Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Peace Be With You

Park Street Church, Boston, in warmer days.

A very Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and a Happy New Year to all.  In appreciation for the pleasure of your company this past year, I’m offering my eBook collection of essays from this blog, “Classic Films and the AmericanConscience” here from Amazon for free Christmas Day through the 27th.  This will be the last time this book is offered free; in the new year it will be available not only through Amazon but also through Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Apple, Sony, Diesel, Kobo, and Smashwords.
I’m going to take a couple weeks off to tend to some other business, but I’ll be back in late January.  I hope you can join me.
This is going to be a difficult Christmas for many who have suffered tragedy and loss this year; and for the people of Newtown, Connecticut, December will never ever be the same. 
A few weeks ago on my "Another Old Movie Blog", I blogged about “Cry Havoc” a movie which takes place in the Philippines during World War II.  I was reminded by many images through that film of my father. 
My father entered the Army in December 1942 and missed Christmas at home that year.  He had a wife and a new baby.  He was sent to the Pacific Theater of operations and island-hopped with all the rest of the gang, and Christmas of 1943 passed by, and then Christmas 1944.
There were no telephone calls home, no emails, only letters and tiny “V-Mail” notes that took weeks to get home.  He sent Christmas messages home in early November, hoping they would make it in time.
In the summer of 1945 he was in the Philippines, and endured horrific experiences he did not like to talk much about.  He also got malaria, which stayed in his bloodstream so that he continued to suffer a bout of it after he got home.  There were other injuries and wounds, but good news came when the Japanese surrendered, which was totally unexpected for regular GIs like my dad, who were convinced they’d be spending 1946, 1947, and 1948 still fighting the war. 
Now that peace was declared, his only enemy was time.  He wanted to get back home for Christmas 1945.
He had earned enough points to be rotated home.  Several weeks on a troop ship.  He passed under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which was the last thing he saw of the US when he left.  Now that he saw it again, he really believed he was home.
A few days being processed, and more days on the train because he lived on the other side of the continent.  After being in the jungle for three years, winter in the US was a shock, and his first telegram home contains the line, “COLD COUNTRY.” 
Leave it to a New Englander to squeeze in a comment about the weather in his first telegram to his wife.
Finally he arrived at Ft. Devens in the eastern part of Massachusetts, and a few more days of the mustering out process.  Medical exam, paperwork, ribbons and commendations, a clean uniform to home in, and finally a “ruptured duck” lapel pin to wear. 
But he lived in the western part of the state, so it was another train ride.  He sat in the station in Boston, waiting for his connecting train, and ate at a lunch counter.  The man behind the counter gestured to his ribbons and said, “You’re money’s no good here, son.  You’ve done enough,” and wouldn’t let him pay.
Decades later, my father still felt grateful, humbled, and embarrassed by the moment.
When the train pulled into the station, his wife and daughter were there on the platform.  His daughter wasn’t a baby anymore, but a little kid running around.  She had been told many times that the man in the portrait photo at home in the uniform was Daddy.  She got mixed up and thought anybody in uniform was Daddy and had to be told over and over again that, no, that’s not Daddy.
Finally her mother points to a tall, handsome guy stepping off the train and says, “There’s your Daddy.”  I’m thinking my sister, with all the wisdom of a small child thought, “Yeah, right.  Tell me another one.  I’m not falling for that again.”
It was January 1946.  He failed to get home for Christmas. 
In his last telegram he wrote “SORRY ABOUT THE HOLIDAYS.”  A real man sometimes apologizes for what isn’t even his fault.
My father was in his early 20s when he left.  He had fired weapons in war, but the experience did not make a man of him.  He was man because he had a family and took responsibility for them.  Responsibility is what made him a man, and he knew it.  He was good marksman, but he looked down on people who needed guns to make them feel manly, or make them feel safe.  It was a crutch for cowards, he thought.
I was tempted to use as a graphic and ad here published by an assault weapons manufacturer that inferred that manhood would be achieved by ownership of their product.  However, I refuse to print any words or images on this blog that are obscene.  That image and the message behind it are obscene.
My parents lost four Christmases, and the years ahead would not be easy.  As anybody knows, happy endings are only for movies.  But they accepted what they could not change, and tried to be resilient, and change what they could.
The people of Newtown must accept what they cannot change.
The rest of us must change what we can. 
Peace be with you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

First Christmas Tree in Windsor Locks, Connecticut

Local legend has it that the first time a Christmas tree was put up and decorated in the United States of America appears to have occurred in Windsor, Connecticut.  A German POW in the Revolutionary War wanted to mark Christmas with a symbol of home.
He was a mercenary soldier, part of the Hessian troops employed by the British.  His name was Hendrick Roddemore.  He was taken captive during the Battle of Bennington, Vermont in August 1777, where American commander General John Stark’s colonial troops defeated the British.  Have a look here at our previous post on the Bennington Battle Monument.
Hundreds of Hessian troops were taken prisoner, and many were transported to Boston, then transferred in small groups around the region.  Hendrick Roddemore was sent to the Pine Meadows section of Windsor, Connecticut on the Connecticut River.  Later the area became the separate town of Windsor Locks.
He was put in custody of Samuel Denslow, who owned a 100-acre farm.  In a small cabin here, perhaps a day or two before Christmas, 1777, Roddemore took the extraordinary action of cutting a small growing tree from outdoors and put it inside the cabin.  We can imagine simple decorations, and may well imagine the curiosity of his captors.  Not only were Christmas trees not used to celebrate Christmas in the United States at that time, but Christmas itself wasn’t usually celebrated in New England, where our Puritan founders still held sway over our consciousness.  Christmas was not widely celebrated here until the following century.  Even up until around World War II, Thanksgiving was the larger holiday in New England.
Christmas was something those New Yorkers did.
The small cabin on West Street is no longer there, but the Noden-Reed Farm is now the home of the Windsor Locks Historical Society, and there is a stone marker planted on what is reckoned to be the site of the first indoor Christmas tree in the United States.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

S&H Green Stamps - from Big Y

Ever do your Christmas shopping with these?  S&H Green Stamps, once the symbol of American Middle Class wish fulfillment, began with the Sperry & Hutchinson company in 1896, but found its heyday from the 1930s through the 1960s.
A catalogue of items, including furniture, toys, and bongo drums that could be purchased by redeeming the stamps, occupied a place of honor in a kitchen drawer of every home.  Maybe not every home, but these stamps, no longer recognizable to younger generations, were familiar to Baby Boomers.
They were offered at grocery stores, gas stations, and department stores.  You can see this folder was supplied by the New England supermarket chain “Big Y”.  That’s a lot of 10-point stamps.
Here are one-point stamps.  The other denomination was 50 points.
The program ended sometime in the 1980s, and had ceased being popular long before that.  Before this book had a chance to be filled and redeemed for bongo drums, anyway.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Perry Como & Lena Horne Sing of New England...

Perry Como and Lena Horne sing in Boston in 1965.  Here is a "New England" medley of songs: