Category Archives: Hodgepodge

Roy Hodge, Columnist - Roy began his career at The Fulton Patriot in February of 1959 as a linotype operator.  During his long career, he performed every newspaper job — from paper delivery to editor and publisher. He has entertained readers with tales of his family’s antics and many interesting Fulton residents in his long-running “Hodgepodge” column. Roy retired from The Fulton Patriot in June of 2010.

Hodgepodge, by Roy Hodge

No Business Like Snow Business

The first time I mentioned the fateful “S” word in this space was in my third column when the short article was about Fulton’s first winter festival.

“Hey Dad, I went down and signed up for the snow sculpturing contest; it will be fun.”

That’s how the Saturday afternoon adventure started. The family members were gathered together in our front yard at the beginning.  Then, the chief adviser had to leave to do her grocery shopping.

There were a couple of mysterious disappearances, and some shouted directions from inside the window; finally, the fearless leader was alone in the front yard with a 20-foot-long hunk of ice cleverly disguised as a vicious dragon generously slathered with green food coloring.

And then the proud declaration the next day:  “Hey Dad, I won.”

In January, 1980 I wrote about the arrival of winter – “I knew winter weather had finally arrived in Fulton last week when everybody in our household was frantically looking for mittens, boots, snow pants, scarves, etc. . . . and when someone said, How many days until spring?”

“There’s No School Today!”

Adam was worrying about snow days in 1981.

“Since it was snowing hard when we went to bed, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the knock on the bedroom door in the morning.

“Mom, Dad, guess what, there’s no school today.”

There were columns about cross country skiing and neighbor Matt MacDowell, snow blower doctor.  It was Matt’s skillful touch which brought our faithful friend back to life from impending doom time after time.

During ensuing winters, I wrote about how winter weather causes us to reminisce about the hot days of last summer and last year’s vacation; and how some of us brag about our winters: “Our schools are allotted five ‘snow days’ a year but we didn’t use them because we ‘only’ got 200 inches of snow.”

In one column, I was trying to explain what a blizzard was, and in another I was talking about the winters I enjoyed as a kid: “When we were kids we used to think that Syracuse had more snow than other place in the world.”

Years later, living in Fulton certainly changed my mind about that.

Another year I admitted that I was never ready for winter, and the next year I was wondering whether the stormy weather we were getting should or shouldn’t be called a blizzard.

Winter Questions

In February, 1993, I was pondering many questions I had been asked: “Enough snow for you?”, Do you think it will ever stop snowing?”, “Where are we going to put all this snow?”, “How much snow have we got?” “Is there school today?”

And on and on.

As the years went on, I felt like a refugee of winter: “My car doesn’t have one of those electronic voices but if it did I know it would be telling me to ‘Go back inside stupid, it’s 20 degrees below zero out here.’”

I thought I would feel better if I reviewed the “Blizzard of ’66,” and every year I called John Florek at the water works and talked about the city’s depressing snow figures.

As the century turned I was exclaiming. “My car, it’s back, out there on the deck. What I was looking at was our outside cooker with a pile of snow on it.

The cooker itself was the body of the car, the shelf next to it was the hood. There were two little round piles that resembled wheels.  The cooker sits out there all year long and it’s a cooker; we get six inches of snow and it becomes a car.”

251 Inches; Then, “Unsnowiest” Winter

It was March 10, 2001 and Fulton had received 251 inches of snow for the 2000-2001 snow season.

When I called John Florek in January, 2002 he said it had been the “unsnowiest” winter since records had been kept in Fulton.  The city ended up with a total of 100.5 inches of snow that year.

In February 2007, I wrote that Fulton schools were closed for the fourth time in five days.  In January 2009 I was reminded that people in my family, who were farmers, used to say that a year of heavy snow would be a good year later on.

The official proverb puts it this way: “A year of snow, a year of plenty.”

In January 2010, I was telling readers that the first patents for snow plows were issued in the 1840s.  On Feb. 12, 2011, I noted some of us like to see snow in December, not so much in January, a little less in February, and don’t want to hear the word in March.

Monday, Jan. 30, 2012: While I was out in our driveway in Syracuse clearing away 3 inches of light snow, Jeff was in Fulton working on moving 3 feet of a new snowfall around.

A year ago, on Jan. 5, 2013, I was thinking about the winter days my friends and I spent at the dump – the natural in- the-backyards hill at the end of our street – with lots of roller coaster-like bumps and jumps.

Now, it’s January, 2014 – I am supposed to be taking our Christmas tree down, but I’m looking out the window at the 3 or 4 inches of new snow we have received here in Syracuse.

“It’s probably 2 to 3 feet in Fulton,” I thought.

Addendum:  Sometimes I have written about winter and snow at least as early as October – maybe September.

Oct. 6, 1981: After I stumble over the snow tires out in the garage for the fourth or fifth time, I figure that someone thinks it’s time to put them on the car. . . and when the windshield scraper finds its way out of the depth of the trunk, or wherever it has been, the end is really near.

My mind is remembering a Fulton snow storm in March of 1993, after which I was too busy shoveling snow to write a column.

But, after all, it was most likely “just another day” in Fulton’s winter story. The storm that I am remembering happened on Jeff’s birthday; the two of us spent the day shoveling snow.

Happy birthday, Jeff!

. . . Roy Hodge 

Hodgepodge, by Roy Hodge

Reading Old News

Packing away the Christmas decor-ations is a part of the holiday routine that I don’t particularly enjoy.

Like almost everything that “has to be done,” that job is not a whole lot of fun.

But, there is a small part of the process that I like and even look forward to. I enjoy looking through and reading some of the old papers used to wrap everything up before it is put in boxes to go back in the attic.

Since we use the same papers for a few years, until they are useless, it is an opportunity to jog my memory, news wise.

A story about celebrities observing their 60th birthday during the year ahead was the feature article on a newspaper page dated Jan. 6, 2006. President Bill Clinton, Dolly Parton and former Yankee Reggie Jackson would all turn 60 in 2006 according to the article.

The next day, on Jan. 7, 2006, President Bush shrugged off a report showing weaker than expected job growth and declared that “the American economy heads into 2006 with a full head of steam.”

Some of the pages that have been wrapped around our ornaments for a couple of years include a tattered half page from a Jan. 5, 2012 newspaper. One of the half stories on that page is about Alexander Gardner, a Civil War era photographer.

Gardner is credited with taking some of the Civil War’s most famous photos – photos of the Civil War battlefield at Antietam, stark pictures of the hanging of the Lincoln conspirators, and portraits of Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and George McClellan.

The well-worn comics page from another 2012 issue features the antics of Garfield, Mother Goose and Grimm, Gasoline Alley, Blondie’s Dagwood and his boss, Mr. Dithers, Beetle Bailey and Charlie Brown.

On Dec. 3, 2008 a front page headline wondered “Do Weather Forecasters Really Have a Clue About This Winter?”  The answer: “Nope, Not This Year.”  So what’s new?, or in this instance, “What’s Old?”

A Trip Back in Time

I enjoy going to the jazz concerts hosted by the Jazz Appreciation Society of Syracuse (J.A.S.S.).  The musicians are usually familiar to the club’s members – Sunday it was the “Djug Django” group from Ithaca, well known for their Django Reinhardt arrangements. Reinhardt is often regarded as the greatest guitar player of all time.

Concert attendees are always happy to hear the band’s stylized renditions of old standards.

“Two Sleepy People” was written in 1938 by Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser. It was recorded by Carmichael himself, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and others and was performed in the film, “Thanks for the Memories,” by Bob Hope and Shirley Ross.

“Nagasaki” was a popular Tin Pan Alley hit written in 1928 by Harry Warren and Mort Dixon. The most famous rendition of the song at the time was by the Benny Goodman Quintet.

“Straighten Up and Fly Right” was written in 1943 by Nat King Cole and Irving Mills, performed by the King Cole Trio featuring some great lyrics by Cole – with a monkey telling a buzzard to “Straighten up and fly right, Cool down Papa, don’t blow your top.”

A Tribute to the “Emperor”!

The band also offered their versions of other favorites – “Brazil,” “Frankie and Johnny,” “Get That Jive, Jack,” “Creole Love Song” and “Take the A Train,” two Duke Ellington hits; “Sleepy Time Down South,” Louis Armstrong’s longtime theme song, ”Emperor Norton’s Hunch,” and a lot others.

“Emperor Norton’s Hunch” is one of my favorite traditional jazz songs. It is alive and peppy, a real rouser which tells a story through music of a real person.

The real person was Joshua Abraham Norton, an Englishman who came to San Francisco, accumulated a fortune, lost the fortune, left San Francisco; he returned to the city several years later a little bit “mentally unbalanced”, and claimed himself as the “Emperor of the United States”.

His “reign” over the city lasted 21 years; the city’s residents loved him and when the Emperor died in 1880, up to 30,000 of them lined the streets of the city in a two-mile funeral cortege to pay homage.

It’s all portrayed in this happy, peppy musical tribute without words – which even contains a chance for some audience participation.

It was a good time with good friends and good music.

Fulton’s snow

When I called John Florek at the Fulton Water Works on Tuesday to ask about snow figures, I told him that I had been calling him for facts and figures for many years.

“This is our 39th season of keeping track,” John said. “Sam Vescio was here in ’75-’76, and I came on for the ’76-’77 season.”  I knew that it had been a long time, but I’m not sure that I wanted to know exactly how long.

Getting back to this year, I was talking to John for the first time this winter, and quickly learned that as of Jan. 13, 75.8 inches of snow had been recorded at the Water Works.

He also told me that the normal amount for that date is 78.0 inches.  Well, I thought, we’re doing okay in that department.

Last year on the same date that total was 53.9 inches and the city finished up with a total snowfall amount of 206 inches. Oh, oh.

I knew from experience that once John starts talking about Fulton’s snowfall he doesn’t need a lot of encouragement to keep going. He talked along enough Tuesday to tell me that the lowest amount of snow Fulton had received by Jan. 13 during the years of record keeping was 15.25 inches in 2002. During 1996, the city had received 169.25 inches through that date.

So far, we seem to be doing okay, but   . . .  keep those shovels handy.

                                   . . . Roy Hodge 

Hodgepodge, by Roy Hodge

Call the Doctor

I remember when Milton Berle, Red Skelton and Pinky Lee were on television.

And not only that, I remember when doctors made house calls.

“Wow, you are really old. Did they come by horse and wagon?”

Well, not quite, but they came to our front door carrying their little black bag.

Dr. Ostrander and Dr. Thornton were the two who came to our home during the 40s when I was “too sick to go to school.”

I can remember both of them, but especially Dr. Thornton, who was my mother’s doctor when she was growing up.

The thing I remember most about those two doctors was that “little black bag”  they carried with them. Several tools of their trade were in that bag.

I was fascinated by the instrument that the doctor used to listen to my heartbeat, officially known as the stethoscope. I remember Dr. Thornton letting me listen to my own heart ticking.

There were always some little pills in the doctor’s bag, one for the patient and one for his little brother. We looked forward to that little pill when we discovered  it tasted a lot more like candy than like any kind of medicine could have tasted.

I especially remember a particular visit by Dr. Thornton. That day I had told my mother that I was too sick to go back to school after lunch. It wasn’t the first time she had heard that; she told me I would feel better when I got back to school.

“I think he’s really sick this time,” my friend Tucker told my mother, saying I had a hard time walking home from school.

Later in the afternoon, my mother called Dr. Thornton. After checking me over, Dr. Thornton told my mother I had all the symptoms of appendicitis.

Later that evening, he returned and Dr. Dyer, a surgeon, was with him. They had trouble finding a hospital room, but they finally did. They scheduled surgery — the next day my appendix was removed.

Dr. Ostrander was familiar with my father’s family for a long time. I don’t remember my father ever going to a doctor when I was growing up but if he did, it would have been Dr. Ostrander.

I went to Dr. Ostrander’s office when my grandfather was in charge of getting me to a doctor. I remember his white hair and I thought he was old. And, of course, I remember his “little black bag.”

TV game shows

I hadn’t watched a television game show in many years until a couple of weeks ago. We were at a pub/restaurant and the room was full of men who stopped after work for  liquid refreshment.

They were all involved in watching “Wheel of Fortune” on TV.  They were shouting answers, cheering and having a good time.

A few days ago, while visiting friends, we were watching the Wheel and Jeopardy on their new digital television set. I hadn’t watched either show in many years, except for the short time with the men at the restaurant last week, but I fondly remember watching “Jeopardy” every week night several years ago when visiting my mother.

Mom rattled off the answers quicker than the contestants, while I just sat and watched.

While watching my friends’ television set I discovered that I still don’t know the answers, and when I do, I forget to put them in the form of a question.

I was glad to see that Alex Trebeck, Pat Sajak and Vanna White are still going strong. I thought that Vanna looked particularly good on digital TV.

40 Winks

I do a lot of the writing that I do while sitting in the most comfortable chair in the house. While thinking about what I want to write and how I want to write it, I often begin to get sleepy and soon drop off for 40 winks (or even a few more than that).

Sometimes, when I open my eyes after a short (or not so short) nap, I seem to have gotten new ideas while I was “resting.” Other times I have no idea what I was thinking about and have to figure out where I was going with the half-finished thought that I left behind on paper.

This is a fairly recent development created by the fact I am now categorized as a “retiree,” and as part of that designation I have also officially become a “napper”.

A good sermon

As the father of a minister, I shouldn’t be telling minister jokes, but here’s a couple I couldn’t resist.

“The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending, and to have the two as close together as possible.” — George Burns

“The best illustration of the value of brief speech reckoned in dollars was given by Mark Twain. His story was that when he had listened for five minutes to the preacher telling of the heathen, he wept and was going to contribute $50.

“After 10 minutes more of the sermon he reduced the amount of his prospective contribution to $25.

“After half an hour more he cut the sum to $5.

“At the end of an hour of oratory when the plate was passed he took $2.”

 

. . . Roy Hodge

Hodgepodge, by Roy Hodge

Christmas in the White House

In 1834, President Andrew Jackson held a “frolic” for children of his household.

The party included games, dancing, a grand dinner and an indoor “snowball fight” with specially made cotton balls.

There’s an 1880 reference to President John Tyler hosting a children’s party in the 1840s at which there was a Christmas tree with gifts.

The first White House Christmas tree, decorated with candles and toys, was placed in the second floor oval room in 1889 for President Benjamin Harrison and his family.

In 1895, the Grover Cleveland family strung electric lights on their Christmas tree.

President and Mrs. Theodore Roose-  velt, an avid conservationist, did not approve of cutting trees for decoration.  However, his son Archie smuggled in a small tree that was decorated and hidden in a closet.

President Teddy Roosevelt and his family would pile into the family sleigh (later the family car) and travel to a Christmas service at Christ Church in Oyster Bay, N.Y. Following the sermon Teddy would deliver one of his “sermonettes” on the meaning of Christmas.

Official Tree in Blue Room

The official White House Christmas tree is decked out annually in the White House Blue Room. The first tree in that room was decorated by President William Taft’s (1909-1913) children.

President Calvin Coolidge was the first president to preside over a public celebration of the Christmas holidays with the lighting of the National Christmas tree, in 1923.

First Lady Lou Henry Hoover established the tradition of presidential wives decorating an official tree in the White House in 1929.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt would set up and decorate a tree on Christmas Eve, gather the family together, and either read Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, or recite it from memory.

In 1953, the first White House Christmas card was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, an artist in his own right.

A 50-year tradition

Having the First Lady choose a theme for the White House Christmas tree is a 50-year tradition established in 1961 when Jacqueline Kennedy decorated the Blue Room Christmas tree with gingerbread men, snowflakes and small toys from her favorite holiday ballet, “The Nutcracker.”

In 1977, First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s tree featured ornaments made from pine cones, peanuts and eggshells.  In 1980 she highlighted a Victorian theme.

Nancy Reagan, in 1988, hung ornaments from previous Blue Room trees, including hand blown glass ornaments from the Eisenhower White House and flower-themed ornaments from Pat Nixon.

First Lady Betty Ford’s tree was decorated with homemade ornaments.

Over her eight White House holiday seasons, First Lady Hillary Clinton displayed talents of America’s artistic communities.

First Lady Laura Bush included the theme of “All Creatures Grand and Small” in 2002 and a patriotic “Red, White and Blue Christmas” in 2008.

This year, Michele Obama’s tree is filled with photos of military families and their homecomings. She also had kids living on military bases create cards shaped like their home states.

Traditionally, the tree in the Blue Room is the official White House Christmas tree, but generally there is more than one Christmas tree in and around the White House.

For instance, in 1977 there were 36. In 2008 there were 27.

Just so you’ll know

Clement Moore wrote his famous “A visit from St. Nick,” which is better known as “The Night Before Christmas,” in 1824.  There is some thought that the true author of this poem is Major Henry Livingston, Jr.

Gift giving became a tradition in 1857, and in 1897 Francis Church wrote his famous “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” in The New York Times.

The song, “White Christmas” was written by Irving Berlin and sung by Bing Crosby in 1942.

The first Christmas postage stamp was issued in Canada in 1898. The first Christmas stamp issued in The United States was the four-cent “Wreath and Candles” stamp in 1962.

Happy New Year!

A new year has started, time for a new routine.

Just look at the calendar, it’s two thousand fourteen.

When the new year comes, it’s nice to make changes.

Maybe try to be more patient, nicer to strangers.

Say you’ll be nicer, eat less and exercise more,

Resolutions we have all heard before.

As the old year ends, look back with gratitude,

Enter the new year with a positive attitude.

Good luck and much happiness – you know what I mean.

And remember — when writing checks, it’s 2014.

 

. . . Roy Hodge

Hodgepodge, by Roy Hodge

I received a special Christmas card this year, sent to The Valley News by Bea LaClair.

I knew that Bea wouldn’t just sign her name; I was sure that she would write a few lines. And she did.

Bea, who now lives in Liverpool, wrote, “The Fulton Patriot may be out of business, but your column is still going. You still write a good story and bring back memories. I hope you will continue for a long time.”

Bea, who wrote that she is now 85, also had praise for my son, Jeff, now known as “Rev. Jeff”.

Bea must read each week’s paper very thoroughly. In a recent column I wrote that plum pudding “is composed of many dried fruits and is held together by eggs and suet, sometimes moistened by treacle or molasses.”

Bea asks, “What is treacle?” Bea, my dictionary describes treacle as “a mild mixture of molasses, corn syrup, etc. used in cooking or as a table syrup.”

I have known Bea LaClair for many years, but before I met Bea I knew her mother, Angie LaClair, who was known to everyone in Fulton as Gram, and likely is still remembered by many.

I met Gram when two of my sons and two of her great grandsons were in Cub Scouts at State Street Church in the 60s.

She was Gram to everyone, and I wrote in a column in 2006, “The neatest thing about Gram was that she was always willing to sit down at the old piano in the church basement to get the group of young boys and their parents singing.”

I continued, “Later on I got to know Gram as Angie LaClair. I was around many times when Gram would keep an old piano in this room or that hallway busy, and someone was always willing to join in on the song.”

I heard from my friend Bea after the column featuring Gram.

“I loved the column,” Bea said, “but you got one thing wrong — I forgot to tell you that our name is spelled with an a, as in LaClair, not with an e, as in LeClair.”

Bea explained, “When our family came to Canada many years ago from France our name was spelled LeClair as that is the French Canadian spelling of the name.”

Bea said when her father, Edmund, moved to the United States from Cornwall, Ontario he wanted to honor his new country by using the American spelling. “So he had his name legally changed from LeClair to LaClair,” she said.

Thanks for the card, Bea. And thanks for the memories.

‘Tis the season for cookies

An important part of the Christmas season for me and those around me through the years — wherever I have been hanging around — is making, eating and sharing with other people those wonderful morsels of holiday cheer — the cutout, decorated cookie.

For the uninitiated — if there is such a thing — that would be the flat, shortbread-y (new word) cookie of many holiday shapes, covered with colorful frosting and “sprinkles,” baked by the dozens — and eaten the same way.

We have a large jar full of cookie cutters in many, many shapes. Some of them definitely fit into the holiday scene – Christmas trees, Santa’s boot, and yes, Santa himself, along with stars, bells, angels and a gingerbread man.

Most of those shout “Merry Christmas” right back at you, but there are many other cutters of many different shapes in that jar.

When is the last time that you saw a pig in your Christmas stocking? Wait a minute — could that be in honor of Christmas dinner?

Also in the jar are a hippopotamus and an elephant. Forget about Christmas dinner for those two. There are a couple of mooses (or is it meese?)  Well, wait a minute — we could have a couple of different relatives of Santa’s reindeer here.

Mrs. Pringle’s cookies

I wrote about Mrs. Pringle’s cookies in December, 1985:

Mrs. Pringle was the mother of one of the girls who worked in my wife’s office at the telephone company in Syracuse more than 25 years ago.

My association with Mrs. Pringle during the past 26 years has been once a year during the holiday season by way of a recipe in our Christmas cookie file.

For years, I guess I never questioned the genealogy of our Christmas cookies. On Sunday, with the holiday cookie baking process getting underway at our house, I discovered the true story behind how Mrs. Pringle’s Christmas cookies made their way into our cookie jar.

I was told on Sunday that when my wife was growing up, one of the expected treats of the season were the cookies baked by her grandmother – the kind shaped like Christmas trees, Santa Claus, angels and bells.

Grandma probably inherited the recipe from her family in Germany, and turned the holiday favorites out by the hundreds every year. Grandma probably never gave a thought to the fact that the ingredients list started out with five pounds of flour and a dozen eggs.

The problem came after the new bride asked for Grandma’s recipe. No one could figure out how to turn five pounds of flour and a teacup of this and another teacup of that into just enough cookies so we wouldn’t still be eating them at Easter time.

That’s where Mrs. Pringle came to the rescue. It seems that Mrs. Pringle’s family had passed along the same prized recipe and someone along the way had translated it into cups and teaspoons.

As a tribute to the holiday season, Grandma Seils, Mrs. Pringle and the hundreds of those cookies I have eaten over the years here is the recipe:

Grandma Seils’ Christmas Cookies

3 cups flour, ½ tsp. baking powder, 1½ tsp. salt, ½ cup sugar, 1 egg, unbeaten, 2 tsp. vanilla, 1 cup margarine.

Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Beat margarine and sugar thoroughly. Add egg and vanilla. Beat until fluffy.

Gradually stir in sifted dry ingredients until well blended. Roll small amounts of dough 1/8 inch thick.  Shape with cookie cutters.  Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes.  Ice with different colors frosting

Okay, we’re ready.  (You could let the frosting dry.) Chomp happily away … and Happy New Year.

… Roy Hodge

Hodgepodge, by Roy Hodge

Dear Dad

First there was a note on my dresser with a message – Dear Dad, see page 242 in the Christmas catalog.

That subtle missive led me to a check mark in the Christmas catalog next to something called “Radio Controlled Fat Wheels.”

A couple of days later copies of an intricately prepared 15-item Christmas list began appearing around the house. Lest prospective readers of that list be discouraged by its length, asterisks led to a supplemental listing whereby each item was given a yes, no or maybe, denoting its importance.

Not surprisingly, the yes column held a healthy lead at last look, strengthened by number 13 – money, with its yes in capital letters.

Another sure sign of the approaching season – a few days ago we were asked for Grandma’s address. No doubt, in a few days Grandma will be receiving one of her annual letters reading something like this: “Dear Grandma, how are you and Grandpa? I am fine. Here are some things I would like for Christmas this year.”

Then will follow Grandma’s own copy of the hallowed list. And, if she’s lucky, it won’t even be a carbon copy. But the crayons will be getting dull by then.

I think I may have found something useful in all of those catalogs and TV commercials, though. Someone is advertising a durable 42-key toy typewriter. Could that lead to a much improved, neater Christmas list next year? Maybe even double-spacing.

-Hodgepodge, Nov. 20, 1979

Other Christmases

I started writing “Hodgepodge” in 1979. In December I wrote my very first “Christmas column.”

That year I wrote about people watching at airports, about letters kids wrote to Santa, and about one special letter I was given to mail that year: On the outside of the envelope was the following note: “Dear Santa (or Dad) please send a copy of this list to Grandma.”

The following year 1980, I wrote this column:

It’s a well-known fact that television watching is down this week before Christmas. I also read somewhere that people, this week when they are deeply involved with last minute holiday preparations, will just browse at the ads and the headlines in the newspapers.

That’s okay with me. If the readers are too busy to read, the writers won’t have to write. And it couldn’t come at a better time. Since I’m not going to write a column this week I won’t have to interrupt watching the 54th television special of the Christmas season.

I’m glad I’m not going to write a column this week. Instead of laughing at and cleverly detailing this last hectic week before Christmas, I can just ignore it and relax.

If I were to write an article this week I’d probably have to think of something cute to say about that last Christmas shopping expedition; the one you make a couple of days before Christmas – long after you have vowed not to spend another cent. That’s when you find yourself face to face with a sweet old grandmother who could probably go eight rounds with Ali and you’re having a tug-of-war over the last pair of stockings in your wife’s size.

Since I’m not doing a column this week I won’t have to go into detail about those Christmas letters we receive from our friends every year. The ones that go on and on about the many accomplishments of themselves and their kids and make you ashamed to look at your kids or into a mirror for a week.

Another good thing about not writing this week: I won’t have to agonize any further by telling readers about my annual five-hour bout during which I transform a beautiful tree growing freely in the great outdoors into a poor bedraggled heap of needles standing in the corner of my living room.

And best of all, if I don’t write a column this week, I won’t have to re-live in type those horrible hours spent every Christmas Eve assembling this year’s new toys.

It’s a real load off my mind now that I decided to take a vacation from writing this week.

If I were writing this week (but I’m not) there is one positive thing I would say:

Have a Merry Christmas.

No “Christmas column”

So for the next several years I didn’t write a “Christmas column” — my column the week before Christmas was about my pledge not to write a Christmas column. But I did and that week I wrote my last “I’m not going to write a column this week” column.

From December 22, 1986:

Some traditions aren’t all that easy to get established, but then again, they don’t die off without a fight either.

A few years ago I started what I thought would be a long standing tradition during the week before Christmas. I decided to write my Christmas week column about how I wouldn’t be writing a Christmas week column.

The problem is that some opposition seems to have grown up around that concept.

“Don’t tell me that you’re going to write that same old column about not writing a column.”

So, it’s time for a change in strategy. This year I’m not only not going to write a column; but I’m certainly not going to take the time to write a column about not writing a column. And that’s final.

Good advice from Dickens

Several years since then I have ended my Christmas week column with this:

Charles Dickens, who wrote and said a lot about Christmas said, “It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas when its mighty founder was a child Himself.”

Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

. . . Roy Hodge

 

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

Hodgepodge, by Roy Hodge

There are many things that I have learned, or at least remember one more time, by looking through some of the columns that I have written at Christmas time:

One of the worse things about the week after Christmas is seeing that almost all of the gifts that you purchased are now on sale.

You may not care (maybe because it is too late to send a card now) but lost in the shuffle between Christmas and New Year’s is Woodrow Wilson’s birthday on Dec. 28.

Did you know that there are no plums in plum pudding?*

I haven’t had cookies and milk for a bedtime snack on Christmas Eve since the kids have grown up.

This is the time of year that you start wearing lots of different ties — perhaps two a day if possible — so everyone will be convinced that you don’t need any more.

Almost every advertised price this holiday season, regardless of how lofty it may appear to us, is preceded by the word “ONLY.”

Why is there always some kind of a bill mixed in with the last of the Christmas cards?

How much time do we spend each year before Christmas trying to find the end of the Scotch tape roll?

Gift giving became a tradition in 1857.

Santa Claus is the American adaptation of St. Nicholas, a legendary European figure who brings presents to children on Christmas Eve. The name Santa Claus is derived from the Dutch “Sinter Klass.”

‘Tis the season to realize how wonderful it would be if our world could fulfill the eternal wish of the season —“Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men.”

And this, from one of the late Grace Lynch’s Christmas columns: “The old song says that Christmas comes but once a year, yet with it comes a flood of Christmases long gone by.”

*No plums in plum pudding?

Despite its name, plum pudding contains no actual plums due to the pre-Victorian use of the word “plums” as a term for raisins or other fruits.

The pudding is composed of many dried fruits and is held together by eggs and suet, sometimes moistened by treacle or molasses. It is flavored with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and other spices.

The pudding, also known as “Christmas Pudding,” is traditionally served on Christmas Day as part of the Christmas dinner.  It has its origins in medieval England.

The pudding is aged for a month or even a year. It can age for a long time because it has so much alcohol in it and never spoils. The mixture can be moistened with the juice of citrus fruits, brandy and other alcohol.

Some recipes call for dark beers such as mild, stout or porter.

Cheers!

Oh, Christmas Tree!

President Franklin Pierce had the first Christmas tree in the White House in 1856. Thomas Edison’s assistants came up with the idea of electric lights for Christmas trees. President Theodore Roosevelt banned Christmas trees from the White House for environmental reasons.

In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge started the National Christmas tree lighting ceremony now held every year on the White House lawn.

The tree became a temporary victim of World War II and in 1941 there were fears it wouldn’t be lit due to post-Pearl Harbor security concern, but it was eventually lit.

The 1942 tree wasn’t lit at all to conserve power and to adhere to wartime restrictions. The tree wasn’t relit until after the war.

In 1948, President Truman lit the tree by remote control from his home in Missouri. The tree was also lit by remote control in 1955 after President Eisenhower suffered a heart attack.

In 1963, the National Christmas tree wasn’t lit until Dec. 22 because of a national 30-day period of mourning following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

In 1979, the National Christmas tree wasn’t lit except for the top ornament.

There is a story behind the absence of lights on the tree in 1979. When President Carter’s daughter, Amy, went to light the tree only the star on top of the tree lit up.  President Carter told the crowd that it would remain that way until the hostages were freed.

The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition began in in 1933.

A total of 77 million Christmas trees are planted each year, and 34 to 36 million Christmas trees are sold each year.

… Roy Hodge