Hodgepodge, by Roy Hodge

Last week I picked up a quote from Patriot friend and columnist, Grace Lynch, from a Christmas time Patriot of many years ago: “The Christmas song says that Christmas comes but once a year – yet it comes with a flood of Christmases long gone by.”

Grace was speaking from experience, and she knew what she was talking about.

Last week when I was unpacking our Christmas decorations and spreading them around the house, there were hundreds of memories packed in the boxes along with the ornaments.

“No decorating before Dec. 15”

My mother loved the Christmas season but she had strict rules about decorating our house at Christmas time.

“No decorating before Dec. 15,” she said.  It was OK for us to bring the boxes of tree ornaments and other decorations downstairs from the attic and put them in one of the upstairs rooms, but, “no decorating until the 15th.”

Mom was even more strict about when the Christmas tree was put in place in the living room each year. For many years my father bought the Christmas tree and on Christmas Eve he put it in its stand in a corner of the living room. My mother decorated it after we kids went to bed – (and, finally, to sleep).

Going with my father to pick out the Christmas tree was a learning experience for us kids – and we weren’t necessarily learning to follow in his footsteps.

My father would go to the tree lot, pick out the first tree that he saw that looked right for our space and start negotiations with the tree salesman.

There were years when, even after all of Mom’s efforts at hiding missing and scraggly branches, Dad had to drill holes in the tree and put branches cut from the bottom of the tree in the empty spots.

A bucket of coal

In later years, Mom let me help her trim the tree that my father had put in the stand in the living room. For many of the earlier years the “stand” was a bucket filled with coal.

My father said the coal in the bucket held the tree firmly in place, and a little water mixed in with the coal kept it fresh.  Maybe, but what a mess if the bucket was dumped over. It was also Dad’s job to put the strings of lights on the tree.

Each year when we brought the decorations down from the attic and after my mother had told us that we had to wait to decorate, she had a little ritual of her own.  She would look into each box, take out several ornaments, and one at a time she would tell us the family history of those ornaments.

She knew which ones were on the tree when she was a young girl – a two or three year old in Ohio – and that was only part of the detailed report.

Many of my mother’s Christmas time and Christmas tree memories were from the years after her mother had died. She came to New York when she was three years old to live with her aunt and uncle.

A place for every ornament

My mother’s Uncle Than particularly enjoyed the holiday season and its customs. He spent many hours each year putting up the family’s Christmas tree. My mother said she was pretty sure that each ornament – many of them had been on many family trees in earlier years – was put in the same spot on every year’s Christmas tree by her uncle.

Unfortunately, our family’s genera-tions of children, along with the various cats and dogs which were part of the family, weren’t always kind to Uncle Than’s ornaments. However, some beautiful ones survived and are on our tree every year.

My mother had a unique way of finishing the tree decorating process each year – by throwing a layer of the tinsel strings that we called icicles on the tree.

And, she really did throw them on the tree, taking the box in one hand, several strands of the icicles in the other hand, and literally throwing them at the tree – and without any help from the younger members of the family – they really did, along with the lights, add a very festive look to the tree.

Each year our Christmas tree was the highlight of our festive holiday season – until Christmas morning when Christmas presents were piled high around it, spreading throughout our living room.

A history lesson

In addition to helping draft the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, and negotiating the 1783 Treaty of Paris which marked the end of the Revolutionary War, founding father Benjamin Franklin contributed many other things to our American culture.

For instance, Franklin had poor vision and needed glasses to read. He got tired of constantly taking his glasses off and putting them back on, so he figured out a way to make his glasses let him see near and far.  He had two pair of spectacles cut in half and put half of each lens in a single frame – today’s bifocals.

After his kite-flying experiments he invented – not electricity, but the lightning rod. He invented the Franklin stove and the odometer – as postmaster of Philadelphia he needed a way to keep track of distances.

When Ben retired he wanted to spend time reading and studying. Having difficulty reaching books from high shelves he invented a tool called a long arm (a long wooden pole with a grasping claw at the end) to reach the high books. He also organized the first lending library and the first volunteer fire department.

After purchasing “The Pennsylvania Gazette” he was elected the official printer of Pennsylvania. He invented a musical instrument called the glass armonica.  Beethoven and Mozart both wrote music for the instrument.

“Poor Richard’s Almanac” was an annual almanac published by Benjamin Franklin.  He adopted the pseudonyms of “Poor Richard” or “Richard Saunders” for that purpose.

Among the many proverbs printed in “Poor Richard’s Almanac”:

“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

“Now that I have a sheep and cow, everybody bids me good morrow.”

Remember, a couple of weeks ago I told you about an idea of Ben’s that didn’t make it past our new nation’s other founding fathers.

“Ben was pushing hard to make the turkey our national symbol. Yes, Ben had some good ideas, but I am thankful to wise minds on this one.”

. . . Roy Hodge

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