25 December 2013

Merry Christmas From The Piedmont Chronicles

Merry Christmas, everyone! Here are a few of my past Christmas columns from About Covington to Madison magazine. The first is from 2009 and the second one is a short-story that was published in 2010, and the third is my Christmas Column from 2011. Hope everyone is having a joyous Christmas celebration. Until next time...


Christmas Time’s A Comin’
~from the December 2009 issue of About Covington to Madison~


Hey everyone. So glad to be back with you again. Wow, December already! It’s hard to believe. Time really does seem to speed up as we get older. But the Holidays are upon us once again and that makes me very happy. Christmas…man, it just doesn’t get much better. A celebration of faith, love, and fellowship—it’s obviously a very special time of the year.

What is Christmas exactly? That answer can be as varied as the people you ask. For a lot of us, Christmas is a celebration of the Lord Savior Jesus Christ as we remember his entrance to our earthly world. But Christmas is also simply about love. Love of our fellow man. Love of our families and friends. And love of the things we hold most dear. While Thanksgiving is certainly about giving thanks, Christmas, for me, is just as much about gratitude. It is also about the spirit of giving. But what about the history of Christmas?

The roots of Christmas go back to the Romans. They had a festival called Saturnalia that celebrated Saturn, the god of agriculture, marking the end of the fall harvest and honoring the winter solstice. During the heyday of Rome , this was the festival and was considered the most important time of the year. Other cultures and other peoples in other parts of the old continent also had celebrations around this time of the year. In the early years of Christianity, church leaders were looking for ways to help spread the Good Word, so in the 4th century A.D., they adopted the time of Saturnalia as the “Feast of the Nativity.” Within a couple of centuries, it had stuck and December 25 to this day remains the celebration of Christmas.

For many of us, Christmas always brings back memories of being young and anxiously awaiting Santa. The origins of Santa Claus are as interesting as the origins of Christmas itself. It starts with St. Nicholas, a monk born in the 3rd century who gave away all of his wealth to help the poor and sick. He was known as “Sinter Klass” by the Dutch and this would turn into Santa Claus by the 18th century. The image of Santa that most of us have with his red suit, large belly, and white beard can be traced back to the drawings of Thomas Nast in the 19th century and further reinforced with ads from the Coca-Cola Co. in the 1930’s.


There are many wonderful Christmas stories throughout the annals of history but perhaps there is none better than the story of the WWI Christmas truce. In 1914, on the fields of Flanders  German and British troops were squared off in their trenches fighting a terrible war. Then on Christmas Eve, German troops lit candles and started singing Christmas carols. The British followed suit and in no time, a truce had been called and the fighting stopped. Germans and Brits exchanged gifts, spent time together, and even played soccer. This phenomenon occurred in several other places along the battle lines and in some cases lasted all the way until New Year’s Eve. To me, that is a story that truly captures the Christmas spirit.

One of the key aspects of Christmas also has to be the music! There are so many wonderful Christmas songs. “Silent Night” is probably one of the better known and ingrained of all Christmas songs; it was written in the early 1800’s by a couple of Austrians. Originally written in German, it was later translated to English with a slightly different melody and that version is the one we know today. “White Christmas” has been ranked as the number one Christmas song of all time by several groups and publications. Written by Irving Berlin, the original recording was done by Bing Crosby. Speaking of Bing Crosby, if you want a real treat—search Youtube with the key words: Bing Crosby, David Bowie, and Little Drummer Boy. You will find a magnificent version of that song by two of the greatest artists of the 20th century. The title of this column is a new favorite of mine. I had never heard this song until I played it a while back with the Biggers Family Band—a country, bluegrass-gospel band that I play with from time to time with my wife and her family. But probably my all-time favorite Christmas song has got to be—“Come Home for Christmas” also known as “Bells Will Be Ringing.” Released by the Eagles as a Christmas single in 1978, it is such a great tune.

As I write this column, the calendar still reads November but I am starting to feel an almost child-like excitement for Christmas that I haven’t felt in years. It will be the first Christmas for my little baby girl and I am so very excited. From my family to yours—Merry Christmas &  Happy New Year.


A Good Christmas Indeed

A Christmas Novella by Marshall McCart
~My column (and my first published work of fiction) from the 2010 Christmas issue of About Covington to Madison Magazine including an online-only epilogue~

*****************

Walter was a helluva guy. An old-timer, no doubt, he was pushing eighty and looked and got around about as one would expect. He lived in a little shotgun house just down the way. From about late September until April or so, he would have a fire going in his fireplace just about everyday. And every time you would see him out and about, he'd have a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He'd been smoking a good sixty years and he'd always say with pride - “No breathin' or ticker troubles at all...Ha!!! Shows what them quacks know!”

For years you wouldn't see Walter out in the neighborhood unless you also saw Trigger, his little mutt-of-a-dog that he would walk at least twice a day pretty much year round. Trigger was a darn, good dog--loyal, attentive, and eager to please. He was a fine watchdog as well and was solely responsible for foiling a robbery attempt once a few years back. My God, I tell you, it was a sad day in the neighborhood when good ole Trigger broke his earthly chains and took his reward up in doggie Heaven. Walter was devastated. He told more than once that he “was definitely ready to die now.”

That's just crazy talk”, I'd tell him. “What about your son...your grand kids? I know you don't mean that Walter.”

Hell...you know how many times I've seen 'em in the last couple years?”

It started to dawn on me that I hadn't seen their minivan come down the road in quite a while.

Once! One time dammit! Seems like the prodigal son thinks I ruined his life, that I didn't do a good job raisin' him. Well, I could say the same thing about him and the job he's doin' with his kids, but I don't, you know...I don't do it! It's so easy to judge...”

I really felt for him during that time. I was fond of the old man, you see. I never got a chance to know either of my grandfathers and I kinda adopted him so to speak. We had some great, great times. A few years back, when things we're still good, me and Walter had a few too many one night out by my tool shed...we were basically just getting silly and out of control! When it was all said and done, the cops had gotten called! As my wife said at the time—it wasn't one of my finer moments...but yeah, we had some good times.

After Trigger died, I really kept a keen eye on the old man...I was worried about him, you know? At that age and with that type of loss...you just don't know. So I usually talked to him almost daily there for awhile. But then, and you know how this is, days turn to into weeks and then into months and then you just don't stay in steady touch like you'd originally planned. Things start to revert back to how they were.

I'd like to have Walter over for Christmas dinner,” I told my wife one night in early December of last year. “I feel like I haven't spent enough time with him lately.” My wife totally understood and thought it to be a fine idea. In fact, she insisted that we do it even though we were having most of her family over and even though Walter, in her words, was “rough around the edges.” She was really great about it. You might say that my wife is a darn, good woman!

At first, Walter absolutely refused, then he came around, then refused again, and this went on for about a week or so. Finally, I threatened to send some volunteers from one of the local churches to “elderly-sit” for him and he broke.

Nah...I can't handle that.”, he said. “I'll come to your [expletive deleted] dinner.”

So it was my wife, her folks, a couple of her cousins, my sister, a few friends...and Walter. You know, it's funny how a group of folks can come together and you just know that on that particular day, with those particular people, there just isn't another place on Earth that would be better. Football on the T.V., board games, playing old vinyl records, drinking, great conversation, great food, and more drinking! We all had such a fine time! In particular, everybody would get so entranced every time we could get Walter talking about his many interesting life stories especially his service in the Korean conflict.

Towards the end of the evening, my wife and I gave Walter his present. It was a framed picture of him and Trigger that I had taken a few years back. Walter thanked us profusely and I could see his eyes tearing up a bit as he took a sip of his scotch. You could have called it a “moment.”

Around eleven that night, Walter decided it was time to go home. Despite his objections, I insisted on walking him home. When we got to his front door he turned around and before I knew it, the old fella had given me a big hug. I was honestly taken aback. After the embrace, I realized that he had tears streaming down his his face.

You know Lev, I sure as hell don't know if I'd made it the last few years without you and that wonderful woman of yours.” He was really starting to bawl now.

Walter...hey man, it was truly our pleasure, you're like family to us.”

I know, I know...I feel the same way about y'all.”

We just stood there awhile until Walter, in pure Walter fashion, finally blurted out - “Well Alright! Get the hell outta here! You're startin' to wear on my nerves kid!”

I just laughed and started strolling on back to the house, but then I yelled back at him - “Oh yeah! At least I'm not old!”

Walter just kind of chuckled and said, “Hey, you're getting' older every day, buddy boy!”

Yeah...I'll give you that. So, hey! It was a pretty good Christmas , huh?”

For the first time in the almost ten years I'd known him, Walter looked completely content.
“Yessir”, he said, “it was a good Christmas indeed.”


Epilogue

Yes...it was a good Christmas indeed. It was a very special time and it's a Christmas that I'll never forget.

It was about 3 months later, in March of this year, that we learned that Walter had advanced colon cancer and was terminal. He had known for almost a year and while the doctors had only given him 6 months back in June of last year, he actually made it to August of this year. I'm happy to report that Walter and his son reconciled. He and his family were with Walter for the last several months. Of course, my wife and I were there as were several of the other neighbors. And while things got pretty bad the last couple of weeks, Walter was well cared for with Hospice and didn't really have to deal with any pain. In the end, it was really a blessing for him to pass on. I'd like to believe in Heaven...I really would. And if that is so the case, I'd like to believe that the first thing Walter experienced when he got there was Trigger running up to him and jumping in his arms. That thought always puts a smile on my face. I tell you—I really loved that old man. I think of him often and miss him terribly, but I'll always have the memories of that Christmas evening. 

 
 Merry Christmas
~from the December 2011 issue of About Covington to Madison~


It's that time of year again. Man, that is so hard to believe. How could we possibly be in December already? Well, Christmas is upon us once again, and I'm so excited! Although my wife and I have been blessed to share this wonderful holiday with our precious daughter for a couple of years now, this will be the first time that our little girl is able to kind of realize what's going on. We got our tree a couple of days ago and she was so excited. Once we got all of the lights and ornaments on, she just went, “Ooooohhhh!” She really likes it. She is also really excited about “Ho Ho,” her term for Santa. We'll see how excited she is when she actually sees him in person in the next week or so. I think she'll probably freak out a little bit...but we'll see. As I said in my Christmas article a couple of years ago, “while Thanksgiving is certainly about giving thanks, Christmas, for me, is just as much about gratitude.” I'm definitely a very grateful man.


As I also mentioned in that previous Christmas column, one of my favorite parts of the holiday is the music. I had written that the Eagles tune, “Please Come Home for Christmas,” was one of my favorites. There's another version of that tune that I've come across that I really like. It's a bluesy cover by Johnny Winter and can be found on Youtube. Use the key words: Johnny Winter Please Come Home for Christmas. It's a fantastic rendition by the Texas blues legend. Check out the guitar solo at the 2:40 mark. I've just recently found another version that absolutely blew me away. I saw it a couple of nights ago on the CMA Christmas special. Martina McBride performed that song and just killed it! That lady can sure enough sing!


Another aspect of Christmas that I really enjoy are the movies. Obviously there are so many great ones: “Miracle on 34th Street”; “It's a Wonderful Life”; “A Christmas Story” and many others. I have to admit, I'm partial to “Scrooged.” It's a comic take on “A Christmas Carol” starring Bill Murray. I'm sure many of you have seen it, but I really do love that movie. I particularly like when Murray's character “gets it” after the visit by the ghost of Christmas future and proceeds to take over the television show he's producing and shares his revelation with the world: “It's Christmas Eve! It's the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we smile a little easier, we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!” Great line...great movie!




I hope everyone has a safe, joyous and wonderful holiday season. From my family to yours: Merry Christmas!