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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

When All Was Bell

"When Doubt Came Slowly" Epilogue Part II, 1964-1967
[This post follows December 10th in the sequence.]

In this world of ever-jingling-chirping-singing cell phones, one could forget that until the late 20th Century all phone calls came through small barbells attached by wires to a wall in your house, and no phone had ever been misplaced by its owner. For over a hundred years virtually every line and phone (and pay phone) from coast to coast was part of something called The Bell System.

Well after the 1984 anti-trust “break up” of Bell’s monopoly, their proprietary long-distance service and over 30 million of their phones remained in use. In 1979, anticipating its divestiture, Bell began making the most of the new playing field with a long and successful campaign of Hallmark-like commercials that told us to “Reach out and touch someone.”

The familiar song said, “Wherever you are / you’re never too far / to show someone that you care.” Oh, for the days when unexpected “special” calls came in the privacy of your own home. Today such cell-phone calls are so common and etiquette is so lacking that most people want to “reach out and slap someone”—unless of course, it’s their purse or pocket that’s ringing.

Today the telephone industry is a hodge-podge of buy-outs and mergers that is more confusing than ever, but before all this "Can you hear me now?"—back in the heyday of communication network that Bell created—my dad began a life-long career with Michigan Bell Telephone Company.

My mom had a crush on my dad since tenth grade, but it wasn’t until she graduated (in 1948, a year after him) that she let him know it. Dad was working way up a telephone pole and caught her eye. She crossed the street and walked slowly past him far below. The conversation was limited—what with Dad being shy and surrounded by the high-voltage wires at the time—but he eventually came down, and some time later he asked her out. The rest, as they say, is history.

They were married in 1951, and Dad kept working his way up in Bell. In Port Huron he was climbing poles. In 1960, he took a transfer to Bell headquarters in Detroit and was soon in upper management (which he did not enjoy*). Then after earning what amounted to a “masters degree” in data technology his career turned to the growing world of industrial computers. This was in the late Seventies (the last decade before personal computers [PCs like the one you're using now] became commonplace).

[*Not until we were adults and Dad had taken a generous early retirement in 1985, did he confess that he disliked his years in management. I was home on Christmas Break and we sat on the couch discussing my job not his. “There’s a kind of boss,” he explained, “who always gets what he asks for from employees but fails to see that he never gets what he truly wants.” While I’ve never forgotten that conversation, I’m afraid I’ve sometimes forgotten to model the value of “working toward shared goals as a team” rather than “doing precisely but only as told.” The first style of management inspires thinking, collaboration, and higher-than-expected outcomes; the latter prompts institutions or individuals whose first goal is avoiding consequences. The secular world calls it CYA, which stands for “Cover Your Anticipated causes for getting yelled at” (or something like that).]

A few years after retiring from Bell, Dad was hired by Ross Perot as a full-time consultant to help oversee computer installations for a new company called EDS. (This was long before Perot’s quirky presidential bid.) When Ross Perot first met my father in person at the grand opening of the first EDS facility in Detroit, Perot’s eyes twinkled and he smirked, “Like your hair cut.” (They both wore crew cuts.)

During the last twenty years of his "salaried career," my father lived a double-life. He was not in the CIA (though sometimes his work seemed like it), but when he pulled his Bell car into the driveway and took off his tie... he became a different guy, a backwoodsman cabin builder who rarely talked about his day job with us kids. It was great.

My father died in 1995. I don't share this background just to brag on him. Understanding what he did and how well he did it is very important to the next chapter of this epilogue. The year I was first aware of the nature of my father's "other life" and his sought-after skills was 1967.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Toys of Christmas Past

Tomorrow night is Christmas Eve. I’ve been away from the internet for a few days and will likely have limited access for a few more so I wanted to squeeze in a Christmas post. I found this old commercial for “Mr. Machine” on Youtube last week, and it got me thinking about toys of Christmas past.

1960 Mr. Machine TV commercial

I got a Mr. Machine for Christmas 1960, the year we lived on Atkins Road in Port Huron, Michigan (the year before we moved to the Detroit area). I also got a sled that year. I still have the sled (no it is not named "Rosebud" for you Citizen Cane fans who may be wondering).

I wish I still had the Mr. Machine, but the manufacturers made the mistake of trying to make it a “hands on” educational toy that a boy could take apart and put back together—just like new. I did not take mine apart for a long, long time…and then I started feeling "educational" and…well you know the last line of “Humpty Dumpty”…it was kind of like that.

The first gift I remember getting was in 1959. I was almost four years old: Paul, Dave, and I each got a red Tonka fire truck. I still have that truck on a shelf in our downstairs TV room.

You still have a toy from nearly 50 years ago? You must have really taken good care of it.

Not really—though it is in very good shape. We played with it for years, and then it sat around in the basement toy box for a couple of decades surrounded by a tangle of toys held together by Slinkies and Kathy’s jump ropes and boxing glove laces and yo-yos.

That's what happens when four kids share one toy box. You reach in to pull out one toy and along come a dozen others. My writing here is sometimes like that. Especially these past several weeks as I've been mulling over the sixties…but it’s been fun sorting it out. Thanks for your patience.

It was only a few years ago that I brought that fire truck home from my mom's attic and put in on a shelf with some other “antique” toys—Ouch! That hurts… calling something I got brand new as a kid an antique. Let me change the subject by telling you about a gift I didn't get, one my Dad refused to give my brother Dave and me.

It was called a "Hump-A-Jump." I can't find a thing about it on the internet, so you’ll have to trust me. This thing existed some time in the late Sixties. They were advertising it on local TV in the Detroit area. It was basically one of those circus teeterboards—you know the kind that acrobats use to get each other higher and higher in the air.

The commercial showed kids catapulting each other like ten feet straight up right there in their own backyard. Dave and I had seen the TV spot for weeks, and finally it came on when Dad was home to see it.

“Hurry, Dad. See. There it is... that's the ‘Hump-A-Jump’ we’ve been telling you about.”

He watched for a while, because there was a side of Dad that loved us being athletic "risk takers," but there was another side of him that liked our daring stunts to be free—like climbing 50 feet up in a tree or diving off of fishing shanties into the raging St. Clair River. There were plenty of inexpensive ways for us to kill ourselves...

"Well, Dad. What do you think? Can we get one?" I begged.

"You gotta be kidding. You’d break your neck on that contraption. How do you stop once you get going? They don't show you that. Those kids are probably on crutches right now. I think they should call it a ‘Hunk-a-Junk.’” He couldn't help but laugh at his own joke.

"You'd break your neck" ranked right up there with "You'll shoot your eye out," but Dad did have a point. What were they thinking? I've said it here before... safety wasn't discovered until the Seventies. Years later my brother Dave pursued his secret circus desires by learning how to juggle and ride a unicycle. I have a feeling if my dad had gotten us our “Hump-A-Jump,” I wouldn't have lived to tell you about it—I weighed a lot less than Dave at the time.

Speaking of living to tell you about it. I hope to find some time this week (Christmas Break) to wrap up those missing epilogue posts from after 1964. I've got to get to the part where my little brother is born and we go back to Hudson's.

Until then...have a very merry Christmas!

Update: August 30, 2009. I had missed most of these comments since writing this back in 2006, but I found them today. Better yet, I found a Youtube clip by Steve Oatley demonstrating a Hump-a-Jump. I think they may be a bit over the recommended weight limit (I know I would be) but you get the idea. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Wooden Box

When Doubt Came Slowly
Christmas 1964 :Prologue Part 1

The shrill chirp of a whistle
drew us running to our lines,
but just as it should blow again
the recess lady stepped inside,
and left us standing
in November's cold.
No second whistle blew.
Instead, a hand beckoned
from the doorway
and we entered single file.

Outside each classroom
the teachers' faces were
more sullen than stern.
“Heads on your desks,”
mine whispered as we passed.

"Heads on your desks"
was never harsh;
as always after recess
it was her way of saying,
"Hang up your wraps
(as teachers back then called our coats).
Don't talk. Settle down from play.
Let your feet forget their running.
Let your hands let go
the cold steel of monkey bars,
merry-go-round, and ladder slides.
Let your ears erase
the squeaking drone of swings
and chalky chants of hop-scotch girls
and jump-rope songs and
'teeter-totter, bread and butter'
echoing to the hill.
Let your face feel the smooth,
warm wood of your closed desk.
Listen to the quiet breath
inside your pillowed arms
and find a space inside your mind
to put the final lesson
of this day.

There was nothing unusual
about hearing her say
"Heads on your desks,"
but she'd never whispered it before.

From the wooden box
above the blackboard
came a strange and distant voice.
It was not the principal but was, in fact,
a radio broadcast piped-in to every room
from his office “P.A.”
Soon the somber words and phrases
seemed to settle in the room
so that even a second-grade boy
with his head on his desk
knew why his whole school was
suspended in silence
but for the wooden box:

Sniper. Dallas. Fatal shot.
The strange voice
left no room for doubt.
The president
of the United States,
John Fitzgerald Kennedy,
was dead.
a word I'd never heard before.

One by one, eyes rose
in puzzled understanding.
Our teacher paced the room
and touched the heads
of those with questions.
Her tender voice helped pass
the helpless pauses in the news.
And when a priest
(from where they rushed him)
came on the air to pray,
she walked up to her lesson book
and bowed her head.
We knew to do the same.

Closing my eyes I saw
she did not cross herself
as some around me did.
Hard against her upper lip
she pressed a crumpled hanky,
and her shoulders shook
a little with each breath.
Closing my eyes
I saw...

"Wooden Box" Part 2

Once day was done at school,
we walked in twos and threes and fours
to street corners where
“safety boys” with outstretched arms
kept us till the traffic cleared
then scurried us along.

It seemed at first
that not a thing had changed.
The sidewalks that we knew so well
still wound the same way home.
But that day more than most
mothers stood
waiting on front porches;
TVs flickered in the corner
as tables were set for supper;
and fathers coming home from work
sat a little longer in their cars,
trying to recall the things
dads are supposed to know.

In three days' time,,
we saw the widow veiled in black
with two children at her side.
We watched them say good-bye
at the cathedral steps.
From there the horse-drawn caisson
bore the wooden box
to Arlington.
We winced at the three shots
of the soldiers' seven guns.
We watched them fold the flag.
We heard the broken note of taps
and the final nine that fill the sky,
"All is well, safely rest, God is nigh"
Then in farewell,
she laid her face,
as we had on our desks,
against the smooth, cold wood.

© Copyright 2007, TK, Patterns of Ink
John-John Kennedy salutes his father's casket as
it passed toward Arlington. November 25, 1963.

Wooden Box: Part II

When Doubt Came Slowly
1964 Prologue Part 1: "Wooden Box" Part 2

Once day was done at school,
we walked in twos and threes and fours
to street corners where
“safety boys” with outstretched arms
kept us till the traffic cleared
then scurried us along.

It seemed at first
that not a thing had changed.
The sidewalks that we knew so well
still wound the same way home.
But that day more than most
mothers stood
waiting on front porches;
TVs flickered in the corner
as tables were set for supper;
and fathers coming home from work
sat a little longer in their cars,
trying to recall the things
dads are supposed to know.

In three days' time,,
we saw the widow veiled in black
with two children at her side.
We watched them say good-bye
at the cathedral steps.
From there the horse-drawn caisson
bore the wooden box
to Arlington.
We winced at the three shots
of the soldiers' seven guns.
We watched them fold the flag.
We heard the broken note of taps
and the final nine that fill the sky,
"All is well, safely rest, God is nigh"
Then in farewell,
she laid her face,
as we had on our desks,
against the smooth, cold wood.
John-John Kennedy salutes his father's casket as
it passed toward Arlington. November 25, 1963.

Wooden Box Part III

When Doubt Came Slowly
1964 Prologue Part 1: "Wooden Box" Part III

President Kennedy was killed on Friday, November 22, 1963, (the same day our letters to Santa were due at home). Dad was torn about leaving us, but went on his annual deer-hunting trip to the Upper Peninsula Saturday. On Sunday morning, Oswald, Kennedy's alleged lone assassin was gunned down while in police custody, and the President lay in state at the Capitol. Our school was closed on Monday, the day of the state funeral. We watched it all day long. Three days later was Thanksgiving, and five weeks after that the ball at Time Square ushered in the year 1964.

The decades to follow have been a blur of praise and condemnation for JFK's personal and political life, strewn with talk of a "Kennedy curse" and the endless conspiracy and cover-up theories about his assassination prompted primarily (we later learned) by the numerous groups (at home and abroad) who wanted him dead and were capable of making it happen. More disturbing than these unproven speculations are the well-documented accounts of his shameless lifestyle and compulsive infidelity to the First Lady and their children whom the nation adored.

For this reading, however, I would ask us to remember that during his brief presidency little of that sordid information was publicly known, and what became known wasn't talked about.

At this time, America’s respect for the office of President transcended personal politics. The cruel art of "caricature" and hardball politics had been around forever, but the post-Kennedy need to mock our leaders through sardonic commentary and endless lampooning (a la SNL, Late Night, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, etc.) requires a level of cynicism that had not yet begun to fester and was years from finding network or viewer support.

Call it innocence; call it ignorance, but it was a different world.

Kennedy's three predecessors had seen us through a World War in which over 400,000 American soldiers died in what was rightly celebrated as a victory. The young Kennedy had served in that war on a boat called the PT 109. America had seen the PT 109 movie, and my brothers and I were still singing Jimmy Dean's 1962 hit song “PT 109."

Think of it this way: In the 30 years before Kennedy's death, there had been only three other presidents in the White House (FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower). The 30 years after his death saw seven different presidents (Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton).

Looking back on it now, it may be hard to imagine a time when a nation’s perception of the Commander-in-Chief could be influenced by glowing newsreels, Hollywood biographies, and a hit song. It's hard to imagine, but it's true. It was a time when America believed in happy-endings; a time when we chose to think the best of those we trusted; a time when doubt came slowly.

Note: The end of the 63-64 school year brought an end to something else in my life. It would be the last year that Kathy, Paul, Dave, and I all attended school in the same building. The next year, Kathy went to Burton Junior High. By the time I got to Burton, Kathy and Paul were in the high school. (Dave and I attended Burton together for one year.) By the time I got to high school, Dave was a senior and Kathy and Paul were in college. The fact that we would never in school together again did not occur to me at the time.

Poetry or Prose?
Thoughts on the writing process...

If you peruse the archives here at Patterns, you'll see some "verse" posts mixed in with weekend stories and essays. Last week, the above post called "Wooden Box" was basically a paragraph, but as I re-read it this week, I wanted to explain that "heads on your desk" was not a punitive request by Mrs. Schoen. Remembering that pattern after recess brought back the images and sounds of the playground of Huron Park Grammar School. The equipment (now banished from school yards), the sledding hill, etc. In revising the paragraph about that day, the prose began to saturate and the images and emotions began to crystallize into lines of verse. I then did the same with "Part II" to help unify those thought about the assassination and the funeral to follow.

I've heard poetry defined as: "Words that don't go all the way across the page." I'm not saying that every time I use "verse form" it qualifies, but there's some truth in that definition.

Take the Gettysburg Address, for instance. Those 278 words are sheer poetry when spoken aloud. Had Lincoln chosen not to write all the way across the page, we would not say he gave a speech but that he wrote and read a poem that day. The power of his words and the rhythm of their interplay soar far above common prose and illustrate the force of few words.

When thoughts crystallize in lines of verse they lay bare the sounds, rhythms, and simple meaning of words. For instance, I had first used wadded rather than crumpled in those closing lines of "part I", but crumpled sounds softer, fits better with "hanky," and conveys the emotion of a teacher trying to "keep it together" through the last hour of a sad day. (I better understood the feelings teachers had that day years later on September 11, 2001, when as the administrator of our school I had to decide how to share the news of that day's events. We chose not to tell our elementary, but had an assembly with 6-12.)

[By the way, it was not a Kleenex that Mrs. Schoen held; it was a hanky. Back then all women had hankies and men carried handkerchiefs, big ol' squares of cotton into with the spat or blew their nose and then returned to their pocket for further use. When it was sufficiently used (or "full"), it was tossed into the laundry and a fresh on was taken from a neatly folded stack in a drawer—actually mine were wadded. Ladies carried "hankies," delicate little things sometimes with lace or monograms embroidered in the corner. Kleenex "facial tissues" were available in the 60's, but it would be several years before an adult was without the gender-specified "snot rag."]

Sorry about that little handkerchief "rabbit trail." Sometimes when I write I feel like the nice but senile man in the nursing home entry way, sitting there with his false teeth in his lap, mumbling non sequiturs to passers by. ("Mommy, what was that man talking about?") If I seem like that to you, too. Thank you for not telling me. Thank you for pausing to listen and smiling (and saying to your child, "Be nice to the old guy. He's just remembering things out loud.")

Speaking of the writing process, you must go see Charlotte's Web. E.B. White's prose is a perfect example of what I've attempted to share today. His mastery of words is legendary. There is just enough "narrative" in this new film to showcase the beauty of language and the importance of words like "terrific" and "humble." If you like this great 20th Century fable—you'll love its treatment in this movie. Be sure to get this book and read it aloud to all of your favorite listeners. The movie site says, "Help is coming from above." At the heart of this story is this truth: "Greater love hath no man than this...that a man lay down his life for a friend."

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Some Forever and Not For Better

When Doubt Came Slowly
1964 Prologue: Part 2

"There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever and not for better
Some are gone and some remain.” (Lennon/McCartney)

“All these places have their moments
With people and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
But in my life, I loved them all." (Lennon/McCartney/Selah)

Two months later in February, I was standing in the same recess line that led to November's tragic news. This time news of a different sort had everyone talking. The night before on the Ed Sullivan Show an English group had just arrived and proved that in America it’s possible to land and “take off” at the same time. The truth is... I hadn't seen the show, but I'd heard my father's opinion the next morning, and he didn't like them.

Beside me in the recess line was Michelle G. She had the angelic look of a Breck girl and wore her hair like the English cousin version of Patty Duke. (My sister Kathy's favorite show of that season.) Michelle's parents also disapproved of the Beatles. I thought that was an awfully good sign. (I had a one-way crush on Michelle for about two years.)

I did not yet own a hand-held transistor radio, but many of the older kids in our neighborhood had theirs tuned to CKLW , which was soon to become one of the most popular top 40 station in America. The funny thing is, the station was not in the US. It came across the Detroit River form Windsor, Ontario, which at this time still flew the Union Jack. I mention England’s flag over Canada because it was on CKLW that I first heard the Beatles. The song was “I Saw Her Standing There.” I didn’t like it—especially the part when they warbled “Oooooooooh! into the microphone.

“That sounds stupid,” I said, “They have too many ‘yeah, yeah, yeahs’ in their songs.” This was true, but I was also parroting my parent’s displeasure with the band.

For decades popular music was marketed to breadwinners (since they bought records). That market did not include young kids and teens whose “spending money” depended largely on parental approval. The home-grown "Rock and Roll" of the Fifties, was not without controversy and was targeted to youth, but much of the best selling music before the mid-60's had cross-generational appeal.

This was no longer the case. Beatlemania was an unprecedented phenomenon. At first parents were bemused, but in a few short years battle lines were drawn in many homes (including ours).[There is an interesting series of Lennon interviews here (if you can get them on Youtube).]

It's important to differentiate "the Beatles as estabished art" (which crystalized over the decades) and the "the Beatles as spontanious influencers" (which unfolded in real time over six years). It's an oversimplification to say that the parents of the mid-sixties were just afraid of "rock-n-roll," or long hair, or even change. They were afraid of uncertain direction. A casual study of the Beatles and the social/ spiritual / pharmaceutical/ political changes they began promoting would underscore the fact that not all change is good. Experience does count for something, and maybe (just maybe) "Father Knows Best."

Prior to this era, TV networks played it safe with the musical choices of "family" and “variety show” broadcasts. Elvis had made several "singing movies" but when he debuted on TV the camera filmed only his upper torso so as not to show his gyrations. Families had transitioned from Perry Como to Ricky Nelson. But in this same year leading up to the Christmas of 1964, Ed Sullivan introduced America to both the Singing Nun (with her own #1 hit, "Dominique") and the Beatles. Talk about culture shock! That same winter the froggy-throated Bob Dylan released his prophetic "The Times There are A-Changin'."

"Come mothers and fathers throughout the land
And don't criticize w
hat you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters a
re beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one

If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'."

Dylan was right, and in the next installment of this epilogue, we'll look at some more of those changes. But until then the following Beatles montage will conclude "1964 Epilogue: Part 1" and show how quickly some those visible changes took place. "Hair length" had become a counterculture statement, but the saddest change in the Beatles faces is in their eyes.

Someone once jokingly told me, "If you remember the late '60's you didn't really experience them." (Implying that the "real participants" were stoned or "mellow" most of the time.) It is sadly true that this was the dawn of psychodelic drug use. By the end of the decade, a portion of my generation (and some of my friends at school) had a different look in their eyes. If you look closely in the following video, you may notice a similar change in these famous faces.
The Beatles -- "In My Life" --Beatlemania 1964-1970 (Click on both the center arrow and the lower left arrow.)

"Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and friends that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
But in my life I loved you more." (Lennon/McCartney/Selah)

This is one of the many Lennon/McCartney songs that transcended the era. I enjoy the Selah cover even more. It took many years for me to separate the talent of the Beatles from the tension they brought to my home's worldview, but the interwoven gifts of these four musicians left many noteworthy marks on our world. Forty years later, their talent and more thoughtful classics are enjoyed by all ages (including many who disdained them at the time).

The Beatles -- "In My Life" --Beatlemania 1964-1970 (Click on both the center arrow and the lower left arrow.)

"Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and friends that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
But in my life I loved you more." (Lennon/McCartney/Selah)

This is one of the many Lennon/McCartney songs that transcended the era. I enjoy the Selah cover even more. It took many years for me to separate the talent of the Beatles from the tension they brought to my home's worldview, but the interwoven gifts of these four musicians left many noteworthy marks on our world. Forty years later, their talent and more thoughtful classics are enjoyed by all ages (including many who disdained them at the time).

Christmas 1964 Prologue Part 3

Far more than music made 1964 "the toppling point of a cultural shift" (as mentioned above). This same year marked the peak of the Civil Rights Movement and the years of tension that followed; it saw the first of many "campus protests." We were in a stare-down with Russia in both a space race and a "Cold War" nuclear arms build-up, but the most controversial military action was President Johnson's 1964 deployment of thousands of American troops to Viet Nam. The icing on this complex cake, and very related to all the ingredients, was the self-described "Hippie movement." Are you beginning to get the picture?

Music did not cause the attitude shift in the mid-sixties--it merely reflected the cultural convulsions of the time.

On this day, December 10, 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

At that time in my life, I don't recall having heard the name Martin Luther King Jr. Kids don't watch the news; they pay attention only to what affects them; so the fact that my peers and I were oblivious to the Civil Rights Movement innocently sums up the simmering frustrations that were about to boil over.

I missed the news of King's Nobel Prize on this day (probably because I was still recovering from the shock of seeing a drunk Santa behind Federals and was looking forward to going downtown to Hudson's), but the images and words of this man's life would soon be imortalized in ways none but the most hateful would wish.

His best known speech had been delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial a few months before Kennedy's assassination. The summer after this speech, President Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964.

Martin Luther King "I Have a Dream"

(Click on both the center arrow and the lower-left arrow.)
Click here to hear the full 17-minute speech. If you have any doubt how some of those cultural changes looked, watch the opening footage of the longer "I have a Dream" link. Notice the appearance of the demonstrators who came to Washington that day. Knee-length cotton dresses, dress slacks, coats and ties, etc. I'm not implying that there is morality in "outward appearance"--only pointing out cultural norms. If you compare the dress code of the Civil Rights era to that of the Viet Nam protesters a few years later, you'll see why some thought that the fabric of America was unraveling. Ironically, the uniformity of non-conformity became a uniform all its own.

The ideals of the Civil Rights Movement are now etched in our national conscience (as is the observance of Martin Luther King Day), but like most legitimate causes, these events picked off many scabs before they led to healing. The social stress made it an interesting time to live in Detroit, a city that was about to become famous for two things other than cars: the first was Motown...and the second I'll talk about later.

It's a well supported local fact that right there at the Hudson's where my family enjoyed the magic of Christmas, worked a clerk who was about to be discovered by Motown Records. Her name was Diana Ross. Click here to watch her perform with The Supremes in 1964.

We'll look at Detroit's more serious mid-sixties issues in the next post.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

See The Nativity Story

In the middle of these nostalgic glimpses of “Christmas past,” I want to take a moment to recommend The Nativity Story. It opened this weekend to mixed reviews, but what else would we expect from movie critics? I am sometimes a casual movie critic myself, but I’m going to suspend criticism on minor points [and other ironic post-production controversy] and boil my observation down to one comment that all evangelical Christians will understand: This movie is not cheesy. You will not be embarrassed to recommend it to a friend. (You know what I mean by cheesy Christian attempts at major motion pictures—I won’t name titles, but we’ve seen them through the years.)

Mel Gibson's The Passion raised the bar, and while this film is being criticized for being less “riveting” than Gibson’s drama, I would suggest that it comes close in many artistic elements. This will be a seasonal treat for believers—not a blockbuster, but I commend its understated portrayal of a time and place that is bleak, barbaric, and beautiful and for telling the story of a miraculous event that, by any standards, requires some delicacy. [Click here for a fair review.]

This film also did something not yet achieved in my 40+ years of contemplating the story of Christ’s birth… it introduced me to Joseph. I could relate to this man. I liked his strength and child-like faith, and for the first time in my life I saw that he was not an “extra” in the cast. While their roles are clearly delineated in Scripture, Joseph was as much a part of the divine selection for the Holy family as Mary. The human part of Mary’s post-conception motherhood could not have happened without God’s appointed man to be the caring husband of Mary and the earthly boyhood father of the Messiah. This film fleshes out that reality without imposing fiction on the untold years of young Jesus’ life.

After hearing case after case of the ACLU demanding the removal of nativity scenes from public land, and after fifty years of “feel good” holiday movies that miss the point (including many of those I’ve mentioned fondly from my childhood), this movie a wonderful Christmas card to those who wish to watch in awe the scene Linus told us about as children in 1965 when he quieted that frolicking stageful of kids and said the following....

A 40-year-old plug for The Nativity Story

(Click both the corner arrow and the center arrow to begin play.)

My on-going narrative in recent weeks is about 1964 (and I have some remaining installments in that thread of posts). This classic debuted the next year 1965. Until that time, we had never heard the now-famous and always happy "Linus and Lucy" piano score or the melancholy "Christmas Time is Here."

Network executives wanted to cut the scene shown here, but Charles Schultz, said "If we don't answer this question, who will?"

[P.S. I couldn't find a clip without the added graphics, but I would have preferred to let the recited Scripture speak for itself. True, Christmas is "not about toys and snow" but I'm not sure what the graphics writer meant by saying it's not about people. People is precisely why He came. His perfect life and eventual death was an atonement for sin. What a picture! Shepherds gathering around the worthy lamb who would someday be slain for the sins of all who, by grace, trust in Christ alone for forgiveness of sin (As did the thief on the cross beside Jesus at his death and, we may surmise, as did those believing shepherds at his birth on that first Christmas.)]

A Christmas Tribute to Veterans
and U.S. Armed Forces Near and Far

(This post originally had a Youtube link of Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" over a montage of 1944 WWII GIs decorarting Christmas trees in European war zones, opening care packages, etc. It was very movinng, but the link was removed by Youtube)

I’ve been sharing glimpses of the Christmas “specials” that my family used to enjoy in the 60’s. "Meet Me in St.Louis" introduced a Christmas song intended to speak to the nation during World War II. (This was five years after The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland was now 21 years old.)

Here’s what else was happening during filming of this classic. The year was 1944, three Christmases had passed since Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, and in three months an American flag would be hoisted up by beleaguered soldiers on Iwo Jima. The movie’s first preview was June 5, the day before the “D-Day” invasion on the beaches of Normandy.

Knowing this, it’s altogether fitting that this particular clip [now removed had been] been mixed with newsreel footage of American GIs, ordinary men trying to make merry far from home.

During this current war on terrorism, we’ve heard plenty of the anti-American sentiment and negativity. Don’t believe it. Here’s what England's Prime Minister Tony Blair's said recently when asked by one of his Parliament members why he believes so much in America:

"A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in... And how many want out. Only two defining forces have ever offered to die for you: Jesus Christ & The American G.I. One died for your soul, the other for your freedom."

Friday, December 01, 2006


How drab the days
when fallen leaves
blow to and russet fro
and likewise later
melting March
without a bud to show.
The variegated leaf,
the frozen river’s flow...
at last the empty
in between
is covered by the snow.

© Copyright 2007, TK, Patterns of Ink

After a long fall with hardly a speck of snow, we were hit with a storm last night and had a snow day today. Thanks, God. We needed that.

When Doubt Came Slowly
(from Part I)

The year was 1964. Still clinging to the Santa story when I was nearly nine took little effort. I was the youngest of four kids in a house full of Christmas romance.

My brother Paul studied the TV Guide and scheduled family nights around the specials. Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and young Natalie Wood's The Miracle of 34th Street, and Alastair Sim's 1951 A Christmas Carol, were always on the list. [Many years later, "It's a Wonderful Life," became our family's favorite, but most of my generation never saw that film until the year after a less impressive made-for-TV remake starring Marlo Thomas aired in 1977. Ironically, public rejection of the now-forgotten remake created the loyal following the original 1946 Jimmy Stewart version has enjoyed ever since.]

This particular year debuted a milestone in holiday specials. Burl Ives narrated a stop-action animation classic that has aired every year since). It was produced in color, but since most homes still only had black-and-white TVs, our family saw it like this for years.
(Side Note: I heard a DJ say the other day that "Holly Jolly" is the most-played needle-drop Christmas tune of 2006. I think Christmas music in general reflects our need for nostalgia, but unfortunately, it also reflects man's need for "secular alternatives" to the real meaning of Christmas. The Santa story poses some problems to some Christians. I understand that, and would even agree that the remake of "Miracle of 34th Street" and other Santa lore draw needless parallels between believing in Santa and true faith in Christ, This link postulates the anti-Santa case stronger than most. In our house it was just seasonal fantasy which I survived. I do think parents are wise to make a clear distinction fantasy and faith in the Christ of CHRISTmas.)

Our most enchanting experience was one our parents never saw. Every Christmas morning when we woke up before the appointed time to open presents, my sister Kathy snuck us into her room and passed the hour by reading The Story of Holly and Ivy from cover to cover. She was twelve at the time. Like all teachers-in-waiting, she loved to read aloud, and her voice had the rhythm of care and characters that pulled us forward as we listened. (That memory is still as warm as the baker's shed on page 36 where Ivy, the orphan in the story, spent Christmas Eve lost and alone.)

Imagine three brothers sitting on their sister's chenille bedspread enthralled by a story about a Christmas doll. It's a wonder we turned out at all.)

A Christmas Carol

Every year we watched at least on of the many versions of A Christmas Carol. The 1951 Alastair Sim version was by far the best. This usually aired on a Sunday Afternoon before Christmas. Timeless!

Nat King Cole - Christmas Song

These were great TV specials

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