21 February 2005

Belated Christmas

I've reached the point in my project of dubbing off VHS tapes to DVD that I'm working on some Christmas things. Today I transferred two things that I did not have a chance to watch this year.

The main feature was The Gathering, a 1977 film starring Ed Asner and Maureen Stapleton. Asner plays a stubborn businessman who has been estranged from his wife and family since his youngest son decided to escape to Canada instead of participate in the Vietnam War. Then he discovers that he has only a few months to live and realizes how much he has lost due to his attitude. With the help of his wife (Stapleton), he asks his children to gather at the family home for Christmas (without telling them about his condition). This is an award-winning movie that has been absent from television for too long--and which should be on DVD. Bootleg copies sell on e-Bay for about fifty dollars!

(Interestingly enough, the producers of this film were Hanna-Barbera--which is why you see a stuffed Yogi Bear briefly. A film further away from Jellystone Park you can hardly imagine.)

To fill in the rest of the DVD I placed the well-loved Christmas episode of the 1968 series, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, starring Hope Lange and Edward Mulhare. This was one of two episodes that appealed to the 'shippers of Carolyn and Captain Gregg's romance, the other being "The Medicine Ball." I discovered looking through my tape index that, of all the half-hour television episodes having to do with Christmas, the only one I've saved on tape is this one! (Well, there are the Lassie Christmas episodes with Timmy, but I already have those on professional DVD.)

In the meantime, I am reading another of Robert Brenner's Schiffer Christmas collectors' books. This is Christmas: 1940-1959 and covers the ornaments, lights, and other home decorations used in those years. As I've said before, I like the Schiffer books because they are not just endless pages of photos of things with prices on them. Brenner talks about the different decorations and how they were used and adapted around wartime shortages during not only World War II but also during the Korean War.

The text portions also include photos of real homes decorated for the holidays and people gathered around the tree. The later 1950s photos reminded me vividly of my childhood home--especially the awful wallpaper! (I didn't see the paisley pattern we used to have in our living room, though.) I found out that the yellowed plastic Santa and reindeer with the one broken runner that my mom still puts on the tree probably dates back to the 1940s and that our manger figures were probably from Japan (our Mary and Joseph are pictured in the book, although our Jesus was in a real wooden manger with straw in it rather than on a ceramic base that looked like hay that is shown). We used to buy the figures by the each at Woolworth's or Grant's in bins for each figure. You started with your basic figures--the Holy Family, the Three Kings, a shepherd or two--and then added extras: more sheep, a sheep dog, the camel driver, a flutist, a farmer carrying eggs. We even still had rubber figures--two of the three camels and a sheep--that you stuffed with newspaper and Kleenex to give them more of a solid look.

09 February 2005

Happy Birthday, Mom!

She's 88 years old today.

Just think: when she was born some people still had gas or kerosene lighting in their homes. Some vehicles were mechanized, but there were still horses on the street pulling milk wagons, ice wagons, the rag man's cart, etc. Rich folks still had carriages and funeral hearses were pulled by dark horses with black plumes on their heads. (There were a lot of funerals: Children died in infancy. People died of pneumonia, tuberculosis, typhoid, rheumatic fever, scarlet fever--even measles and chicken pox.) People had iceboxes rather than refrigerators. Most folks had wood or coal ranges and their homes were heated with wood or coal. Back then you put a sign in the window to show the iceman how much ice to deliver or how much coal you needed.

The only "modern" entertainment was the movies, and they were silent; you saw Charlie Chaplin and Ben Turpin and Mabel Normand and the Keystone Kops. Some folks went to the vaudeville theatres the way we go to movies. Kids then had chores to do, but when the chores were done they played outside, happy noisy games like baseball and stickball, hopscotch, tag, potsy, kick the can, "johnny on a pony." They made go carts out of scraps, played dolls using bushes for homes and rocks for furniture.

The boys wore knickers or short pants and often shoes with reinforced toes. Girls wore skirts and high button shoes. Everyone wore long stockings held up with garters. (There were even garters made for babies to hold up their stockings.) For treats they had popcorn and toffees and caramels and the very first Hershey bars. Some kids were lucky enough to own books, but the rest of them patronized the libraries and read romantic tales like The Prisoner of Zenda and If I Were King and magazines like St. Nicholas and the Youth's Companion.

In school you wore your best clothes (boys had to wear ties to school then) and sat up straight and dipped your pen in the inkwell when you needed to write. When the teacher called on you, you stood up to "recite." Memorization of "pieces" (poems or orations) and mental arithmetic were popular. You walked home for a hot lunch with your mother, who had probably just finished ironing (her irons heated on the stovetop) or scrubbing the wooden floor with Fels Naphtha soap and a big scrub brush.

A big treat was going to the drugstore for penny candy or a dime ice cream soda. If you were lucky, one Sunday papa and mama would take you to the ice cream parlour for a big cone of ice cream. If a summer Sunday was particularly hot, you might pay your nickel and ride the trolley to the nearest beach, or lake, or park, and cool off under a tree or in the water--no air conditioning to relieve the heat them! In the winter, clad in long underwear under your clothes, you built snow forts and had snowball fights and coasted down the hill on a sled or even a garbage can lid or part of a box.

While Mom was still in her cradle America joined the ongoing fray in Europe and young men marched off to "make the world safe for democracy." As always in wars, many of them didn't come home.

She grew up during a century of change: she went to school, survived the Depression and yet another world war, married, had a child, ran a home and went to work, lost a husband. In the end she is still at war herself, against cancer, and in that she's the bravest person I know. I could only hope and pray to be so courageous.

Love you, Mom.

02 February 2005

Not to Curse the Darkness

Traditionally the day when all the candles to be used during the year (specifically the candles in church) would be blessed. While that sounds like an odd custom, quite understandable in an era when candles or lanterns were the chief source of illumination. I'm sure part of the blessing would be that the candle would burn brightly against the darkness without setting fire to something. It always seems appallingly dangerous to me that people left fires burning in the fireplace at night and often left lighted candles or lanterns in the window while they were asleep to lead stranded travelers homeward. I'm surprised more people didn't lose their homes in those days!

Here are some links explaining the holiday in both Christian and pagan orientations:


Celebrating Candlemas


Part of the Candlemas tradition is that pesky groundhog:

Official Groundhog Day Site

General Lee: the Southern Groundhog

It's a sure bet "Beau" isn't seeing his shadow today. Wish we could swap forecasts with Phil!