Ah Snow!

Snow Angel made in the snow

Well, it here it is. It is December again and, depending upon where you live, the weather this time of year runs from the semi-tropical to the brutally cold. I’m personally not a big fan of winter but if you have to have it, this is the time of year or it.

For the past 50 years when I have returned to New Hampshire for my high school reunions, I have heard one phrase time and time again. It is always spoken by a different person each time but the conversation remains the same. The phrase? “I have had it! I have shoveled my last shovelful of snow! I’m moving to Florida!”  It always amuses me because I “get it.”

As a young man, I made some good money digging my neighbors out after each snow storm; sometimes I’d have to dig them out as many as 3 times in 10 days depending upon the snow fall. Frankly, I loved the snow. I remember times when they called off school because of snow and how later in the morning a bunch of us were down at the bus depot trying to catch a bus up to the Gunstock Ski area. We couldn’t go to school but we surely could go have fun. We made snow forts and played “King of the Mountain.” We’d dug snow tunnels in the bigger snow banks. It’s a wonder we didn’t get killed when they caved in. I got to race sled dogs in the snow for a couple of years in the Laconia Jr Sled Dog Derby. Gosh, we had so much fun.

For me, the snow was magical. I have so many memories of snow and the situations I found myself in the snow. As it turned out, I have lived in Texas almost all of my adult life, I don’t have the occasion of seeing a lot of snow anymore so maybe I still see the white stuff in a more fanciful light because I don’t have to shovel it anymore.

Some of my earliest memories of snow was being bundled up in that big, bulky, oversized snow suit that you couldn’t move in. You know the one I’m talking about. The one that made you walk like a robot because you could barely bend your arms or legs. Add snow and you might as well be paralyzed. You couldn’t move! So you just stood there and did the only thing left to do and that was cry.

As I got older, snow was just flat out fun. First, it was my American Flyer sled and later it was that dented up aluminum “Flying Saucer” which always made my ass cold. You remember that don’t you? It took you ten minutes to climb the hill and fifteen seconds to ride down—and we did it ten times or more, at least. We made countless numbers of snowmen or snow-women—some more anatomically correct than others. Oh and there were the snow sculptures and ice carvings at the Winter Carnival during our winter break. When you live in New Hampshire you grow up with snow. It is just a given. It is part of your life. I even remember it snowing while taking Driver’s Ed. Some snow was not going to stop Mr. Estes.

One of my all-time favorite Christmas gifts in the early ‘60’s was my Motorola 8 or was it 12-transistor AM radio, complete with white ear piece!  Every night, I scoured the dial for far off radio stations in in exotic locales such as Buffalo or Albany, NY or WLS in Chicago. There was always “Cousin Brucie” on WABC in New York City. The world was mine through that radio.

One of my fondest memories was listening to a Chicago Blackhawks vs Toronto Maple Leafs hockey game. As the expression goes, “I had no dog in that hunt” but the fact that I could hear it all the way from Chicago to my little earpiece was just astounding to me. I clearly remember sitting in the big cushy armchair in the living room in our second floor apartment. I sat there in the dark looking out over Charles St. My chair was positioned just above the street light outside. I sat there watching the snow fall accumulating on the street below as I listened to the hockey game. I watched the snow get deeper and deeper and whiter and whiter. I was watching many of the neighborhood’s details disappear under the frozen blanket. I watched the night transform into a winter wonderland under that street light. It was like magic to me.

I remember the snow at my very first radio job in Brattleboro, VT. Let me preface this story with one thing about New England. You will get four seasons. No, make that five. There’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter & Mud. The weather of Easter of 1970 in Brattleboro wasn’t anything I planned on. I lived across the Connecticut River in Keene, NH. That meant I had to make the 22 mile drive over a big mountain and drive across the river down into Brattleboro. The station was a couple of miles down and off I-91.

Easter morning started out pleasant enough. It was sunny and mild. Not a hint of what was to come. In those days, every radio station had one or two (sometimes three) loud clunking teletypes hidden in a closet somewhere. They had to be placed somewhere behind a closed door, in another room or cabinet because they were so loud. They incessantly spit out yards and yards of paper with an equally incessant nonstop “chunk-chunk-chunk” rhythm. They constantly banged out national, regional news and weather forecasts. If those systems were still in use today, the environmentalist would be picketing outside of every radio station in America. It was a tremendous waste of paper. I even thought so at the time. The teletypes might bang out 50 feet or more of paper in a few hours when in reality; over that period of time a mere sliver about two inches wide is all you’d really need for the next 3 or 4 hours, particularly if you’re not running a heavy news operation (which we weren’t). I ripped the weather forecast for our zone and placed it on the front of the audio control board.

The latest Easter morning forecast cleared the wire around 5:20 AM and called for partly cloudy with a high expected to be in the mid-forties. No mention of rain or snow. It looks like it’s going to be a cool but beautiful Easter morning. Just the kind day you want for Easter.

After I signed on and got everything rolling on-air, I walked over to the teletype and read several stories. There wasn’t much else to do while the church tapes were running. There’s one thing about working in a radio station I noticed even on my first job. I always felt connected to the world and what was going on in it. The business keeps you young for a long time because you are a part of something happening right now! The world was letting me know minute by minute through those noisy clunking machines what was really happening. They rarely quit banging out stories of all kinds from all over the world ranging from urgent news to the ridiculously sublime. I was in touch with it all, all the time. It made me feel vital and a part of something larger. What’s more, I got to be the first person to share that information with people. I knew it before they knew it. Now that was cool and some heavy stuff for young guy in the media. I’m tellin’ you, it was addictive.

By about 7:30, I noticed the clouds had moved in and the sunshine all but gone. The sky continued to lower and become increasingly grayer.  A quick check of the weather wire showed no change in the forecast; it was still expected to be partly cloudy with highs in the mid-forties. Hey, it’s what I’ve been told and it’s what I have to go with until I get informed with something different. The morning droned on. Just after eight, I looked out the window and to my surprise; we were having snow flurries; just big lazy, meandering flakes falling to the ground–nothing to be overly concerned about. Flurries rarely last long and melt on contact with the ground. That’s how it usually works. It was interesting but I went back to my work.

By eight forty or so, I noticed that the ground behind the station was covered with a dusting of snow. I sauntered over to the teletype again to look for an updated forecast. There was nothing. No mention in the news stories of any snow coming our way either. Well, it seemed to be one of those fluky things and I got involved doing something in the production studio. When it came time to change to the next church tape at nine, I glanced out the back window of the radio station to see snow coming down hard. This wasn’t any flurry anymore. This was some serious snow. My car was covered already. I watched in wonder. There is something really soothing and peaceful about watching falling snow. I just stood there with my hands wrapped around my coffee mug staring somewhat mesmerized out the window enjoying the sight.

By half past nine, I was sure we’d have an updated forecast sent to us with the necessary changes. My forecast is obviously wrong. Again, I checked the wire. Still nothing. At ten, I finally got a weather recap. Unbelievably, the forecast they sent was partly cloudy with temperatures in the mid-forties! How the hell can that be? Don’t they know it is snowing and snowing hard here?

It’s shortly after ten and I have at least two maybe three inches of wet snow on the ground and it is still coming. By now, I am fielding some calls asking me what the hell is going on and where did this come from? I didn’t have any adequate answers other than to joke about how the weather guessers guessed wrong again. The official weather forecast was still calling for partly cloudy. I am on the air until noon. I got to thinking how this snow needs to stop because I have a big mountain to get over if I’m going to get home this afternoon. Watching the collecting snow, I am beginning to have serious doubts.

By 11 AM I am easily looking at 4 inches of snow and still nothing changed in the official weather forecast. Understand, that amount of snow isn’t necessarily a big deal for the local residents. It’s just a part of living there. You deal with it but this was more than that. No one was expecting this. I mused over how many Easter egg hunts were getting rethought that morning. My phones started picking up. More and more callers wanted to know what was going on with the weather. I explained to one man how the only forecast I actually had was still calling for partly cloudy. He said, “Well let me tell you something, right now, I have about 6 inches of partly cloudy in my front yard! When do you think we’ll get snow?”  For some questions, there are no answers.

I grew up in and about the woods & forests. I loved walking in the woods when it was snowing. Often, you could hear the snowflakes clicking on the dead leaves that still clung tenaciously to the frozen limbs. Other times the snowflakes drifted to the ground without a sound. There were times when we had frozen fog. The fog would form and freeze on contact to every tree, every limb and every twig leaving a stunning display of natural art that was wondrous to behold. Those were rare but beautiful days until the sun got high enough to melt any trace of the frozen tapestry.

I had always heard that no two snowflakes were alike. I didn’t believe it. Of the billions or trillions of snowflakes that fell in any given storm, how could that possibly be? One snowy afternoon I stood by the neighbor’s car. It was a big old green Pontiac. As the snow persistently fell, I would wipe all the collected snow off the hood and examine every new flake that fell on the hood. I searched and searched for maybe 20 minutes or so. As many of those 6-pointed beautiful snowflakes I examined, I never saw any two alike.  Close maybe, no two alike. So I guess it’s true.

My step dad, Hal was the head chef at the Laconia Regional Hospital for many years. Shortly after I got out of the Navy I was at the house on Lincoln Street with my mom and my wife, Zee. It began to snow rather heavily and it just kept up. Because we knew the snowfall was predicted to be heavy, Hal decided to leave his car at home. He called the police. In those days they would take “essential personnel” to their jobs. By late afternoon, there had to be 8 or 10 inches of snow on the ground with no letup in sight. It was obvious there was no way Hal could have driven down Pine St Hill in that big ol Mercury. He had made the right choice to have the police drop him off.

He was, however, going to have quite a hike home. So we decided to walk up there and walk back home with him. I’m sure he was surprised to see us. It was cold, snowy, and it was a bit of a hike but we loved every minute of it.  Here again, there was something magical about walking on the deserted streets watching the snow fall. There is a quietness unlike any other time. There is a feeling of a hollowness in the air. It’s almost like you are in another world.  It’s tough to explain unless you too have lived it. The snow cover is like a cushion where very little is heard except that one of a kind crunching sound your boots make as you shuffle along.  I remember how the three of us walked down Pine Hill arm and arm and arm, slipping & sliding, giggling like children. What a grand time that was. It was one of those family bonding moments. It will remain with me always. Just like my mom, I loved that man. I still miss both of them, dearly. Christmas just isn’t the same without them.

Then comes a time when you have children of your own. Both of my kids were born down south but they always looked forward to going to see “Grammie” in New Hampshire. Although we usually made the trip in the summer we did make it back on occasion in the winter. One time while we were there we endured a pretty stout snowstorm—several inches of the white stuff. My daughter had never been on a sled. I’d say she was about 4 years old or so at the time. My mom bought a plastic “Flying Saucer” It was nothing more than a big plastic dish to sit in. We traveled over to the Laconia Country Club where they had a nice sized hill beside the Clubhouse.  So I trek up the hill with Whitney in one hand and the big red saucer in the other.  After some huffing & puffing on my part, we got to the top of the hill. I put the big red dish on the snow and set her in the middle of it and told her to “hang on to the handles and don’t let go.” With a gentle nudge she was gone down the hill. Her mom was at the bottom to catch her.

She giggled and squealed all the way to the bottom. She loved every minute of it. We continued the pattern a few more times. Then at some point we were standing at the bottom of the hill and I noticed Whitney walking up the hill dragging that big old dish behind her. She was going to do this all by herself. So we watched her make the climb and jump in the saucer and gather speed as she plummeted down the hill. As I stood there, I realized at her current trajectory she is going to plow into some trees! So big brave Daddy runs out there into her path. When she arrives she has a good amount of speed going for her and so I lean over and push out of the path of the oncoming trees. As soon as I shoved her out of the way, I realized I had just merely diverted her path into another set of trees. The saucer hit the tree and she did bump her head. She looked a bit stunned. She looked into my eyes and broke into tears.  I thought it was because she was hurt but then I knew that puzzled look was her realizing that she really was related to me.

As I’ve said many times, Christmas has always been the time of year when I do my deepest reflection. Those memories that rush at me tend to center around the people I loved who are no longer here to hug, touch or just peer into their eyes. I miss them all dearly. I know you have those people in your life too. As you prepare for another holiday season, take a moment to remember your most cherished memories of people and places past. Mixed in with that sense of loss remember all the joy they always brought into your life. Allow yourself to smile. I know my life is certainly better because they touched and influenced me. Each touched me deeply. Each helped mold my life story to become what it is.

Well, in the course of sharing these thoughts with you, I have had my hot chocolate and it’s time to bundle up again and see if I can go outside and scare up just one more snow ball fight. Best wishes to you and yours from me and mine.  Merry Christmas!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

3 Candles

candlewindow

One of my earliest memories of Christmas was from the early 50’s. It was the lights. Our little family didn’t have much money. I think we were one of those “beginner families” starting to get a foothold in the years after WW II. We did have a Christmas tree with those strings of lights that would go out if one light burnt out.  I learned from personal experience those lights would burn your fingers if you touched them. So I made it a point to leave them alone.

Even with the array of colors on the tree the thing that made the greatest impression on me were the candle lights in the windows of our house.  Each window facing the street had a candle with a plastic base that supported three white columns topped with orange colored lights.  As a child of about six, I didn’t understand the significance of those candles. I still remember my mother telling me why we put them in the window every year.

First she explained to me how Joseph & Mary had traveled so far but still could not find an inn or a place to spend the night. She told me how they ended up staying in a drafty old stable. Then she told me about how their path was guided by a star and how that star directed the shepherds and Magi to the humble little stable so they could find Jesus, the Christ child. She went on to explain to me that was why we put the candles in the window every year; to let the Christ child know that if he saw our lights that he would be welcome in our home. I remember thinking how cool that would be if he would come and visit our house. I secretly waited to hear a knock at the door.

In those days, it seemed everyone had those kind of candles in their windows too. Then as the years went on, the light displays got bigger, brighter and gaudier, those candles got relegated to the attic or some other unseen place. As I’ve driven around this year I have seen several homes with the candles in the windows again.  It pleases me to see them coming back. There is a certain understated elegance in the simplicity of those candles. Just looking at them brings me back to a simpler uncomplicated time. The lighted candles were one of our family’s longest held traditions. I’m still hoping to hear a knock at the door.

christmas-scene-church-1600x1200

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Busiest Travel Day of the Year

In 1992 I moved back to Austin. I wasn’t there a couple of weeks before I was given a job offer back in the media from Metro Traffic Networks. The network provided traffic reports for all most all of the local radio stations. Soon after I went to work for them, I was asked to fill in for the normal airborne reporter, “Buck Naked.” I don’t remember why he couldn’t fly but it fell on me to take his seat in the airplane next to the pilot.

We flew two sorties each day. We were in the air at 5:30 in the morning and would land about 9. We would return for the afternoon shift and be back in the air about 3:30 and stay there until about 7pm. It seemed as though there was an adventure every day. On the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving in 1992, the afternoon flight was going to be a bit different. Traditionally, the day before Thanksgiving is the busiest travel day of the year. More people fly and even more hit the road to get to destinations near and far on that day than any other single day of the year. It is that day in the year where almost everyone sets out “over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go.”

Our job was to watch the traffic patterns on the streets and highways of Austin. As road blockages or problems became evident our job was to report the incidences and offer alternate routes. As you can imagine there were a lot more cars on the roads that particular afternoon and evening. Lots of folks try to get out of town early. You can see a steady increase in the volume of traffic from noon on. The later into the afternoon you get, the heavier it gets—a trend that continues well on into the evening.

My favorite time to fly was late in the afternoon heading toward twilight. There was something magical about watching Austin go from day to night. It was the lights on the buildings, street lights and the landmarks like the capitol building or the University of Texas tower. It was spectacular and thrilling to be a part of all that.

After the sun set it was fascinating to watch these little “ants” with lights travel the various roadways. It wasn’t hard to see the correlation between the human body and the traffic patterns. I remember thinking how these little cars on the roads resembled blood carrying capillaries, veins & arteries—side streets, main roads and the interstate. It was captivating flying over the city. As we crossed over downtown Austin the main body of traffic was traveling north and south. As you cross I-35 going east as I looked out the left side windows, it was primarily two lines going north and two going south. As you look north it is a solid 2-lane line of red tail lights and a solid 2-lane line of headlights. A glance out the right window would show the same thing only moving in the opposite direction.

As we make our various orbits over the city, you could see where all the police cars, ambulances or fire trucks were that were out on calls just by seeing the flashing lights.

The one instance I recall from that night was an accident at Northbound I-35 and Hwy 290. There was a wreck and it backed up the traffic. What was interesting to me was that visual. Our operational altitude was between 1,500 and 2,000 feet. From that height, if you looked up and down I-35, you could see all the way to Georgetown to the north and San Marcos to the south.

The visual I was referring to was looking to the north where the wreck was that solid red line going to the north stopped cold at the wreck site. Nothing was moving and that solid line now showed a huge gap up to near Round Rock showing virtually no traffic. Pretty stark.

So now traffic is seriously backed up. Thousands of people are virtually stuck at a standstill. So I report the wreck and suggest to avoid getting caught up in that mess, drivers could take Lamar Blvd to the north and get past the wreck. I offered a couple of other alternate routes. It was amazing to see hundreds of cars start to pull out of the logjam and head to the suggested alternative. It was like a thousand people got the exact original idea at the same time. That was visual proof that people were listening to us. It is quite fulfilling to know when your work or efforts make a difference.

In about 30 minutes the wreck was gone and the heavy traffic resumed its migration. Today is the busiest travel day of the year. Please be safe while you’re out there. And remember, that other guy is out there to get ya so stay alert. Happy Thanksgiving to you & yours.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

What the 4th of July Means To Me

trumbull-large1

During my senior year at Laconia High School, I, like my other classmates had to write a term paper. Truth be told, I began this particular paper during my junior year to fulfill a similar requirement for that year’s class. It wasn’t long into researching the project before I realized I had bitten off more than I could do in one year. So I quickly banged out a term paper on ‘Hurricanes.’ Having been through a few in my young life, I found the subject matter fascinating. That allowed me to continue to work on the main project throughout the summer prior to my senior year.

Come my senior year, I was already fully engaged in the subject matter. My treatise was centered on the signers of the Declaration of Independence. I wanted to know the personal price that each signer paid for signing that document. My paper was simply called, ‘The Price.’ Understand, there were no books on that subject matter at that time. It was all, pretty much, original research. Although that is not the subject matter of this piece I will tell you these were remarkable men and the prices they paid individually were dear.

The American Revolution is one of my favorite periods of American History. I have read many books and biographies of the people and times. Resilience and perseverance are two words that immediately come to mind to describe the players on that stage. Courage doesn’t begin to describe them.

One of my favorite holidays all year has always been the 4th of July. Like most folks, I love the fireworks, family gatherings, cookouts, hamburgers, hot dogs, a cold beer and apple pie. It’s not the 4th of July without hearing Sousa’s ‘Stars & Stripes Forever.’ Throw in a Red Sox game too. I also like to take time to gaze upon some of Norman Rockwell’s stirring paintings too. Yet that is not what I love and admire most.

If you look back at those 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence you see a collection of men who were the right men at the right place at the right time. Think about it. These were landowners, lawyers, merchants, physicians, ministers and well-educated self-made men. Men who stood to sacrifice virtually everything they held dear. They put it all on the line.

The process of deciding what to put into the declaration was a contentious one from beginning to end. It was oppressively hot and the meetings were held behind closed windows and doors in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I have stood in the very room where the negotiations took place. The room is relatively small. As I recall, at no point were all the delegates present at the same time. I doubt they could all sit in that room at the same time. There just wasn’t that much room. The flies were a constant source of distraction. It was extremely uncomfortable but yet they pressed on until an agreement and Jefferson’s wording was approved. It was a momentous document. Nothing like it had ever been written before.

Sometimes it is easy to look back at those individuals and think of them as people who lived in a time we really cannot understand or relate to. We learned about them in school but probably never really thought of them as ‘real’ people. Consciously, we know they were real but they are so far removed from our lives, it’s hard to relate to them.

As I look back at that collection of actual living breathing men, I begin to appreciate even more what they did, how they went about it and how incredibly dangerous that process was. Yet undaunted, they pushed forward to make a statement for a people. Some started off dead set against Independence while others, like John Adams, could see no other path. Benjamin Franklin was already an old man. He long surpassed the average life expectation of the day. There were struggles within the struggle. This was hard work. Everything was on the line for them.

Had they been caught, hanging was an automatic sentence; not to mention other indignities including nothing short of drawn and quartering. Many of these men lost their personal fortunes, families and properties. One even escaped the British out the back door in his night shirt and lived in a cave with a dog for an extended period of time. One of their wives, already near death was captured and put on a prison ship. She was fed through a key hole by her fellow prisoners. These were extraordinary individuals. How many of us today would do that?

I have always felt this country was formed through none other than the grace of God. I believe, he saw to it that we had those 56 courageous individuals at the right place at the right time. In many ways this whole event was so improbable that it defies all logic. I believe it happened because GOD had his hand in it and gave his blessing. For me it is the single most remarkable event in our history. None of us would be so fortunate to live in this country today had this event not happened.

There is one other oddity about this event that has always fascinated me. In the years after the declaration was signed, the Revolutionary War fought and the Constitution ratified, John Adams & Thomas Jefferson became estranged for many years but after both had served as President, they began to correspond with each other again near the end of their lives.

They had tremendous respect for each other. On July 4th, 1826, exactly 50 years to the day, sometime near four in the morning, Thomas Jefferson passed away at Monticello. Later that afternoon in Quincy, Massachusetts, John Adams awoke on his death bed. Among his last words were, “Jefferson survives.” He passed near 6:20 that evening thinking that Jefferson was still alive. Two of the most important players in the design and delivery of that document, died the same day, fifty years to the day. For me that is one of the most amazing quirks of American History.

Yes, the 4th of July means so much more to me than parades, patriotic music, fireworks & speeches. It is something I feel deep in my heart. I have been so proud to grow up and live my life as an American. Again, I feel blessed by GOD as if granted with a gift. I am an American. I love my country. I love her history and I love ‘Old Glory’ too.  I believe in my heart it is one of the greatest stories told on earth.

Happy 241st birthday, America!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Christmas at the Jewelry Store

 

 

7086843002f19fb007a29053ccf539b9

A few years ago, I decided to get a part time job to raise some more cash for Christmas. So I landed a job at a James Avery Jewelry store. This a Texas family owned & operated jewelry store headquartered in Kerrville. That was a fun job—really a lot of fun. I have nothing but respect and high praise for them for lots of reasons–not the least of which is this is a Christian company and they practice what they preach. I was the only guy on the staff that season. My co-workers were wonderful ladies and they took me under their collective wing. I’m thinking they were feeling a little sorry for me. When I took the job, I promise you, I didn’t know anything about jewelry but thanks to their help, I did learn a lot and quickly.

Our store had a sizable floor plan with several tastefully placed display cabinets filled with bling for everyone. I think I started just before Thanksgiving but what I do remember clearly was how every day we got closer to Christmas, the busier it got. A week or two before Christmas, it was not uncommon to see the store packed with people standing shoulder to shoulder trying to find that special item for friends & loved ones. It was mostly women in the store with a few men who obviously had been towed in there by their wives or girlfriends.

The way things worked was clear cut. Customers would come in and browse the store. Many of them were holding the catalogs they received in the mail.  A lot of these people were long time, repeat, dedicated, loyal customers. They would get a slip of paper and write down the item number on the jewelry tag or in the catalog. When they got to the counter. We’d go find that specific piece in the storage drawers bins behind us. James Avery sold a ton of charm bracelets, charms, neck chains, rings & earrings. We’d let the customers try on the jewelry for their approval. They’d say yay or nay, make the transaction, and it was done. The staff took great pride in their customer service.  Most of these ladies had been doing this for years and they are very good at what they do.

One morning I had not been on the floor for more than 10 minutes when a little, older lady came up to the counter and got right in my face. The store was packed with people. People people everywhere. Apparently, she had purchased something a few days earlier and was not a happy camper. She was in a major snit. She apparently didn’t want to do just an exchange or simply want her money back; she wanted justice! At first, her firm and targeted fury at me made no sense. I honestly had no idea what she wanted or was talking about. She just kept ranting at me in her loud annoying voice. I maintained my cool and just let her rant away. After she finally ran out of a steam, I was able to cut to the source of her issue and figure out how to help her. I have to admit, it would have been so easy to cut loose and dump my frustration back at her but in those situations you just have to remain a professional. (But don’t think I hadn’t thought of it) As the lady left to the store, I walked to the back of the store into the conference room still seething. I took a big breath, exhaled and said out loud, “Lady, I hope your pet spider dies.” And walked back out the floor and went back to work.

I loved my work there. You would be amazed with how many charms & charm bracelets they sell. Not being a girl, I didn’t realize how personal charm bracelets are to women. Every charm has a special meaning and a special place on the bracelet. Ladies will use a lot of time choosing each charm and precisely in what order those charms will go on that bracelet. Don’t be messin’ with any lady’s charm bracelets unless you are really longing for a broken hand.

The Christmas season can be a mad house. That is an understatement. I remember working the counter and having my head down for a couple of hours at a time only to look up and see  no end to the line of customers filling the room. The customers were great. They were very patient and thoughtful. They knew we were really trying to help them in a timely fashion. It just crazy busy.

That is how busy it gets but then, suddenly, it’s Christmas Eve and something weird happens. Early in the day you notice there are a few women come in as the store opens but then the transformation happens.  By noon, there are nothing but men in the store. They come in and start viewing the display cases, cabinets and the wall displays. Almost to a man they have an order slip in their hands. Some have very confused looks on their faces. Some are in the downright panic mode. The funniest thing to me happened more than just a few times. A man would come to the counter and point to a catalog number of an item he wanted.

It is now Christmas Eve. The store has been hammered by thousands of customers over the past three weeks or so and many of the items have simply been sold out. When you tell the guy, “I’m sorry but we have sold out of that item but we’ll have more next week.” He doesn’t want to hear that but he presses on. Next, he’ll turn and survey the store and point to an item on the wall or in a display case and say, “I want THAT!” Hopefully, we still have some. This guy desperately does not want to go home empty handed–he wants something…anything. The logic being, if his spouse isn’t exactly crazy about the item, SHE can bring it back and exchange it for something she does want after the holiday. That always amused me to no end. Yes, there are more people than you can count that wait until the last day.

For you guys who wait until Christmas Eve, good luck and I hope you get what you want in time this year. Merry Christmas, Y’all.Vintage-27-Charm-Bracelet-12

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Christmas On the Radio

 

With a relatively few Politically Correct exceptions, we Americans love Christmas. When we think about the season, most of us smile at the memories it conjures up. There’s the images of all the holiday trimmings, mistletoe & holly, Santa Claus and his Reindeer, snow, sleigh bells, all the colorful decorations, the Christmas Tree, the food and, of course, the family–with children everywhere with wonder, excitement and joy on their faces. Christmas also wouldn’t Christmas without the music.

Ask anyone who has been in radio and they will tell you about Christmas. I spent right at 30 Christmases while sliding through what I call my radio career. The holiday always followed the same pattern year after year. Ask anyone and they will tell you. Although the particular routine would vary from operation to operation, invariably it was all the same…only different at every station in the country. Christmas, for those of us in the business, usually fell into two general categories. Great anticipation and excitement or total dread.

Let me explain. Each year when it came time for Christmas, the radio station would prepare itself to, in effect, change its format from what it normally was—be it Rock, Pop, R&B or Country—to Christmas Music. Typically, it would start the day after Thanksgiving. Most people refer to it now as Black Friday. We didn’t call it that back in the day. Even then, it was the time for retailers to make those sales.

Retailers would be playing Christmas music in their stores incessantly all day, every day until Christmas Day. In radio, we would also do our part to support the retailers (considering that is where the bulk of our income was coming from) It was our way to support them and get our listeners to get into the holiday spirit. Starting the day after Thanksgiving we would play one Christmas song every hour or two hours just to ease into the holiday spirit.

Within a couple of days we would be playing at least one Christmas song every hour around the clock. At this point in the process we would be playing generic Christmas songs. We often called them Santa Claus songs. We were not yet playing any of the Christmas Carols. Just the fun up beat, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the Sleigh Bells kinds of songs. Within the week, we were playing maybe three or four songs an hour. This would stay pretty much the rule until we got a week or so away from the actual holiday. Eventually we would be playing nothing but Christmas music 24/7.

One thing about Christmas music, some of it is really fine music and well done but think about it. There really wasn’t a great depth in the number of titles to choose from. Virtually every one of those songs had been recorded thousands of times by thousands of artists. The voice my change but the words don’t! There gets to be a mind-numbing repetitiveness. You just shake your head and just want the noise to stop. Even the most avid lover of the season would develop a vile feeling for certain songs. One of the songs I won’t listen to at all anymore, to this day, even though it might be a personal favorite of yours. If so I apologize.  I can’t stand “Blue Christmas” no matter who does it.  I can still see the album cover of Blue Christmas with 15 variations done by 15 different artists. It makes me want to scream like a little girl and wet my pants!

It’s true every year a few new songs would come out and people would love ‘em; some have become standard Christmas fair you hear every year. There was always a new novelty song that would come out and you’d get phone requests for it until you couldn’t count them anymore. You could count on getting those request just like clockwork—“Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” was one and “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” is a more recent choice. That song actually goes back to the 40’s or 50’s. The list goes on.

For me, the song that drove me to distraction (and many of my other colleagues) was the Barking Dogs doing “Jingle Bells.” I HATE THAT SONG! It got to the point that one year, I took the record into the production studio, made a copy and came out two hours later with my own revision. My heavily edited version had an unknown person driving up in a car, getting out of the car walking across the gravel while the dogs were singing away, Arf, arf, arf……Arf, arf, arf…Then you hear the cocking of a gun and then you hear automatic gun fire. Next you hear the record speeding up and you hear the dogs squealing and yapping and running for their lives. After you hear about 30 seconds of this. It is totally silent. Then you hear the person walk over the gravel, get into the car and drive away. Then it closes with the last seven notes of the original song.  It was hilarious! I wish I could share it with you. I still have a recording of it somewhere.

It was a cathartic moment for me. Anyone who had to play that song as many times as I have will “get it.” They’ll understand why I did it. I think it saved my mind. Damn, that felt good!

Now before anyone goes off and gets all bent out of shape with me or wants to call PETA, understand, I do NOT condone violence of any animals, dogs, cats or otherwise (except maybe poisonous snakes).  I have no love or use for them.

My little work of production was really just my mini-protest of the song itself. I was shooting the RECORD not the dogs! By then, I had played the Barking Dogs hundreds, if not thousands, of times and was driven to exorcise it from my life. It was just a little foray into comedy. Was it in bad taste? Maybe. Probably. I don’t know but it sure made me feel good!

As for the rest of the season, we would begin to add the Christmas Carols the last few days before Christmas itself. As I recall, we would begin to play the Christmas Carols exclusively around 4pm in the afternoon on Christmas Eve and play them nonstop until about 6pm Christmas night. After that we would return to what we normally played. A wave of relief washed over the station. It would last for another 11 months or so months. Things got back to normal.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas, what it means and what it brings as much as the next guy or lady. I’d miss it if we didn’t have it anymore. BUT I wouldn’t miss those awful damned dogs!  Perhaps now you can understand, even in a small way, what it’s like to spend Christmas on the radio.

Here is the version of the song I produced as my way of ridding myself of that awful song! Again, I do NOT condone the harming any animals, This is just a humorous attempt to get rid of the SONG not the dogs. Lighten up. It is a joke!     Merry Christmas, y’all.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Origin of Some of Your Christmas Songs

iStock_000001028798XSmall

My early childhood and formative years took place in New England during the 50’s. Some of my earliest memories of Christmas were wrapped up in the music. I loved those songs. We heard and sang them only part of the year and then they were gone. When the next year came around and the songs reappeared it was like greeting an old familiar friend.

In those days, the headquarters of the John Hancock Insurance Company were in nearby Boston. Each year they put out a small paper booklet with all the Christmas Carols in it. I remember singing from that book as a child. I went out singing Christmas Carols for the neighbors with my mother and some of her friends. Later, I did that on my own with some school friends. I loved those songs. I must admit, in those days, I never thought about where they came from.  After I got into radio I became fascinated not with the artist so much but the songwriters. I often wondered why a particular song was even written. What was the story behind any song that caused it to be written? So, what about the Christmas songs?

Although we’ve enjoyed singing them for years, have you ever thought about how the various Christmas songs came about?  Christmas carols you may have thought went back several hundred years are relatively new.  Still others have fascinating stories surrounding their origins.

Christmas carols go back to the time of Christ.  It is believed that the Apostles sang songs of praise based on the Psalms.  The word “carol” comes from the old French word caroler, which means to dance in a circle.  One of very earliest Christmas songs appeared in the 4th century.  St. Francis of Assisi introduced carols into church services in the 12th century.  The songs tended to be somber.

In the 1400’s during the Renaissance—the time of Michelangelo and DaVinci—the lighter, more upbeat songs began to emerge. The earliest known English carol appeared in 1410.  The Gutenberg press, famous for the magnificent bibles, also made for the wide distribution of carols to the masses during the period.

In the mid 1400’s, Christmas celebrations were strongly suppressed by the Puritans.  Actually, Christmas didn’t become a widely celebrated holiday until the 1800’s.  As a result, most of the Christmas carols we love today were composed then.

In England between 1649 and 1660, Oliver Cromwell, who believed Christmas should be a solemn day, banned the singing of carols. The Protestants; however, with the urging of Martin Luther, embraced the practice.  Many worshipers fled Europe for other parts of the world taking the music with them.  John de Brebeur wrote the first American Christmas carol in 1649.  It was called “Jesus Is Born.”

Dr. Edmund Spears, a Unitarian minister, wrote a poem in 1849.  A year later, Richard Storrs Willis, an editor and critic for the New York Tribune wrote a melody called “Carol” inspired by the poem. He had created “It Came upon A Midnight Clear”.   Although no one is completely certain, some research indicates that cowboy singer Montana Slim, whose given name was Wilf Carter, wrote “Jolly Old St. Nicholas.”

The tune “Greensleeves” goes back to the time of the original Queen Elizabeth.  By 1850, lyrics were added that were neither religious nor respectable but in 1865 William Chatterton Dix wrote “The Manger Throne”—three of those verses became “What Child Is This?”

“We Three Kings of Orient Are”, usually thought to be older than it is, was written in America in 1857 for a Christmas pageant in New York City.  An old Welsh melody is at the root of “Deck the Halls”.  Although Mozart used the tune in a piano and violin piece in the 1700’s the words written in America would not come for almost another hundred years.

The first two verses of “Away in a Manger” were originally published in 1885 in a Lutheran schoolbook.  James Murray published it in 1887 under the title of “Luther’s Cradle Hymn” leaving some people to think that Martin Luther had written it.  No one is certain who wrote the music but it too is believed to be American.

There is a bit of controversy surrounding one of our most famous classics.  Who among us has not heard the story of “Silent Night” (Stille Nacht)?  Folklore has the song being hurriedly composed on Christmas Eve in 1818 after it was discovered that hungry mice ruined the baffles of the church organ.  Joseph Mohr, the assistant minister, supposedly quickly wrote the words and Franz Gruber composed the melody in time for the midnight service.  That may only be folklore.  Some evidence indicates that an old manuscript, which has recently been discovered shows Gruber, wrote the music 2-4 years after Mohr had written the words.  No matter—it has remained a favorite for nearly two hundred years.

“Silent Night is such a powerful song that it actually stopped a war—for a while.  During World War I, the Germans, Americans and, British and French troops actually put down there arms and held an unofficial truce on Christmas Eve and serenaded and harmonized with each other with the haunting melody.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” was the result of Bishop Phillips Brooks being so impressed with seeing Bethlehem at night from the hills of Palestine.  He wrote the words in Philadelphia two years later in 1868. His organist, Louis Radner wrote the music for the Sunday school children’s choir.

“Jingle Bells” was written for a Thanksgiving program.  It was so popular that the children begged to sing it at Christmas.  It has been a holiday fixture ever since.  There is some controversy about this song too.  The composer, John Pierpont, is said to have written the song in Medford, Massachusetts sometime in the 1850’s.  He moved to Savannah, Georgia where he received the copyright in 1857. The controversy stems from where he actually wrote it.  Although he certainly wrote about his memories of growing up in New England some factions in Savannah have provided a good case to show he was in Savannah when he wrote it.  Either way, there are markers in each city commemorating the site where each believe the little ditty was written.

One of the more interesting stories surrounds the “Twelve Days of Christmas”.  When you listen to it—it may strike you as light and nonsensical.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  From 1558 to 1829, Catholics in England were forbidden to practice their religion.  It was law.  If you were caught, it meant automatic imprisonment and perhaps hanging or you could end up a head shorter.  The song was written as a memory aid for children to learn their catechism.  Each strange gift in the song held a serious meaning.

First, the “True Love” refers to God, not an earthy suitor.  The “Me” represents every baptized person.  The “partridge in the pear tree” was Jesus Christ.  Christ was portrayed as a mother partridge feigning injury to protect her nesting young.  Here’s what the other gifts mean:

2  Turtle Doves: The Old and New Testaments

3  French Hens: Faith, Hope and Charity

4  Calling Birds: The Four Gospels or Matthew, Mark , Luke &     John

5  Golden Rings: The first five books of the Old Testament or the

Pentateuch

6  Geese-a-laying: The six days of creation

7  Swans-a-swimming:  The Seven Sacraments

  • Maids-a-milking: the eight Beatitudes
  • Ladies Dancing: The nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
  • Lords-a-Leaping: The Ten Commandments
  • Pipers Piping: The 11 Faithful Apostles
  • Drummers Drumming: the 12 points of Doctrine in the Apostle’s Creed

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is an outright invention of 20th century commercialism.  He first flew onto the scene in 1939 as a promotional gimmick for Montgomery Wards.  They asked one of their young copywriters, Robert May, to come up with a story for their annual Christmas coloring book.  The original story was nothing more than an adaptation of the Tale of the Ugly Duckling.  The first name considered was Rollo but that was considered to be too cheery for a misfit.  Then it was Reginald but that sounded too British so he settled on Rudolph.  He tried the story out on his 4-year-old daughter. She loved it.  May’s boss was a tougher sell.  He was worried about that red nose.  He was concerned that people would think they were endorsing drinking and drunkenness.

May and a staff cartoonist rushed to the Lincoln Park Zoo and drew pictures of deer and colored the noses red.  The illustrations were approved and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was born.  The retailer gave away 2.4 million copies that year—6 million by 1946.

After WWII, Rudolph was hugely popular. There were many demands for licensing the character. Because May created it while working for the company, they held the copyright.  May found himself hopelessly in debt after the death of his wife from a lengthy illness.  He persuaded Sewell Avery, the company president, to turn the rights over to him.  He was financially set for the rest of his life.  The story was turned into a nine-minute cartoon in 1948 but Rudolph hadn’t peaked yet.

May’s brother-in-law was the songwriter Johnny Marks.  It was Marks who composed the words and music that we sing today. It almost didn’t get recorded.  Many recording companies didn’t want to tamper with the Santa Claus legend so they wouldn’t touch it.  Finally, cowboy singer Gene Autry stepped in and recorded it in 1949.  It sold 2 million copies that year.  It went on to be one of the best selling songs of all time–second only to “White Christmas”.  In 1964, Burl Ives narrated the TV classic we see each year.

Then there’s the Grand daddy of them all—“White Christmas”.  Irving Berlin wrote the song for a 1942 movie called “Holiday Inn” starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.  The movie was about an inn that was only opened on holidays.  Berlin was commissioned to create songs for each holiday.  He later said that writing the Christmas song was the toughest of all.  Berlin performed the song for Crosby in 1941 and the crooner assured Berlin that it would be a hit.  That proved to be a gross understatement.

First performed for the public on Crosby’s NBC Radio show on Christmas night 1941, it went on to become the biggest selling single for 50 years. (Until Elton John’s tribute to Lady Diana, “Candle in the Wind”) “White Christmas” was the basis of a 1954 movie of the same name starring Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen and Danny Kaye.  Kaye wasn’t the first choice for the role.  Fred Astaire declined after reading the script, Donald O’Connor turned it down due to a back ailment.  It then fell to Kaye, who as it turns out, was a natural for the role.

The song also played a part in the end of the Vietnam War. An evacuation plan was put into motion to get the remaining Americans and loyal Vietnamese to safety.  The cue to begin the evacuation was a radio announcement saying it was “105 degrees in Saigon and rising” followed by “White Christmas”. When the song began—the exodus was on.

Each of these song’s writers felt a deep-rooted passion for the season and the many emotions it brings.  This year, when you hear these songs, you’ll know how they came to be. From my house to yours “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
10477328_10153529566332366_6381324282102410600_o

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized