Saturday, December 1, 2018

Christmas Song Characters Hold Annual Christmas Party

Christmas Song Characters Hold Annual Christmas Party

It is not known to many people, but the characters from many popular Christmas songs get together every year on December 1st  to have their own Christmas celebration.  Here is what happened at this year’s party.

The doorbell rang and Farmer Gray put down his hard cider and opened the door. A handsome young man stood there holding a large cannister with a red ribbon on it. “I’ve brought some corn for popping,” he said, his breath showing in the air.

“Yeah, yeah, you say the same thing every year,” the old farmer said. “Come on in. Your girlfriend ain’t here yet.”

The young man came in and saw a pretty young woman in a red dress holding a glass of wine. He said, “Hello there.”

Farmer Gray hit his arm. “Hey, she’s not in your song, chum.”

“Can’t hate a guy for trying,” he said.

“Go get yourself a drink,” the farmer grunted.

The young man went to the bar and saw the Traffic Cop and Parson Brown sipping their glasses of beer. The bartender shuffled a deck of cards and looked up at him. “Well, where’s the popping corn?”

“I gave it to Farmer Gray.”

“Figures. What can I get yuh?” the man said squinting as if to study him.

“I’ll take a whiskey on the rocks,” the young man said.

The bartender dropped some ice into a short glass and poured whiskey over it. He turned and looked at the Cop and Parson and asked, “You guys okay?”

“I’ll take another brewski, Cousin Mel,” the Parson said.

“I’ll take another too,” the Cop said, turning to spit in a big bucket he had on the stool next to him.

“Why isn’t there any music?” the young man asked Mel.

Mel shuffled the deck of cards. “Farmer Gray runs the show. He figures none of us wants to hear songs with our names in them. Besides, since I lost Granny, I’m not that into Christmas.”

“Oh, yeah, well that was a tough break.”

“Yeah, and we can’t say anything because she got run over by Big Guy’s reindeer.”

An old man was laughing in the corner, drinking a beer and watching the football game on the widescreen TV. The young man said, “At least your Grandpa seems happy.”

Loud shouting filled the room as a bunch of kids ran around after each other while their parents stood in the corner drinking eggnog.

One of the boys knocked over a chair while the other pulled one of the girl’s hair. “Barney and Ben, now stop it!” the father yelled.

“Are you okay, Janice and Jen?” asked the mother.

The girls nodded their heads and then turned and hit their brothers, causing the race around the room to continue.

The young man laughed, “Mom and Dad can’t wait for school to start again.”

“Uh, yeah, I kind of know that, genius,” Cousin Mel said.

A pretty blonde in a candy cane dress and matching heels came up to the young man and kissed his cheek. “Let’s not stay too long; it’s just starting to snow outside.”

Mel put down his deck of cards and leaned on the bar. “If I were you, young fella, I’d get going.”

The woman winked at Mel and whispered in the young man’s ear, “We can turn the lights down low.”

The young man sipped his drink. “Well, we do have to at least wait until the Big Guy comes.”

A group of men in long waistcoats waltzed into the room jumping and dancing. Cousin Mel smirked and said, “The Ten Lords came back this year.”

The young woman asked, “But where are the Nine Ladies Dancing?”

“I hear they and the Eight Milking Maids got invited to Jack Frost’s party,” Mel said.

The young man sipped his drink. “Man, that Frost guy’s always causing trouble, nipping at your nose and everything.”

A young girl in a 19th century dress and matching bonnet came up to the bar. Mel looked at her and said, “Well, hello Miss Fanny Bright.”

“Hello, Cousin Mel,” she said while looking around the room. “I was wondering if my young gentleman was here yet.”

“Yeah, he told me that he’s waiting in his one-horse open sleigh out back.”

“Oh, dear, but the weather outside is frightful,” the blonde in the candy cane dress said to her.

Fanny smiled and adjusted her hat. “I’m not worried; it doesn’t snow in our song.”

They watched her walk away and Mel wiped the bar and said, “She won’t be smiling when they crash into that snowbank.”

The young man nodded. “We are all pretty much prisoners of our songs.”

“You can say that again, kid!” Mel said.

A tall fellow in a blue suit walked in with a bottle of gin and went over to the girl in the red dress. He held up the bottle and said, “Put some records on while I pour.”

“Yeah, this party needs some music,” she said. She went over to the stereo and stared at it. She turned and yelled to Farmer Gray, “Don’t you have any records?”

The angry farmer stomped over to her and yelled, “No music.”

The guy in the blue suit handed the girl a glass and she took a sip. “Hey, what’s in this drink?”

Farmer Gray jutted a finger above his head. “What’s wrong with you people? 
Don’t you realize music is what has ruined all of our lives.”

Parson Brown looked at the Traffic Cop and said, “Excuse me.”

“Of course,” the Cop said, once again spitting in the big bucket.

“Farmer Gray, may I have a word?”

The farmer stared at Parson Brown. “A word?”

“Yes, please.”

The farmer pointed to a clown in the corner who waved his white gloved hand at the parson. “One minute you’re in the song and the next you become him.”

“Oh, dear, you misunderstand.” The Parson turned to everyone in the room. “I know some of you are not happy with your songs, but this wonderful music has given us life. Without these songs we would not exist.”

“Much to our chagrin,” Farmer Gray said shaking a fist.

“No, some of us are happy that we are known to people. Every year our songs bring joy to millions, and because of these holiday tunes we live on eternally and get to have this rather fine party each year. Though I do think some music would be nice, Farmer Gray.”

“You got it, padre.” Mel pushed a button behind the bar and “Holly Jolly Christmas” began playing in the room.

Parson Brown raised his glass. “I think a toast is in order.”

Mel drank some whiskey and said, “I’ll drink to that.”

The Parson said, “Let us give thanks to the songwriters who created us and those singers and bands who gave us life.”

At that moment the door swung open and Santa Claus strode into the room tracking snow from his shiny black boots. “I couldn’t have said it better myself, Parson Brown.”

“Humbug!” cried Farmer Gray. “Of course, you don’t mind because you’re in so many songs.”

Santa laughed. “It’s not about me, Gray. It’s about Christmas.”

“Let’s grab a glass,” Santa said as Mel quickly poured him a drink. Everyone raised a glass and Santa said, “To Christmas!” All except Farmer Gray toasted and cheered.

Farmer Gray shook his head. “Every year it always turns out the same way.”
Santa put his arm around Farmer Gray’s shoulder. “How about I buy you a drink?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

Santa went to the bar and stared at Mel and said, “Oh, I am so sorry about your Grandma.”

Mel look over his shoulder at his Grandpa who kept smiling and drinking his beer. “Yeah, well, she is missed.”

“I will have a nice cherry brandy,” Santa said. He turned to Farmer Gray and asked, “For you?”

“Hard cider.”

“Coming right up,” Mel said.

Santa leaned on the bar next to the Traffic Cop and pointed to the big bucket. “What do you have there?”

“Well,” the Traffic Cop said, “I don’t want to be on the Naughty List.”

“Hmm,” Santa said.

“Oh, well, I have to admit that this Frosty the Snowman is a pain, marching all the kids through town.”

“Frosty can fray one’s nerves,” Santa said with a nod.

“So, I had enough and lured him into a hot basement with a trail of peppermint sticks.”

Santa shook his head. “Frosty does love peppermint sticks.”

“I had this bucket handy,” the cop said as he spit in the bucket. “That’s Frosty, or at least what’s left of him.”

“Well, officer,” Santa said clearing his throat, “that’s the kind of thing that could get you on the Naughty List.”

“If it’s any help I do have that old silk hat out in my patrol car,” the Cop said.

“Good fellow,” Santa said, patting his arm.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer came over to Santa with his red nose beeping, and Santa caressed his head. The reindeer leaned into the bucket and started drinking.

Mel chuckled, “Guess Rudolph ain’t the only one that’s history.”

They all laughed as Rudolph kept slurping the water that the magic hat had once turned into Frosty the Snowman. 

The party went on late into the night because they would all be very busy reliving their songs over and over until the Christmas season was done and then go back into limbo until next year.

Characters and Songs

Frosty the Snowman and Traffic Cop:
“Frosty the Snowman” by Walter “Jack” Rollins and Steve Nelson

Miss Fanny Bright:
“Jingle Bells” by James Lord Pierpont

Ten Lords Leaping, Nine Ladies Dancing, Eight Milking Maids:
“The Twelve Days of Christmas” an English Christmas carol.

Cousin Mel, Grandpa, and Grandma:
“Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” by Randy Brooks

Barney and Ben, Janice and Jen, and Mom and Dad:
“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” by Meredith Willson.

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer:
“Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” by Johnny Marks

Farmer Gray:
“Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson

Parson Brown and Circus Clown:
“Winter Wonderland” – Music by Felix Bernard and Lyrics by Richard B. Smith

Young Man and Girl in Candy Cane Dress:
“Let It Snow” composed by Jule Styne and lyrics by Sammy Cahn.

Tall Man and Girl in Red Dress:
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Frank Wildhorn

Jack Frost:
“The Christmas Song” by Robert Wells and Mel Tormé

“Holly Jolly Christmas” by Johnny Marks

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Black Friday Always Makes Me Blue

Black Friday Always Makes Me Blue

Working in retail years ago, I always dreaded Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving. In those days my store closed on Thanksgiving, so after an enjoyable holiday that included eating too much, seeing all my loved ones, and watching some football, I would have to get up at that crack of dawn to get ready for the hordes that would be lined up and ready to pounce as soon as I opened the doors.

Yes, my job each Black Friday morning was to open the front doors. Invariably, the scenario changed very little each of those 7 years I worked there (during high school and then college). The masses would be staring at my like zombies, but instead of wanting to eat my flesh they wished to devour the savings that were promised in our advertisements and in the store windows.

Black Friday was great for my store and all the other ones, and this year will be no exception. There are predictions for the biggest day ever for retailers in stores and online. Shoppers have already spent a whopping $31.9 billion between November 1 and November 20, so there is much for retailers to be celebrating.

Unfortunately, even after all these years of my being out of retail, Black Friday still bothers and depresses me. Perhaps it is – like the day after Christmas – just because the party is over and I’m feeling down, but it has more to do with the fact that I can’t live my life normally on that day. Being off from work with the kids off too, I would like to go out and do something, but the “shopping” is always on the menu because we think we can save so much money.

Having worked in the business I recognize all the little tricks done in stores to attract us to the items they want us to buy. I appreciate the way racks and circles and shelves are arranged and stocked, and I can tell from the floor to the ceiling how well a store is being managed; however, I am not a shopper’s shopper.

Unlike my wife – for whom shopping is a sport – for me shopping is functional.  I go into a store with a purpose, say to get a pair of shoes. I bypass all the smoke and mirrors, refuse to look at the items on sale, and head straight for that department only. I try on several pairs, find the ones that feel best, and I am off to the counter to pay and then head for the exit.

Black Friday is different because I can’t be a functional shopper due to  all the dysfunctional ones getting in the way. The hordes that haunted me back when I had to open the doors are no longer separated from me by glass doors – I am among them! There is no smooth sailing in a store or the mall on Black Friday – it’s like navigating turbulent waters in a dingy.

Black Friday is also a myth that has been hyped to an extreme. Because of this opportunity for perceived big savings for shoppers – and retail’s supreme need for sales – Black Friday has encroached on the big day itself – stores are opening their doors on Thanksgiving. That once sacred day off has been defiled by retailers, with some stores opening all day and others with opening hours ranging from 10 a.m. throughout the rest of the day. Many are staying open until midnight and beyond.

I guess my problem is that Thanksgiving is a day for family and friends, not for looking for the best deals. I understand people who want to save money, but it feels like sacrilege to put down the drumstick and apple cider, skip the pumpkin pie, and run out to do some shopping. We are not staying in the moment and savoring it, and families are suffering because of it. 

Today I plan to spend time with family, not overeat, and maybe watch some football. I am not going anywhere near a store. Tomorrow will probably unfold as I expect – with shopping in the forecast – and I will be forced to either go along with it or spend my day doing something else alone, which probably means getting the Christmas tree and decorations down from the attic. Sadly, shopping and Christmas are also intrinsically linked, but that’s another story.

This is why Black Friday makes me blue every year. For all the shopaholics out there, go and imbibe to your heart’s content. As for me, I will get through the day and be happy not to be among the hordes of bargain hunters. I will have to hang tough, however, because this coming Monday is not any old first day of the work week – it is Cyber Monday – unofficially known as the biggest shopping day of the year.

Mental note – prepare to do no work online on Monday because the hordes will be breaking the Internet. Good grief!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Honoring Those Who Have Served on Veterans Day

Honoring Those Who Have Served on Veterans Day

This Veterans Day we mark the the 100th anniversary of the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month of 1918 – the time when an armistice was signed with Germany to end World War I. Though it is always necessary to recognize this date, the century mark reminds us of the abiding significance of the historical day that ended the war after four brutal years of conflict.

Originally known as Armistice Day until it was changed to Veterans Day in 1954, this is a day reserved to honor all those who have served this country in the Armed Forces. Hopefully, you will have an opportunity to go to a parade or thank a veteran if possible.

In my family we always went to the parades because my grandfather and father were veterans of World War I and World War II. Also, both were very active in the local VFW (Veteran of Foreign Wars) post. It is there that I met so many people who served in the major conflicts of the 20th century. I heard their stories and learned to respect what they endured in order for our country to remain free.

My grandfather Fred served on a submarine chaser during World War I. These small, speedy ships were meant to counteract the scourge of the German U boats. These German submarines were devastating to Allied shipping, and thus the submarine chaser played a vital role in limiting the damage they could do.

Pop was never one to brag about his service, but he did explain that life aboard the ship was difficult. Besides being engaged in the dangerous endeavor to sink German subs and remove mines from strategic waterways, living on the small ship involved close quarters for the enlisted men. Added to that was the uncomfortable nature of the bumpy ride, with the men feeling constantly bounced around its small confines.

Luckily, Pop made it home from the war and went on to serve in the New York City Fire Department. He met and married my grandmother and they had three daughters, my mother being the youngest.

Many years later when I was a boy, he taught me his old sailor’s creed: “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight; red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” He talked about his time in the Navy wistfully, but there was a subtle pride as he spoke that made me know how much this time of his life meant to him.

When my mother brought my father home for the first time, Pop delighted in knowing that my father was not only a New York City cop but was also a veteran of World War II. Though Dad served in the Army, they loved sharing stories of their times in uniform, and as a kid listening to them, I couldn’t believe what they had been through and I became in awe of their heroism.

Anyone who has someone who has served in the Armed Forces in the family or knows someone who has served understands the profound debt we all owe them. When they come home, we should show our gratitude to them, and one way to do that is to attend parades on Veterans Day to show support.

All veterans come home with scars – seen or unseen – and it is also necessary for us to support organizations like the VFW, Wounded Warriors, and Paralyzed Veterans of America who are there to help them. Giving generously to these groups is a small sacrifice especially considering that the veterans’ sacrifices go far beyond words.  

So, this year, as is the case every year, I am thinking of Pop and Dad and wishing they were here with me. Their stories linger in my mind, and I can hear the two of them as if they were still sitting there – drinking beers and reminiscing about their time in the service. They never bragged about themselves and what they did, but they spoke of their time during the war with a reverence it deserved.

Thanks for all you did, Pop and Dad, because of your efforts and that of so many of your fellow soldiers and sailors, I can sit here and write this today and my kids and so many other children in this country can go to school, play, and live their lives in freedom.

Last night there was a beautiful red sky at sunset, and I thought about what Pop had taught me so long ago, and I knew today would be a fine one for a parade!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Movie Review: ‘Halloween’ (2018) – The Sequel We Always Wanted

Movie Review: ‘Halloween’ (2018) – The Sequel We Always Wanted

Imagine if all the assorted film sequels that followed John Carpenter’s genre-defining Halloween (1978) never existed. Yeah, I know, that’s like saying there were no Star Wars prequels, but in a galaxy not so far away we could perhaps delete those Halloween sequels and time jump to 2018 and pretend that they never happened. Well, that’s what director and screenplay writer David Gordon Green (with co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley) does, and it is a dynamic, bloody, and sometimes funny sequel we have waited for these last 40 years.

The premise is that Halloween  (2018) begins right after where we left off in the first film – Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) shoots Michael, he falls off a balcony, and then his body disappears – Michael runs away but gets caught by Deputy Hawkins (Will Patton). In this version of the story Michael gets put away under Dr. Loomis’s care, and his suffering and bloodied sister Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) was supposed to go back to her life and be a normal teenager.

Well, 40 years later we learn that didn’t work out so well. The mature Laurie is twice divorced, alienated from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and barely sees her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). This version of Laurie is bitter, hardened, and brutally honest. Curtis inhabits Laurie – the role that made her famous – with such ferocity and intensity that we believe every bit of her story.

Michael – once again played by Nick Castle – has been locked away all these years and has never spoken a word. After Loomis passes away, he comes under the care of Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) whose interest in Michael seems to border on obsession. Of course, as luck would have it, Sartain has been ordered to transfer Michael to another facility on October 30, 2018, the day before the 40th anniversary of the events that occurred in the first film.

I probably don’t even have to tell you that Michael ends up escaping from the transfer bus – allowing dozens of other psychiatric patients to escape as well and wander the night away along a dark highway, and for a moment the eerie scene is reminiscent of something we’d encounter in a zombie film.

The next day back in Haddonfield we see October 31st pretty much unfold as it
did 40 years before. Allyson and her friends are walking to high school passing Halloween decorations on houses just as her grandmother Laurie did so many years before, and it is subtle reminder that many things remain the same in this small town even after all this time. There are teenage rites of passage to be had on this Halloween night, and the characters are, of course, setting themselves up to be right where Michael wants them to be.

We get a look at the dour but determined present day Laurie taking target practice using a crew of ghoulish looking dummies, and we also learn that she has set up her house like a fortress with bright floodlighting and a closet full of weapons. Laurie is ready – has always been ready all these years – for the inevitable day that her brother comes home and tries to finish the job.

Somehow before you can say “Trick or treat” Michael has found another mechanic’s uniform, a huge knife, and the old Shatner mask that turns him into The Shape. Now he is hiding behind tombstones and watching from behind bushes just as he did in the past. Green’s nods to the first film are sometimes subtle and other times hit us over the head – there is even a nice twist to looking over the balcony to discover a missing body – but we can do nothing but enjoy every minute of it.

Michael begins going on a rampage of killing – and you can tell who will be the
victims but that’s part of the fun – and the understanding is that the mask empowers him, enhances the evil in his core, and that there can be no reasoning with something that is pure evil because there is nothing else it can be.

The rest of the way is spoiler territory, but Green does give us some badly needed comic relief. Two deputies talking about the snacks they packed for a stakeout is hilarious, as is Allyson and her boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold) arriving at the high school scare-fest with him dressed as Bonnie and she as Clyde. The funniest moments though are when little Julian (a scene-stealing Jibrail Nantambu) interacts with his babysitter Vicky (Virginia Gardner).

Nevertheless, this story is really all about Laurie and Michael, and any would-be rescuers are going to be taken out in the process. The killer also seeks to kill Karen and Allyson to make it a bloody family trifecta. Laurie’s maternal instincts fuel her desire to confront and finally kill the brother whose memory has tortured her for four decades. Laurie doesn’t just want to defend her family – she needs to destroy that evil once and for all.

Carpenter’s haunting theme music is back and most welcomed, and cinematographer Michael Simmonds gets the mood and tone right in a film that is dark and shadowed in all the right places. The casting is spot-on with even minor characters brilliantly realized, and Andi Matichak stands out as Laurie’s granddaughter.

Halloween (2018) is highly recommended and worth seeing especially at this time of year. Green pays homage to Carpenter’s masterpiece and, while the original is still better, Green’s film comes as close as it can to being Godfather Part One to Carpenter’s Godfather Part Two. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

A Visit to the American Cemetery in Normandy – Pilgrimage All Americans Should Undertake

I recently visited the American Cemetery in Normandy, France, and as I stood in the middle of a field of white crosses and Stars of David spread out under an American flag flapping in the wind, the enormity of the loss of lives that began during the D-Day invasion – June 6, 1944 – overwhelmed me. I always knew that thousands of soldiers died, but being surrounded by their graves provided an astonishingly powerful perspective.
Anyone who remembers the emotional opening scene of Steven Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan will recall the reaction of the aging veteran who walks onto that field and is shaken by the sight of so many graves. As I turned perhaps the same corner and saw the stark white monuments, I started taking tenuous steps forward and felt as if I were holding my deceased father’s hand for comfort and support, just as I did when I was a little boy.
Long ago my father visited the grave of one of his friends – his next-door neighbor – after the war, and took a picture to send home to his friend’s mother. Dad stayed in France until 1946, utilizing his fluent French to work with the forestry service to recover undetonated bombs. He never imagined that the makeshift cemeteries that he saw at that time would become this magnificent tribute to those fellow soldiers who gave their lives.
In part my visit to the cemetery was for Dad, but I also realized how much it was for me. I was fortunate that my father came home, but so many did not, and I wanted to pay my respects to them – to all of them – for my father and for me. Because of those brave souls, the Allied Forces triumphed over an unimaginable evil and saved the world.
The 172.3-acre cemetery overlooks the beaches where the Allied Forces came ashore that fateful day. It would be easy to look across those white sands to the beautiful blue water of the English Channel and forget why I was there; the view was so alluring, but turning around and seeing those graves spanning off in all directions helps to keep things in focus.
Earlier that day I started my pilgrimage on the sands of Omaha Beach, where so many perished that day not only as they stepped off the landing craft but even as they were still on board it. My father was not in the first wave of landings, but as I stood there I wondered what he was thinking as he came off the craft into the chilly water and saw so many of his fellow soldiers dead on the beach and in the surf.
Now children ran in and out of the small waves as I studied the shining war memorial on the beach. Les Braves, created by French sculptor Anilore Banon, depicts three elements: The Wings of Hope, the Rise of Freedom, and the Wings of Fraternity. It is stark and visually interesting, its stainless-steel glistening in the sunshine, and its purpose is to honor “the brave” who came ashore that day to bring freedom back to a continent crushed under the weight of Nazi oppression.
I stood there and closed my eyes, hearing the wind and the children’s laughter, and it seemed that was more than appropriate because those lost on this beach were fighting so that children had something to laugh about and could enjoy life as children should be able to do.
I turned and walked up to the second monument above the beach, my wife and kids following me quietly. This monument commemorates the Allied Forces landing on this shore to liberate Europe. I said a prayer for the dead and felt as if our coming here meant something to those lost. The actual act of visitation is a way of honoring them for their sacrifices for us.
Then we got back in our car and drove to the American Cemetery which is about five minutes away from Omaha Beach. Just walking from the car to the entrance of the visitor’s center gave me a feeling of awe and gratitude. The visitor’s center is a modern facility – opened on June 6, 2007 – that provides exhibitions of related military material and artifacts and displays pictures of some of the 9,386 soldiers killed in the Normandy invasion.
On the lower level there is a theatre and visitors have an opportunity to view films that focus on the D-Day invasion and the soldiers involved in it. The one we watched included the reading of letters home from soldiers who are buried here, and it is virtually impossible not to shed tears as you hear their stories and see their young faces. My children were in awe that the these “men” – many of them 18 – were only a little bit older than they are and were in such a dangerous situation.
Upon leaving the visitor’s center there is a long pathway with the Channel and the sandy beaches visible below. Birds flew above the path and some chirped happily in the trees. It is an idyllic setting that somehow tricked my mind momentarily until the sea of white tombstones came into view, reminding me of why I was there.
The bright white crosses and Stars of David against the meticulously kept green grass provides a stunning sight, and as an American flag rippled in the wind coming off the water, I felt deep gratitude to the men interred beneath my feet but also to France and its people for this sacred place on its soil.
There is also a beautiful chapel in the center of the grounds where we stopped and said a prayer for the dead. A walk down the Central Mall took us to the Memorial and Wall of the Missing – with 1,557 names listed  a stark reminder that there were those lost whose bodies were never recovered after the invasion.
Our visit to the cemetery was emotional, moving, and extremely memorable. My kids will not soon forget the things they saw here, nor will they take for granted their freedom to live life the way that we do. It is a lesson in humility and the nature of sacrifice – so many people pressing forward into a fierce battle so that their loved ones and others could be free.  
Later that day we returned to our hotel in the Bayeux, a lovely little French town not far from the cemetery. That evening we walked the streets, did some shopping, and enjoyed the marvelous cuisine. My daughter remarked that it reminded her of the village from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. There was an air of impossibility in thinking that such a peaceful place had once been scarred by war.  
That night as we all got ready to go to bed, I thought about my Dad and felt he knew we had come there and had paid our respects and was happy that we did. In his later years he had expressed a wish to go back to France but it never happened. I had come to Normandy for him and for me but most of all for my children, because D-Day and the war are long over and many of the men who fought here either died in combat or passed away later on, but their story goes on and we owe it to them to be sure that it is always told.
My children will tell Papa’s story to their children one day and no doubt go back to Normandy with them. All Americans should make it a point to visit the American Cemetery in Normandy at least one time in their lives to show gratitude and pay respects to those lost in the invasion. Because of them we live the lives we live – free to search the Internet, go to school, watch any TV channel we wish, travel wherever we want to go, and think for ourselves. When we see an American flag flying outside our children’s schools, we should remember those soldiers resting in that field in France and thank them because a different flag might be there if they had not done what they did.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

The Enduring Myth of Endless Summers

As I turned the calendar page to September yesterday, I made a little joke about how it was my favorite month, and my kids reacted predictably with groans of horror and consternation. I told them I was only kidding, but they sulked off to corners of the house to brood as their “free” time period – I count 77 days which is a nice chunk of freedom – is almost over.

When I went upstairs into my son’s room, I noticed that he had turned his Charlie Brown calendar to September. This month features Snoopy, Woodstock, and friends with the caption “Happiness is a new adventure.” I wouldn’t expect Charles M. Schulz to rub salt in my kid’s wounds, but my son had already circled the first day of school in red crayon and gave it an unhappy face.  So much for school being a new adventure I guess.

Ah, how bold my kids were back in the middle of June when their school doors closed and they were unleashed to what at the time seemed an endless summer. School clothes were thrown in heaps and out came shorts and tees and flip-flops. They were hanging loose because it was summer time and the living was easy.

That was then but this is now as they say – their sad faces staring at the word September on the calendar no doubt with images of books, an apple for teacher, and the words Back to School dancing in their heads. Reality – cold, ugly, sadistic as it may be – had hit them like a sucker punch.

Of course, I too bought into the myth of endless summers when I was a kid. I was old enough to enjoy The Beach Boys’ classic album Endless Summer when it debuted, listening to all their great songs like “Surfer Girl,” “Surfin’ Safari,” “Catch a Wave,” “I Get Around” and so many more that could be considered anthems for summer. The album seemed to make the listener think that life was not only a beach but that summer could go on forever.

On the morning of the last day of school, I’d crank up Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” and savor every line, most especially the one about school being out forever. Later that day I’d run home with my mind racing as I thought about what I would do first – or even think about doing nothing at all. That was so enticing and exciting – a notion that nothing needed to get done or be handed in or studied.

When I think back on my summers as a kid, I can recall sitting on the porch in the early mornings reading some great books. I didn’t need an airplane to get away someplace when I had stories that could take me all over the globe or even into outer space or under the sea or to the center of the earth. I treasured those mornings with the wind blowing through the windows and my dog resting against my feet.

The rest of my summer days were filled with the swimming, playing baseball, hanging out with my friends, watching Mets games, and my favorite thing – doing nothing at all. I liked sitting on the beach and just watching the waves, the sun and blue sky above, the seagulls swooping toward the water, and the boats way out near the horizon. I can still feel those moments, so peaceful and precious now, and the best thing was it was before cell phones and laptops and the only thing that connected me to the world was a small radio tuned to my favorite rock station.

Like most myths, endless summer has some basis in truth – we yearn for it and it comes; we hope it never ends, yet we know it always will. Alas, my endless summers always faded. My Mom would turn the calendar page just as I do now, and she would circle the box for the first day of school. I guess I thought it was cruel, but she would draw a smiling face there – unlike my son’s sad one. Actually, Mom loved having us home but also was realistic about things as we were not. I wanted to put off third grade forever, but those thoughts quickly faded as I walked through those school doors so sheepishly – the same ones I had dashed out of so happily months before.

Each school year I can understand how my kids feel because I went through it too. There is still a desire in me now to drag out the summer as long as possible – but now it is because they are home and can be with me the way they cannot be during the school year.

Later in the day as we sat down for lunch yesterday, I reminded my kids of the great summer they had this year. We took a wonderful trip to Europe, and before and after that we had days of going to the pool and beach, attending a great Fourth of July party with fireworks, seeing some of the biggest summer movies, and doing what is still one of my favorite things – simply nothing at all.

One of my best memories this summer was laying on our lounges next to the pool letting the day slip away. My son and I just stared up at the clouds and watched them float slowly by. One was a dragon, another a lion, and so on. 

Then along came a long thin cloud and my son said, “Doesn’t that look like a pencil, Dad?”

I didn’t mention that perhaps that foreshadowed going back to school, but instead I said, “You know what? I think it looks like a snake.”

He studied it and said, “Yeah, it is a snake,” and then his endless summer continued unabated.

This Tuesday the endless summer myth shatters once again, its shards falling silently into the stuff of memories. We will recall all that we did but, as the hectic schedules of work, school, and after school activities commence, it will be easy to forget that happy time as we become subsumed with being on the clock again.

After I go back to work, I will stop myself at some point in time each week and think about our summer. This year I will smile as I picture us walking through Disneyland Paris with my kids’ faces beaming under Mini and Mickey ears. I will remember the scorching heat as we waited on a long line to meet Darth Vader – the Sith Lord from Star Wars who does not give autographs. I will think about sitting in Notre Dame and seeing the kids stare up at the vaulted ceiling in awe. I will remember the reverence they showed at the American Cemetery in Normandy, and the joy as they ate their gelato in the quaint town of Bayeu. I will remember our time on the beach in Cascais, Portugal, and the cool nights walking through Lisbon as if it were a dream. I will think about our watching the Fourth of July fireworks display, going to the beach, swimming in the pool, and watching great flicks. Most of all, I will remember being on that lounge by the pool with my son using our imaginations to make clouds whatever we wanted them to be.

In this way our summer will be endless in our memories, and there is always next summer to dream about. For now, I’m going to listen to “Surfin' Safari” and recall those summers of long ago that still play out in my mind as if they were only yesterday, making them endless summers indeed!