Friday, December 20, 2013
As published in the White River Current - Thursday December 19, 2013
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go. Tis the season to be jolly. This is the favorite time of the year for most people. Time for parties, decorating, buying gifts, always keeping in mind the true reason for the season. It’s a time for families and friends to get together in a true spirit of fellowship and love. The word, merry, actually means “festive” so enjoy, have a good time, be generous in your giving and be thankful for the greatest gift of all, the gift of the Christ child. When I was a boy growing up in the Rock House on Red Lane, we always put up a tree, a cedar that came from out in the pasture. We decorated with the tinsel and ornaments saved from the previous year. My job was to drape the icicles over the branches. This was a time consuming job and I took it very seriously, trying not to break any of those fragile, silver strands. I wonder if they still make those things. Probably not with the brilliantly lighted, artificial trees that are now available. Our church always had special children’s programs and a party that was held in the American Legion building. This was mainly for convenience because the pews took up most of the space in the one-room church. Anyway, we played games, dunked for apples, laughed and ate cookies and ended our celebration with someone reading the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke and singing “Silent Night.” It was great fun. My mother always prepared a special meal for Christmas dinner. It usually consisted of chicken and dressing with the usual trimmings. She also made popcorn balls, fudge and divinity candy and other treats for us kids. I don’t ever remember my mother cooking a turkey at either Thanksgiving or Christmas. We always opened gifts on Christmas eve and went to bed early, hoping that old St. Nick might stop by the house and leave another present or two while we were asleep. He did pretty regularly for several years but as I got older, he failed to stop by, probably because I had been naughty and not nice. Those were great memories. I particularly enjoy the music of the Christmas season. Until a few years ago, singers from the local churches joined together to rehearse and present a community Christmas cantata for the enjoyment of a standing room only congregation. Donnie Speak and I would joke that we had to go by the hospital before rehearsal and get a hormone shot so we could hit the high tenor notes. We stopped having the community cantata when some of the churches decided they preferred doing their own thing. I have heard several requests to revive the community tradition next year. Hope it works out. You may remember several months back that I had decided to write a Christmas song and cash in on all the royalties it would produce every year. I still intend to do this, and also write a novel, but I have been so tied up in other activities that I haven’t been able to do much composing. What is that saying about a certain road being paved with good intentions? I still get goose bumps every year when I hear a reading of the Christmas story from the second chapter of Luke, King James version preferred: “And so it was, that, while they were there…she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger…And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Except for one brief passage, the Bible is silent about the boyhood experiences of Jesus. I wonder, did he have friends to help celebrate his birthday every year. I think so. And I can just hear his dad say something like this: “Jesus, your birthday is coming up next week and I have decided to rename the business from Nazareth Carpentry Shop to Joseph and Son Carpentry. You have learned the business well and someday, of course, it will all be yours. Don’t forget our motto ‘measure twice, saw once’ and always remember that ‘the customer is always right.’” Probably never happened but I expect that Joseph was one proud father. Merry Christmas, everyone, and I’ll see you next year with some more stories from the past. Bye for now.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
As published in the White River Current - Thursday December 5, 2013
It was a hot day in the middle of summer. My mother and I were doing something outside in the back yard of the Rock House on Red Lane where we lived. I remember it vividly. I can even close my eyes and see it. The sound reached us first, then we saw this huge, four engine airplane approaching from the south directly toward our house. It was low, I mean really low, and it was really loud and really large as it passed directly over us, proceeding north about a mile, then turning west. It was all over in a manner of seconds and the plane, which I recognized from photos as a B-24 bomber, was soon out of sight, taking the sound with it. An incident from my childhood that I have never forgotten. A boyhood friend, Charles Hudson, also witnessed the unusual event and wrote about it several years later. His remembrance is included in his collection entitled “The Prose, Poetry and Pitiful Projects of a Primitive Poet (Copyright, 1996). I have received permission to include Charles’ memory in this article. He entitled it “The Liberator.” ‘Twas in the middle of the day, and in the middle of the summer, under the hot summer sun; and there were scattered clouds, and it was 1943, and nothing much exciting ever happened in Calico Rock (population 1000) this time of year. Dad and I were rebuilding a stretch of fence to keep old Sybil from escaping her own lush pasture to graze in Jess Merchant’s peanut patch, or to work the meager fare of the Edington Road glade rocks. We’d set two sturdy new cedar fence posts, and we’d spliced the “bob” wire, and stretched it with a bar, and were busy stapling it to the posts when---we suddenly realized we were hearing a hum, and a moan and a throbbing drone, growing louder and louder in our consciousness. We jumped upon the bank, and we looked toward town, and there we saw it: that great huge B-24 “Liberator” bomber settling down over town two miles away and on a bearing straight for our house. Dad said excitedly: “Run tell the others. It must be Neill!” A good bet, I’d say, since my brother was the only B-24 pilot from Izard County—and maybe even from all of north central Arkansas. I “lit out,” yelling at the top of my lungs, but I could see that I was losing the race; the plane would beat me to the house by far. And what chance did an adolescent voice have against those four great 1200 horsepower Pratt and Whitney, Twin Wasp, air-cooled radial engines, close enough to command the attention of every human, and probably every critter in the area? But I could see that my mother and my brother and sisters were enjoying their panic, and were waving and jumping around in the yard. I guess we made it pretty easy if Neill looked down to see if he could see anyone. I stood there in the middle of the pasture, and watched that big beautiful shiny dark green airplane, with the vivid red and yellow and white and blue markings and lettering, fly ever so low around the house and turn back to the northwest to pick up whatever their planned route was for that day. I watched that great bird gain altitude and become smaller by the second, until it was a speck in the sky; and I could barely hear that fading doppler sound. And then I could no longer see it or hear it at all; and I could barely believe that it had happened. The excitement and the high that I experienced that day kept me from sleeping much that night, and it kept me from having much interest in repairing fences, or doing my chores, or much of anything else for a while. And it still stands out as one of the most vivid memories of my life. ‘Twas in the middle of the day; and in the middle of the summer; and in the middle of a war; and in the middle of my boyhood. Liberated! Charles spent the largest past of his life in California where he died a few years ago. He was my high school classmate. I’ll have more to say about the Hudson family in a forthcoming article. My next column will be in the Christmas issue of the Current, the last issue of the year. See you in two weeks.
(Note: This is a picture of a B-25 Liberator that I took at the airshow in Oshkosh WI in the summer of 2011. That's our daughter Sara posing in the picture. - Steve)