24 December 2012

Then One Gloomy Christmas Eve...

James left for work at an ungodly hour, leaving me to snuggle back under the blankets. It was refreshing. I didn't get up until 8:30, which is a habit I could get into oh-so happily. :-)

I arose to a pewter grey sky and rain, with wet birds still making a rush at the feeder. I was toying with the idea of eating breakfast and going out to Michaels and World Market (I had coupons). But it was wet and damp and I've done so much shopping it's just become a bore.

I did decide to wash the towels, and cleaned out the bathroom a bit, later vacuumed some, but most of the day I was watching Christmas specials. James arrived home sometime after eleven—he said they were even less busy than they were on Friday—and pretty much disappeared into "the man cave" soon after, for a sortie with his airplanes. This suited me fine, since he doesn't like the first two specials I watched anyway: Christmas Is and The City That Forgot About Christmas. These were both produced by the Lutheran Church, featuring pre-teen Benji and his sheepdog Waldo. In the first story Benji chafes at his role of "second shepherd" until he goes back in time to an inn at Bethlehem. In the second, his grandfather tells him and a buddy the story of an unfeeling town that learns about the spirit of giving. Apparently the title song in the first special was so popular that it was featured on the radio.

Next I switched to some VHS tapes because DVDs just don't exist of this stuff. The Night Before Christmas is an animated cartoon from the early 1970s featuring the voice of Olan Soule, once a radio staple, as Professor Clement Clarke Moore. Before going to a conference, he promises his older daughter Charity "a book about Santa Claus" as a gift, but isn't able to find one. He arrives home to find her seriously ill and pleading for the story in her fever. So he sits down and writes it for her. The animation is limited, but it's notable for making a good attempt to portray the Moores' 1822 world: Gretchen the cook prepares food over a fireplace, Moore rides to the conference in a stagecoach and the characters all wear period clothing except for little Clement, who is shown in overalls, when a boy his age in 1822 would still be in skirts like a little girl. The songs are nice, and "A Visit from St. Nicholas" is the same Ken Darby arrangement used for years on the Fibber McGee and Molly radio show.

A change of pace was the animated special Simple Gifts, which aired on PBS in the 1970s. There is an introductory segment, plus six stories, each done in a different animated style. Some are funny, others are touching: a reminisce from Moss Hart, a comedic story of the "Toonerville Trolley," a short memory from 11-year-old Theodore Roosevelt, a retelling of the Christmas Truce of 1914, and finally R.O. Blechman's "No Room at the Inn," a satirical retelling of the first Christmas. The most remembered segment is a daintily animated version of a segment of Virginia Woolf's Orlando, where a young Englishman participating in a Frost Fair on the iced-over Thames River falls in love with a Russian girl.

My final VHS was Christmas Around the World, a compilation of Perry Como Christmas specials: Williamsburg, French Canada, Paris, Mexico, Vienna, and the Holy Land.

For supper we had the baked rigatoni dish we bought at the Farmer's Market, with a cucumber salad.

After the news we watched Mercy Mission, based on the true story of a small plane lost over the Pacific just before Christmas and the airline pilot who helped find him, and The Homecoming: A Christmas Story.

Christmas After All, Kathryn Lasky
This is my favorite of all the "Dear America" books I have read, because the characters seem so real to me, possibly because Lasky based them on her mother and aunts and uncle, and on the real house her grandparents lived in.

The Swift family is facing a grim Christmas. The Depression deepens weekly and Sam Swift is in danger of losing his job. The book's narrator, eleven-year-old Minnie, who idolizes Amelia Earhart, thinks that instead being of the time of plenty Christmas always is, the Christmas of 1933 will be a season of dwindling, with the family continually needing to close down rooms of their home to save on the coal bill and eating an endless succession of au gratin main courses and aspics to cover the fact that they can barely afford meat for the table.

The book opens with the arrival of a telegram that will change their lives: their orphan cousin Willie Faye Darling is being sent to them via train from a little town in Texas. Even though she is another mouth to feed and body to clothe, Sam and Belle Swift welcome Willie Faye into the family. Minnie finds her extraordinary: she's never seen a movie, doesn't know who Buck Rogers is, and owns only two pairs of underwear and a cat, which she explains to the astounded Swift family, that she had to suck the dust out if its nostrils three times a day to keep it from smothering in the Dust Bowl conditions of her home town. Willie Faye knows so little, Minnie thinks, that she will have a lot to learn from the Swifts. She doesn't realize that the family will learn some precious truths from this undersized refugee as the two girls cope with making Christmas gifts when they have no money, dealing with a tragedy that happens to a classmate, and finally facing a startling event in their own home.

I think this is a magical book. It reminds me of some of the stories my mom told about the Depression, and I love some of the offbeat characters, like Minnie's older sister Lady, a creative rebel who can work magic with fashions, and her genius brother Ozzie, who builds radio sets and helps his older sisters with their science homework. The only thing that mars the book is a bit of a fairy-tale epilogue. A worthy tale to add to any Christmas library.

No comments: