Where were you last Sunday night at 9 PM? Or for that matter, the last four Sunday nights? If you are like millions of other Americans, you were mesmerized by the PBS program on your television set, “Downton Abbey.” This British soap opera style import is now in its fourth season, appearing on Sunday nights beginning in January and lasting for about seven weeks to the middle of February. It has been so popular that some airlines have a travel special to London in early Fall for those fans who just can’t wait until January and want an early look at the fictional activities of an aristocratic English family during a period just before and after World War 1. You may ask if I watch this stuff. Of course I do, don’t you? I’m hooked. I haven’t missed an episode in four years. Many years ago, in my working days, I timed my lunch hour to coincide with a very popular soap of the time, “As the World Turns.” I thought it was pretty entertaining and Anita and I watched it for several years. I’m not up on the latest daytime offerings but the last ones that I saw should be reserved for the late night time slots. Most would have to receive a PG-13 rating in the least if they were shown in movie theaters. “As the world turns” wasn’t like that back in the days when we were watching. Nor is “Downton Abbey” although on one or two occasions a warning that “viewer discretion is advised” has been issued. In an earlier “Ramblings” article, I talked about radio soaps back when I was a boy growing up in the Rock House on Red Lane. We always listened to “One Man’s Family” every Saturday night and on rare occasions, I would catch my mom tuned into “Ma Perkins,” which came on every weekday afternoon. Soaps have been around a long time. Now, this issue of Ramblings is not intended to be about “soaps” but instead about (drumroll, please!!) Opera. Now I am still in the kindergarten phase of my opera intelligence. Back when I was a boy, I remember the performances from the Metropolitan Opera in New York that came on the radio on Saturday afternoon, particularly those high, soprano sounds in some unknown foreign language. Then, some years later, Anita and I, along with Dr. John and Betty, attended a performance of the well- known opera, “Carmen”, in Memphis. Now, there are no “speaking parts” in an opera. Every word is sung. In the case of “Carmen,” the words were sung in French, the language of the composer, Bizet, who penned the opera in 1875. We were provided with a libretto (English translation) of this musical composition and tried to follow as best we could to the action that was taking place on the stage. It was the first and only opera that I have ever attended but I will never forget the beautiful, haunting aria “Habanera” or the “Toreador Song.” A few weeks ago, I was watching episode No. 2 of Downton Abbey. In this episode, the family is throwing a big party for several important invited guests and, for the evening’s entertainment, they have brought in a famous soprano from Australia. Imagine my surprise when she sang a beautiful aria by Puccini, “O Mio Babbino Caro.” (You can enjoy six different renditions of this aria on Youtube; check it out). I accompanied Fredericka on the piano when she sang this, and other arias, in a program several years ago at the community center. More recently, I recognized it as the background music on a car commercial on TV. At the memorial service for my good friend and mentor, Tom* Johns, those attending were treated to several operatic selections, some of which I am sure they had heard the melodies before, not knowing they were operatic. I had encouraged Tom* to write more about his career in the opera business in his “Tenoring” column, but he never did. Too bad. I’ll really miss his humor, his knowledge on just about any subject, his tenor voice in the church choir, his phone calls and e-mails, his love of the Ozarks and birds and cooking and fishing, and….all at once, I’m really lonely.
Friday, January 31, 2014
Saturday, January 18, 2014
As published in the White River Current - Thursday January 16, 2014
There is an old fiddle tune known as “The Eighth of January.” When I was much younger, I used to join with some other foot-stompers at the Legion Hut for an old-fashioned square dance. A small band of local musicians would accompany us with some hoe-down selections, such as TEOJ, as we bounced around the floor to the instructions of the caller. A favorite dance was The Texas Star: “Ladies to the center with their backs to the bar; gents to the center and form a star” he shouted as we huffed and puffed through the set. Years later, a school teacher from Timbo, Arkansas, added words to the old fiddle tune to help his history class learn about the last great battle of the War of 1812. His song was recorded by country star, Johnny Horton, and made James Morris (Jimmy Driftwood) famous and, probably, very wealthy. The name of the song was, of course, “The Battle of New Orleans” and recounted, in verse, the battle that occurred on January 8, 1815. For you history buffs, Elvis Presley was born on January 8, 1935 (he would have been 79). These things rattle around in my memory on January 8th every year. But one thing I will never forget. A very good friend died on that date last week. He was only 65. Tom Johns was my mentor. His column, “Tom’s Tenoring,” appeared in this publication on alternate weeks with the “Ramblings” until he became ill a few weeks ago. He died of lung cancer and, yes, he was a cigarette smoker. I first met Tom in 1976 a few weeks after he married Fredericka, a local girl. They were both working in summer stock, musical theaters in the northeast, when they fell in love. A short time after the ceremony, Tom travelled to Trier, Germany, to join his brother, Dick, in the opera company. Anita and I, with friends Don and Maxine, were vacationing in Germany and had dinner with Tom and Dick before continuing our trip, leaving the day before Fredericka arrived. The couple remained in Germany for 35 years while Tom sang tenor in the Trier and, later, the Munich opera companies. Tom began his writing while residing in Germany. He had a great sense of humor and would send e-mails of various lengths that would contain stories about farmer Brown and his cows or about the stealing of the Maypole. I think Tom saved all these writings on his computer and I hope that Fredericka will share some of them in this newspaper Tom and Fredericka retired a couple of years ago and moved back to Calico Rock where they soon became well recognized citizens of the community, volunteering their talents in many ways. Tom’s passing is a great loss to us all. Here is a question for you: What do the names Chesterfield, Phillip Morris, Old Gold, Raleigh, Lucky Strike and Camel have in common? Answer: They are all names of cigarettes that were for sale back in the 30’s. (Did you know that Ronald Reagan was the spokesperson for Chesterfield cigarettes on TV before going into politics?) Last week marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Surgeon General’s report on the dangers of smoking tobacco products, especially cigarettes. Every pack of cigarettes now contains the warning, “Smoking causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, and may complicate Pregnancy.” I’ll write more about this in my next column, but when Sidney and I were young boys, we decided to start smoking, because it was the thing to do. Both our dads and my granddad smoked. We started trying to smoke grapevines, then rabbit tobacco. Finally I invested a nickel (maybe a dime) on a sack of Bull Durham tobacco. Sidney had watched his dad “roll his own” and we smoked until we both got sick. Later, in high school, I became addicted, probably because of peer pressure. I am forever grateful that I came to my senses and ended this terrible habit. I count my stopping smoking as the greatest gift that I have ever given to my family. I only wish I could have persuaded Tom, George, Roland, Glenn and all the other friends that might still be with us if I could have been more convincing. I’ll carry this guilt with me the rest of my life. I read the other day that, even after all the warnings, 18% of the adults in the United States continue to be addicted to this horrible, costly habit. It cost Calico Rock the loss of a good citizen last week.
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
As published in the White River Current - Thursday January 2, 2014
HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Welcome, 2014; we are expecting great things from you. Hope you don’t disappoint us. After almost two years of sharing these Rambling columns, I’m finding it a little more difficult to get motivated to sit down at the old computer and hammer out some of my thoughts and memories. I don’t believe it is “writer’s block” but more old age and laziness. However, I still have a few things to say so I will continue visiting with you every two weeks, at least for a while. This is intended to be an opinion-editorial (op-ed) column but it is rare that I really offer my opinion on a particular issue, probably because I’m afraid to stray into those deep waters and also because my opinion wouldn’t amount to much. But, who knows? That may change if I can stir up enough courage. We’ll just have to wait and see. Anyway, goodbye to 2013. You brought us some good and, as usual, some bad. The good first. We have a new great-granddaughter, Ruby Erin Ward, born December 17th in Tulsa; parents are Ross and Leah. We haven’t met her in person yet, but we have Face-timed her a few times with Anita’s I-Pad and enjoyed the boo-coos of photos that have been posted on Facebook. Thanks for the miracle of cyber-technology. Now for the bad. Our group of oldies that we call the OFC lost two of its members last year. Darrell was a charter member. Annabell only attended the March meetings when we all celebrate our birthdays (everyone except Dean who was born in June but we let him celebrate anyway). We are down to five members. Also, a Calico Rock landmark disappeared on Sunday night, December 22, when a disastrous fire removed the historic two story building that was the first home for the congregation of the Calico Rock Cumberland Presbyterian Church. This is very sad for me because of several reasons. The building was erected about ninety years ago in a joint effort of the church and the masonic lodge. The church occupied the entire first floor. The masons and members of the Eastern Star Chapter had their meetings on the second floor that was accessed by a long flight of stairs just inside the back wall of the building. I am a member of all three of these organizations, joining the church in July, 1939 (almost 75 years ago), Acacia Lodge No. 625 in April, 1952 (over 60 years ago) and am a charter member of Guiding Star Chapter OES (over 50 years ago). The church moved to the present location in 1952 and the other two vacated the building several years ago when they moved to their new location on Highway 223. My dad, mom and granddad were charter members of the Calico Rock CP Church which was organized in December 1923. Other charter members included my mom’s sister and two of my dad’s nieces who would become my aunt and cousins when I was born a few years later. So you see, the church holds a lot of memories for me, some humorous, some otherwise. It was once said, if the church doors are open, the Perrymans and the Hudsons are there. In brief form, here are some of the memories that have flooded my mind over the last few days: My Uncle Roy, every Sunday before the close of Sunday School, responding to a request, would stand and say “Well, I read a little story this week”; Mr. Luellan’s daughter (who was a professional opera singer from New York and was home visiting her father) singing the beautiful hymn, “His Eye is on The Sparrow,” one Sunday night and the trouble we young boys had trying to keep from giggling when she rolled her R’s (Sparrrrrow); or the trouble that our Sunday School teacher, Orville Cheney, had when he attempted to describe to a group of six or seven young boys the meaning of a word that was in our lesson (the word was circumcision); or slumping down in our seats when Mrs. Ruth was called on to lead in prayer and she seemed to drone on and on (funny, but I’d give anything to hear her pray today. It is rare in our church that a member of the congregation is called on to pray. We have gotten too sophisticated, maybe, and just leave that part of worship up to the “professionals.” Well, there are many other memories that I might share later, but I’ve run out of space this time so I’ll just say Bye for now.