~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!
A Good Christmas Indeed
A Christmas Novella by Marshall McCart
~from the December 2010 issue of About Covington to Madison~
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 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 eve, 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.”
“Yessir”, he said, “it was a good Christmas indeed.”
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 well 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. At 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 that 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.
You can email Marshall at email@example.com
St. Patrick's Day
By Marshall McCart
~from the March 2011 issue of About Covington to Madison~
Greetings everybody! Hope all is well out there. As I write this column, we find ourselves in the third week of some wonderfully warm and spring-like weather. It’s been great. It’s hard to believe that we’re already having to put a “3” in the date section of our checks, isn’t it? And as March comes, so does St. Patrick’s Day—one of my favorite celebrations.
The old saying is that everybody’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m actually part Irish so I have somewhat of a vested interest in this celebration. As far as I’ve been able to gather, my great, great, great, great-grandfather, James McCart, was the one who traveled from the Mother Country to the States. It was his son and my 3rd great-grandfather, William Marion McCart Sr., who brought his clan to the Covington area in the mid 1800’s by way of Abbeville , SC and Lavonia , GA. But that is another tale for another time; one that I plan to write about in a future column.
So, what is St. Patrick’s Day exactly? It’s the celebration of St. Patrick, a 5th century A.D. Christian missionary who spread the good word and “cast out the serpents” from Ireland. The serpent bit is not literal or factual as it is believed that post-ice age Ireland never had any snakes. The serpents are more likely a symbol of the pre-Christian paganism and heathenism that gripped Ireland prior to Patrick’s arrival. More specifically, the Druids were the primary religious force in Celtic Ireland during this time. The Druids also acted as judges, teachers, and historians. They were also, unfortunately, the ones who carried out the sacrifices.
And this brings me to another family tie-in (sort of)—one of the last “High Kings” of pre-Christian Ireland was one Cormac Mac Airt (McCart), whom some McCarts are thought to be descended from. Cormac’s legend is somewhat questionable but it is thought to be at least partially rooted in fact. Cormac was prone to magic and received counsel from the Druids and met his demise by choking on a salmon bone after several years of rule. I’ve thought about trying to go to Ireland to retain the family’s rightful throne, but I don’t think the folks over there would be too impressed. But I digress…
Patrick, by all accounts, was a great man and almost single-handedly turned a pagan society into a Christian one. The celebration enjoys much interest in the cities and areas of our country that traditionally have had a lot of Irish immigrants. Boston , New York , Chicago , and other cities have large parades, green rivers, and lots of other festivities. Good ole Savannah , GA is known as one the best destination locations for those wanting to celebrate St. Patrick in the South. And as a quick aside, it’s not St. Patty’s Day—it’s St. Patrick’s Day!
But perhaps the best part of this holiday, for me personally, is that it is a perfect opportunity to fix one of my all-time favorite meals—Corned Beef, Potatoes, & Cabbage. I’ve been told by a few folks that I make the best they’ve ever had, so I thought I’d share my recipe with y'all.
Buy yourself a corned beef brisket at the store. It will come with some seasonings. Get yourself a bag of new potatoes, 2 medium onions, and a head of cabbage. Some say you have to use carrots to make it a truly Irish dish, but I disagree. I love carrots in a pot roast, but not for this.
I like to do mine in a Crock-Pot. Put it on high and fill it a little under halfway with water and add 6 oz. of Harp Lager and 2 shots of Irish Whiskey and throw in your brisket with the seasonings it came with. Then either quarter, third, or halve your potatoes (depending on how big they are) and throw them in. I’ll usually use 10-12 smaller ones or 6-8 larger ones. Add some of salt and pepper and let it cook for about an hour. Then cut up your onion and put that in with a touch more whiskey and beer (about a shot of the former & approx. 4 oz of the latter. Turn it to low and let it cook during the day while you’re at work. Then about an hour before you’re ready to eat, cut up your cabbage and put it in and add a touch more whiskey, beer, salt, and pepper. An hour later, and you're ready to eat. You can also do it in the oven at 350. Do the brisket and potatoes for an hour; then the onions for an hour; and then the cabbage for an hour.
When you're ready to serve, remember to cut the meat against the grain. If you're industrious, you can Google the recipe for Irish Soda Bread to go with the meal. I just use loaf bread. In terms of drink, I like to accompany my meal with Bushmills, either neat or on the rocks, and a nice “Half & Half.”—never to be confused with its more popular cousin, the “Black & Tan”, a ½ & ½ is created by pouring a half glass of Harp Lager and topping it with an equal amount of Guinness Stout.
Happy St. Patrick's Day everybody! And remember to wear something green or you just might get pinched by a rogue Leprechaun!
You can email Marshall at firstname.lastname@example.org . Previous columns can be found at his blog: www.thepiedmontchronicles.blogspot.com
Farewell to a Four-legged Friend
* I wrote this back in February of 2010 when we lost one of our cats. --MM
The world lost one amazing cat yesterday when Blossom McCart broke her earthly chains and went home to glory taking her reward up in Kitty Heaven. Although she had not been feeling too good the last few months, she had received much extra care and attention the last few weeks from her mother and I and I think she knew how loved she was and appreciated the kindness.
I first met Blossom in the early 2000's and was immediately taken with her beauty and loving nature. Once Ann and I began dating a few years later and living together not too long after, I got to know this wonderful cat more and more. I must say--I don't know if I ever met a more loving cat and while she may have not always been "sweet", she was always friendly, never mean, and any "business" she may have given was usually well deserved.
Ann and I knew that the first test with living together would be how my cat, Belue, would interact with Blossom and the two dogs--Hobo and Ruby. Things went relatively smooth. Belue basically ruled the dogs, but make no mistake about it, Blossom ruled all of them...and probably Ann and myself for that matter. Yes, the same Belue that has developed a reputation for terrorizing dogs (including a Pit Bull one time...seriously) and who once had me screaming like a little girl on top of a washing machine with blood streaming down my legs was no match for Queen Blossom.
One of Blossom's favorite past times was "making biscuits." This was where she would get up on your lap and start kneading her paws into you sometimes causing great pain. If you were insolent enough to say "ouch" or start complaining to her, she would just look at you with this expression of "What the hell do you think you're doing and who the hell do you think you are?" But that was just a small part of who she was. She was very perceptive--I think she could tell when things weren't quite right. She could brighten up your day just like that. And always, she was loving. She loved getting attention but she also loved to give it as well. And while most cats are very detached and aloof, Blossom was more sensitive and tuned in...she was something special, alright.
Yesterday, after I got back with her body, I dug a grave in a nice secluded spot in our backyard. Ann's niece was staying with us that day and she helped decorate a couple of pieces of granite that we used for her tombstone. We had a very nice ceremony and I think we all shed a few tears. It was tough on me. It was tougher on Ann. Her and Blossom had been together for about 14 years. That's a long time. And as many of you know, they really do become part of the family.
Blossom, you were such a sweet, sweet kitty. You will be sorely missed.
Christmas Time’s A Comin’
~from the December 2009 issue of About Covington to Madison~
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?
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.
Marshall can be reached at email@example.com
The History of Thanksgiving
By Marshall McCart*November 2010 edition of "About Covington to Madison" Magazine
Hello everyone! Good to be back with you once again. November already! Hard to believe, isn't it? Fall is in full force; college football is hitting the homestretch (and as a UGA man, I'll be “giving thanks” once this season is finally behind us); and Thanksgiving is just around the corner.
Many people consider Thanksgiving their favorite holiday—myself included. It's all about the gratitude we feel for the things we have and the people we love. Also, the traditional feast of turkey, dressing, and the rest of the fixins is pretty darned good. Some would also argue that while Thanksgiving has the food, family, and fellowship of Christmas, it doesn't have the stress and hustle and bustle that sometimes leads up to the December holiday. Of course, I think the people who say that usually aren't the ones doing the cooking! But what about the history of this wonderful holiday?
We all remember the story we learned in elementary school about the Pilgrims and Indians coming together for the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock. And while it wasn't quite so simple (and maybe not quite completely accurate either), that basic story is pretty much true. In 1621, the Pilgrims, led by William Bradford, had a three day feast to give thanks for their first successful harvest and invited several of the local Wampanoag Indians including their leader Massasoit. Also in attendance was Squanto--the Indian who translated for the Pilgrims and who also taught them how to fish the local rivers and to grow and harvest the corn and other crops that they were celebrating. It was quite a feast and included turkey, deer, lobster, fish, fowl, corn, squash, and cranberries. This type of celebration as well as its Autumnal timing was similar to the harvest festivals that many parts of Europe had been celebrating for centuries.
Going back to the line about the first Thanksgiving not being completely accurate, I say that because most historians agree that it wasn't truly the first one in the new continent. In 1619, English settlers in Berkley Hundred, near Jamestown in the Virginia colony, had a “day of thanksgiving” which was actually more or less a religious ceremony but did not include a feast. However, that still might not truly be the first one either as it has been documented that the Spanish had a thanksgiving celebration starting in the mid 1500's in modern day Florida. Also, in modern day Canada, settlers there started celebrating a “thanksgiving” in the late 16th century. So while the basic story behind the Pilgrims is true, it would be inaccurate to label it as the very first Thanksgiving in what is now America. As an aside, Canada also celebrates Thanksgiving but does so in September.
Another inaccuracy with this holiday is the popular misconception that it disappeared for over two centuries and was brought back to life by Lincoln during the Civil War. While Lincoln did issue a proclamation to make the final Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving in 1863, several earlier presidents had done the exact same thing including George Washington and John Adams. Also, many states, particularly in the North, had officially been celebrating the holiday decades before Lincoln.
Thanksgiving did not become an official national holiday until FDR and Congress did so in 1941. They specifically made the fourth Thursday in November (rather than the last) as the date for the holiday. A couple of years earlier, FDR had tried to move the holiday up a week to help spur Christmas sales during the lean times of the Depression. His idea flopped and many people, especially in the South, still celebrated on the last Thursday and jokingly referred to the earlier celebration as “Franksgiving” while some parts of the country simply celebrated both holidays. So after two years and “four” Thanksgivings, FDR and Congress made the change and it has been that way ever since.
There have been some recent trends with Thanksgiving particularly relating to the preparation of the turkey. The big thing lately has been deep frying the bird in peanut oil. Unfortunately, this has also led to Thanksgiving day becoming the number one day of the year for home cooking fires in our country. The experts stress three things. Make sure you're outside. Make sure the turkey is completely thawed out. And make sure you slowly submerse it—don't just drop it in there.
And finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one other thing...just in case there is anyone out there who hasn't heard about it yet. In Louisiana, they eat what they call a “turducken”, in which a chicken is stuffed into a duck which is then stuffed into a turkey and then cooked. That's just crazy! Although, I must admit, I really want to try it sometime. There is also a variation called a “gooducken” in which a goose is substituted for the turkey. Strange but true...
Well folks...that's all I got for this one. Hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving and maybe some of us will be dining on turducken this year!
Marshall McCart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous columns and additional writings can be found at his blog: www.thepiedmontchronicles.blogspot.com