be the first one in the water,’ Billy B. proclaimed! ‘I will bring the scuba gear that I received for Christmas,’ Chet said. ‘Do you really have scuba gear,’ Daryl asked? Well, some people call it snorkeling…but I refer to it as scuba,’ Chet answered.

The Hollow was as lovely as ever. It was a warm Memorial Day. In Little Egypt, the summer months are June July, and August. Memorial Day had June’s Heat. ‘I will carry the umbrella,’ Billy B. announced. ‘Hey, guys…I have snorkels for each of us and we will go out into the deep water that is beyond the rope…as usual, there is no lifeguard,’ Chet proclaimed. ‘First things first…let us have some hot dogs and Charles Chips and a Dixie Cup of Merlot,’ Neva J. laughed.

‘I love this deep water…it seems like another world when we swim so far out,’ Jane said. ‘Did you see the old gravestones down deep in the water,’ Chet asked with a serious look on his face? ‘Yes…it was surreal because it had Neva J.’s name on one and her sister Guelda on the other,’ Billy B. replied. ‘I recalled as I stared at them that Aaron and Jonathon and MJ and I visited the Headstones at Hickory Hill Cemetery Memorial Day and that we took some cleaner along to wash the grime off of them,’ Billy B. said with a quizzical stare. ‘Neva J. is on the beach under an umbrella with a Dixie Cup full of Merlot,’ Daryl said with some force. ‘Yes…but not forever,’ Billy B. said…

Dark Reflection

The voices we hear in the media are usually strident and opinionated. If you did not know better you would think that we all have evolved into creatures with bull horns attached to our mouths. It seems we have all become a bit of a niche person. You know the type of person who talks with God on a personal and business-like basis and may have been your friend until you parted ways…politically… Since you do not agree with their chosen politician you do not agree with them. Thus instead of our former understanding of disagreeing but not becoming disagreeable, we have decided to demonize the unenlightened.

It has been said that we read less than ever. When I was a lad my mom read two or three books per month and did not have a high school diploma. Now politicians tell us to throw out those books that do not agree with our religious/political ideology. These politicians have no purpose in their restriction on literature than their own political expediency.

We worry and fret and wring our hands together as the rich in our country get richer and the poor sit outside the gate of the city seeking a morsel of bread. But, someone has to be the wicker man…someone has to be the culprit and the goat and the one who has caused our economic woes…so we blame the poor among us and the visitor to our shores and the destitute and the homeless.

We become bored easily. Plenty to eat and warm in the winter and cool in the summer and a house on the hill that is protected from the rising sea…we look out of our gated community to determine who are the ringleaders of the insurrection…when all we need to do is to look in the mirror…