Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hank Williams on the Lost Highway - 60 Years On

It was 61 years ago this evening when Hank Williams started out for his last concert. He never made it. This is one of my favorite past New Year’s Eve posts. I've been having fun going back through some of my old holiday posts, but I promise to get back to work on January 2nd; doing pretty much the same thing as always. And; if you ever figure out just what that is; please let me know; I've been wondering.

Meantime here's my version of the death of Hank Williams on new Years morning 1953. I would not enter the world for another 20 months, yet his music has touched generations; so this one's for Hank...

Did you ever hear about the death of Hank Williams, Sr., on a back highway early on the morning of January 1, 1953? I would not be born for another 20 months, yet this legendary singer/songwriter has left a lasting impression upon the world in which we live.

I don't ever recall a time of my life in which Hank Williams, Sr. has not been somewhere in the background; whether in movie, song, or his considerable influence on the music we call rock and roll. It all goes back to Hank. John Lennon used to carry the complete works with him on cassette. Bob Hope, after trying to follow him on stage during a "package tour" in the late 1940's said that he would never follow him on stage again. His songs were all about the pain of living, and the humor, locked away within that pain.

His recording career ran only 5 years, from 1948 until his death on the first day of January 1953, yet he left a catalog of about 267 songs, many of which are still sung today.

Born September 17th, 1923, in Mt. Olive, Alabama, he would be a superstar by age 25 and dead by age 29. And in between he lived a life of physical and emotional pain. Long considered to be the Father of Country Music, he got his first guitar at age 8.

Named Hiram King Williams at birth, Hank learned to play his guitar under the direction of a local black man whom everyone called Tee Tot. Tee Tot was a street singer of the blues variety and young Hank was fascinated by the sounds he heard the old man coax from his guitar. But even more than the sound of the strings, what caught Hank's ear was the painful lyrics sung in an almost joyful manner. It was like Church; you took your pain and turned it into music. Your despair became your salvation.

Early in his teens, Hank began performing around the Greenville area of Alabama. Shortly after that, the family would move to Montgomery. In 1937 his mother opened a boarding house there, and by 1941 Hank had formed his first band, The Drifting Cowboys. They even got air time on the local radio station, WFSA. Known as "The Singing Kid", he did mostly cover versions of Roy Acuff songs and other popular numbers of the day. He would remain with WFSA for the next 9 years, even after becoming a star.

In 1943 he met his first wife, Audrey, while playing a "medicine show" near Banks, Alabama. Within a year they were married and living in his mother's boarding house. She became his manager as his status and reputation grew. But he couldn't seem to break out of Alabama and onto the national scene. This was about to change.

Traveling to Nashville, he was determined to meet Fred Rose, Roy Acuff's publishing partner. Rose was immediately taken with both Hank's guitar and voice. He arranged for Hank to record two songs for Sterling Records, "Never Again" and "Honky Tonkin'" in February 1947. On the strength of those two recordings he was signed to MGM Records and Fred Rose became his manager, as well as his producer.

"Move It On Over" was the first big hit for Hank with MGM in 1947. By 1948 he was a member of the "Louisiana Hayride", both on radio and on the road. His career was soaring. When he did a cover version of "Lovesick Blues" in 1949, he hit Number One and stayed there for 16 weeks, crossing every demographic line imaginable. When he performed the song live at The Grand Ol' Opry, he did 6 encores. I don't believe that record has ever been topped.

But, with all of the fame and success came trouble. Hank's drinking problem, which had been lurking just beneath the surface, began to rear its head again. The long separations from home while on tour; the fights when he was home; all began to take a toll on his marriage to Audrey. But the final "nail in the coffin" happened in late 1951 on Hank's farm in Tennessee, where he was hunting. He fell, re-igniting an old back injury. There was another tour coming up and so he did what so many performers have done before and since. He turned to painkillers, and finally morphine, to deal with the pain. He became almost instantly addicted to the morphine. He was also drinking heavily again.

In early 1952, Hank and Audrey separated for the last time. Yet, 1952 would be one of his most prolific and successful periods. "Honky Tonk Blues", "Half as Much", "Jambalaya", and even my favorite "I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive" were written and recorded in this final year of his life. They all went to the Top Ten. But he continued drinking and doing morphine. Most of his time awake was spent drinking, drugging and playing with guns. 

By August of 1952 he was fired from the Grand Ol' Opry, mainly due to his drunkenness. He was told that he could return once he was sober. The shame of it all was that no one knew how little time was left.

This infuriated Hank to the point of his becoming even more reckless, finally even losing his band, as well as his friends. Still working "The Louisiana Hayride" provided him with money to live on. His royalties were being handled by an attorney as part of the divorce from Audrey. He began using local pick up bands, which further reduced the fees he could have been earning.

It was in the fall of 1952, just 90 days before his death, that he married 19 year old Billie Jean Eshlimar, a policeman's daughter. At this same time, he was expecting a child with a woman named Bobbie Jett, and signed an agreement to support the baby once it was born. By December of 1952 he was also having heart trouble, mostly due to the morphine, booze, cigarettes and life on the road. His doctor was a man named Toby Marshall.

On December 31st, 1952 Hank was scheduled to fly to Canton, Ohio to perform on New Year’s Day. The weather was bad and the flight was cancelled, leaving no other option than to travel by car. Hiring a chauffeur, he headed for Ohio in his new Cadillac. Just before leaving "Dr." Marshall gave him 2 injections for the ride. One was Vitamin B-12; the other was a large dose of morphine. Hank got in the back seat, toting a bottle of whiskey, and the chauffeur started out for Ohio.

Early on the morning of January 1st, 1953 the chauffeur was pulled over for speeding. The policeman noticed that the passenger looked more dead than alive and escorted the Cadillac to a West Virginia Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 7 AM New Year's morning. His last record was "I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive."

His recordings continued to sell after his death, and all of the new songs that had been awaiting release charted in the Top Ten throughout 1953.

For me, Hank Williams has always been there in the background, a place where I can store my pain, face it, or laugh at it. His music is the same as the blues, only the tempo is different.

Tonight is New Year's Eve. I'll go out to dinner, watch an old movie, and stay up a bit later than usual. But sometime, after everyone else has gone off to sleep, I will probably still be awake, imagining that I am out there, somewhere on the Lost Highway. And if I tilt my head just right, and listen really hard, somewhere around dawn, I just might hear that “Lonesome Whistle Blow”.

Monday, December 30, 2013

"Singing In the Rain" - Debbie Reynolds,

This is one of those films which I watch a couple of times each year. And one of those times is usually around New Years. It's a habit of mine to stay up a bit later than anyone else on New Year's Eve/early morning. I especially enjoy watching a musical, all alone while the rest of the world sleeps.

In this number, "Good Morning", from the classic film "Singing In the Rain", Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor celebrate the wee hours in riotous fashion. The late night hours have spawned a solution to a very perplexing problem for the trio and they kick out all the stops in celebration.

Obviously I won't be watching this one tomorrow night, having just watched it. But, you can be sure that I will be sitting; wide eyed; and watching an old musical tomorrow night/New Year's morning around 2 AM. I have no explanation; it's just something I do. "Gee, it's great to stay up late..."

Saturday, December 28, 2013

"The Balloon Song" - Toddler World TV

The internet can be a black hole; or it can be a wondrous tool for communication and learning. As with most things, it all depends on what you do with it. This delightful little cartoon is an example of all that is good in the cyber world.

This video comes from Toddler World TV; which if you are a parent of a toddler, you are probably already aware. It’s new to me, but I can see where this would be a fun tool to work with your child/grandchild on learning the colors. The thing you have to watch out for when looking and listening to these little things is NOT taking away the simple melodies in your head. They will come back to you at the most unexpected times; like 3 in the morning when you’re trying to sleep! Kind of like an annoying commercial, except that the visual is more tolerable.

There’s a whole world of stuff on the website for Toddler World TV. Though not a replacement for actually parenting your child, there are actually lots of fun things on here which can make learning more fun for both parent and child. Now that’s what I call a good use of technology! See more from Toddler World TV at their You Tube location;

Friday, December 27, 2013

"Mandela - Long Walk to Freedom" with (2013)

No movie can ever effectively encompass the life of Nelson Mandela. There simply is not enough time to spend on any one portion of his life, and 2 hours is hardly representative of all which he accomplished in his struggle to free his country. That said; this movie shines brightly as a tribute to what one man will endure to breathe life into his dream of being free.

Beginning with memories gleaned from a childhood of tribal rituals, the young Mandela leaves home in the early 1940’s to seek his fortune. In a racially restricted environment which can only be called “Nazi-Lite”, he encounters all of the racial segregation of the Jim Crow south at the time. The only real difference between South Africa and the United States was that the Federal government in South Africa was part of the problem; unlike in America where the central government would eventually become an ally of the oppressed.

Mandela was a skilled legal representative for the poor and oppressed before he became involved in politics. As a matter of fact you could say the his advocacy for the poor was the very thing which made him hyper aware of the abuses heaped upon the African citizens in their own country by the 10% minority, which was composed of the descendants of the original British and Dutch colonists. Working with youth groups and teaching them the skill of boxing brought him into close everyday contact with the people he would someday inspire to take the freedom so long denied  them.

As Mandela became more involved in the political struggle he turned to violence as a means to an end. If the white rulers would not respect the rights due native African peoples, then the people would not recognize the government which so brutally oppressed them. This made Mandela extremely dangerous to the power structure. By 1964 he was granted “mercy” in a court case which gripped the world. That “mercy” consisted of a life sentence with no chance of parole. Moreover, he would serve that time, along with his co-defendants, on an island; basically exiled from his native soil.

The years rolled by, but Mr. Mandela didn't lose his edge; he simply changed directions. An early victory in prison came when he was able to confront the sadistic Commander of the island prison and demand; of all things; long pants for the prisoners. The reason for the request was simple; making prisoners wear short pants made them “boys” rather than men; by demanding long pants they were in effect taking back their manhood. This was the first step in the path of non-violence which changed Mr. Mandela’s life.

Naomie Harris is excellent in the role of Winnie Madikizela, who would later become his 2nd wife. The film does not flinch from showing her as becoming overly militant after her brutal treatment at the hands of her husband’s oppressors. It is highly doubtful that any marriage could have survived these years intact. And her emotional unraveling is yet another result of the inhumanity of the apartheid system which was still in place.

As the 1970’s came to a close, a movement was begun to free Nelson Mandela. That movement was worldwide. Due to the spotlight being shone on the racial inequalities of South Africa, Mr. Mandela was transferred to a prison on the mainland where he was allowed to see his wife for the first time in years and his teenage daughter for the first time.

By the time the 1980’s came to a close Mr. Mandela would be granted his freedom. But if President Botha; or later DeKlerk; thought that this would silence the force that had become Mandela, they were wrong. Instead, he used his freedom to begin the truth and reconciliation committees, which were set up to study the mistakes of the past in order to keep them from happening again. And when these committees were finished with their work a new political era was born in South Africa; and one of the first things to occur was the election of Nelson Mandela as President of the South African Republic.

The film is beautifully directed by Justin Chadwick, and the screenplay by William Nicholson stays true to the basic tenets of Mr. Mandela’s extraordinary autobiography. This is a film well worth seeing, made from a book well worth reading and a life well served.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

"A Visit from St. Nick" by Clement C. Moore (1822)

How could I ever let Christmas Eve pass without at least reading this iconic poem to myself, or sharing it here? The answer is that I simply can’t. This poem has become; over the more than 100 years since it was first published; a part of Christmas uniquely American, somewhat akin to the identification of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”, as it defines the British Christmas experience of the 1800’s. 

This is one of those things that I will most likely post each year. Without grandkids closeby to share it with, I have to share it with somebody… Thanks for being here to enjoy it with me!

Mr. Moore wrote the poem “Twas the Night before Christmas”, or, “A Visit from St. Nicholas" in 1822. He could hardly have envisioned the impact which his poem would have upon the world for years to come. 

This year marks the 191st Christmas since the poem was first published anonymously in the New York Sentinel. It wasn’t until 1844 that Mr. Moore allowed his name to be associated with his creation. There is no doubt that he would be surprised that his poem has lasted this long. We’re not.

“A Visit from St Nick” by Clement C. Moore

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tinny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Toys, and St Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.

His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"

Sunday, December 22, 2013

"Christmas In July" with Dick Powell (1940)

This is one of the quirkiest Christmas movies ever made, as it takes place in the summer. Preston Sturges, arguably one of the greatest directors ever, is in rare form in this film. Dick Powell and Ellen Drew, two young lovers, play a couple with no money but big dreams. 

When Jimmy MacDonald, a young office clerk, played by Dick Powell, enters a contest for an advertising slogan, he has high hopes. And when he is notified that he has won, and can now marry his true love, Betty Casey, played by Ellen Drew, all should end well. But, this is a Preston Sturges movie, and it’s never that simple; ever.

When Jimmy enters the contest with the Maxford Coffee Company, his co-workers decide to have a bit of fun with him. They send him a telegram that says he has won the prize of $25,000. He now believes he has enough to marry his girlfriend, as well as buy extravagant gifts for his friends and neighbors. 

In reality though, the coffee company is deadlocked on their selection, and as Jimmy goes deeper and deeper into debt; with no money forthcoming; what will become of all his hopes and dreams? Will he be branded as a fraud in the heat of the summer; or will he bask in the warmth of a Christmas like miracle in July? I simply will not reveal the ending of this film, which is one of Preston Sturges best cinematic creations. You’ll just have to see. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

"Christmas Comes But Once A Year" - Max Fleischer (1936)

Once again I am going to post a cartoon from Christmas past in the final days leading up to the holiday. I always loved this old classic cartoon in particular, and I posted it last year. I’m posting it again because it’s a great example of the quality of the animation in the 1930's. And, Max and Dave Fleischer were two of the best.

They often worked separately on various projects, though their best works are probably the collaborations they produced with the Popeye cartoons and Betty Boop series. They also made a boatload of feature cartoons like this one, which is a wonderful little story about an orphanage on Christmas morning. If you have seen this before, I hope that you enjoy it again this year.

Note: A Very Happy Birthday to my friend Eddie Ray. He's the youngest person I know …
A Picture from Israel
This is a photo of the moon setting over Massada in Israel the other morning. It was taken by my daughter who is on a trip to the Holy Land. She's 26 years old, exactly the same age I was when I made my first "aliyah". Forgive me for being so proud of her...

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"The Christmas Song" - Mel Torme and Judy Garland (1963)

No Christmas can be complete without this classic, which was written by Mr. Torme when he was just 19 years old. This version is taken from the 1963 Judy Garland Christmas Special. A portion of the following is reposted from last year. The rest I just thunk up…

Everyone knows the version of “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole. You might have to jog people’s memories with the first line, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…..” but for the most part, everybody knows the rest of the song. That’s why I chose this version to post. It’s from a 1963 television special, but it is performed by its composer, the marvelous Mel Torme. And, as if that weren’t enough of an attraction, he is joined by the legendary Judy Garland in delivering one of the most beautiful versions of this iconic song.

This is the time of year to kind of relax and reflect back on where you’ve been and what you’ve done; not to mention where you’ll be next year at this time. One thing’s for sure, you won’t get through the holidays without hearing this song. Some things never change.

Mel Torme was only 19 years old when he wrote this song; others would follow; but had he never written another, it’s almost enough to say that that song alone would have fulfilled his destiny. Enjoy this by the fireside if you can…
The "New" USS Milwaukee LCS-5

The "new" USS Milwaukee, LCS-5, was launched in Marinette, Wisconsin the other day. This is the 5th vessel to bear the name Milwaukee, beginning with the first Milwaukee in the Civil War. I served as a Quartermaster aboard the 4th USS Milwaukee, AOR-2, a fleet replenishment "oiler" in the 1970's. 

The new ship didn't seem to want to cooperate, taking 10 blows from the champagne bottle swung by Mrs. Leon Panetta, wife of the former Defense Secretary, before sliding down the ways for her first taste of the sea.

For a better video, with some more background about the ship, go to this link, which is a broadcast from Milwaukee about the ship's launch. For some reason it would not load here correctly.

Fair winds and following seas to all who will be sailing her!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Elvis- Christmas Comeback Show (1968)

This was the ultimate Christmas special in 1968. Elvis had been lying about; making crappy movies for almost 10 years at this point and some folks thought he had lost his edge. Were they ever wrong! In this 72 minute special Elvis goes through every type of entertainment. Between singing, playing guitar, dancing, the production numbers and duets with Ann Margaret; this show represents the all-around entertainment which was the staple of television, especially around holiday times.

But the best part of this show; the part that blew all the naysayers away; comes at about 40 minutes into the show, when Elvis; along with his band; perform a medley of his greatest hits from the 1950’s acoustically and absolutely live. 

The drummer is using sticks on a chair to beat out the rhythm, and Elvis can’t seem to get a neck strap for his guitar. But this is the portion of the show which showed the world that he still had “it”. At one point he simply wiggles a pinky and the audience goes wild, much to the amusement of Elvis. Even the Beatles had to shake their heads to get that kind of reaction.

Monday, December 16, 2013

"The Gift of the Magi" by O. Henry (timeless)

O. Henry, along with the likes of Mark Twain, marked a new type of journalist; ones who became serious writers; a tradition which has continued to the present day. With such luminaries from Mark Twain on through to Jimmy Breslin and Norman Mailer, journalists have become, increasingly, some of the leading writers of their times. O.Henry was no exception.

With his incredible feel for irony, and knowledge of human behavior, he wrote of the daily struggles which faced the generation of his time. Jim and Della are emblematic of that struggle, and the love for one another which enabled them to make it through the rough times.

The irony in the story is apparent, as well as their love for one another. The illustration I have posted here is the "Adoration of the Magi" by the Italian Artist, Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510). This is a perfect Christmas story, which I have enjoyed for many years, thanks once again, to a grammar school teacher who really had a heart, and made a difference. Mrs. Denslow, this one's for you.

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."

The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: "Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the "Sofronie."

"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.

"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."

Down rippled the brown cascade.

"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

"Give it to me quick," said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value--the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do--oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?"

At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again--you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice-- what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."

"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"

Jim looked about the room curiously.

"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year--what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"

And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!"

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."

The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

"Peace On Earth" - A Hugh Harman Cartoon (1939)

I have run this one before, so excuse me while I do it again. The message is that important. Consider that this cartoon was released while Europe was already at war, and our country was soon to be drawn in. You would think, that after such a horrible war, we would have learned something. But, we didn't.

I love the simple wisdom of this cartoon as these little critters question why they are celebrating; and when they realize what the mistakes of the past were, they set about to make a better world.

Yet, as of this writing there are conflicts raging in about half of the world. Think about that. We don't have big wars anymore; the costs associated with them are too large. The insurance companies don't allow it. So, we find out of the way places with no real infrastructure; discounting the people of course; and lay waste to it in what we call limited engagements; as if they are matinee shows to be caught before they leave town.

We humans find more and more imaginative terms, with each generation, in order to justify killing without calling it war. In the end the little critters like these will inherit what we leave of the earth after we lay waste to it. And when I really think about it; I'd rather be with them.

Friday, December 13, 2013

"The Shop Around the Corner" with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan (1940)

This is another reposting of a review from a couple of years ago; I never let the holiday pass by without watching this one;

This 1940 film by Ernst Lubitsch, starring Jimmy Stewart and Magaret Sullavan is one of the most beautifully crafted films ever made, and is based on the play by Miklós László. The story is simple, in the weeks leading up to Christmas in Budapest, the department store of Matuschek and Company, is gearing up for the holiday season. 

The owner, Hugo Matuschek is played brilliantly by Frank Morgan, known to millions worldwide as the Wizard of Oz. His right hand man, Alfred Kralik, is played by Jimmy Stewart. The two are very close, Mr. Matuschek values the opinions of his manager. Things are going very smoothly, with Kralik expecting a promotion by Christmas. Enter Margaret Sullavan as Klara Novak, an unemployed and high strung young woman. Through a bit of trickery she lands a job at Matuschek and Company, which in turn drives a wedge between Mr. Matuschek and Kralik.

While Kralik has been exchanging letters with an unknown "friend" through the classified ads, Ms. Novak has been doing the same. Without knowing, they have been exchanging letters with one another, stretching the truth a bit where necessary. So, neither one has any idea that their co-worker is the object of their affections. In fact, the opposite is true, as they grate on one another’s nerves, and the Christmas holiday approaches. And to top it all off, they are both thinking about marriage to their prospective "pen pals", although they have never met.

At the same time, a subplot is taking place as the shops "dandy", Ferencz Vadas, played exceptionally by Joseph Schildkraut, does all he can to make life unbearable for his fellow employees. He is also one of my favorite character actors, and even appears in a few of the old “Twilight Zones.”

With a cast of character actors such as Felix Bressart, who plays Kraliks friend and fellow employee Pirovitch, and William Tracy as Pepi, the stores delivery boy, this movie will easily call you back year after year for a look at Christmas in Hungary in the days before all the madness began.

The movie has at least 3 endings. By that I mean there are 3 separate times when the movie could end, leaving the audience happy, but Ernst Lubitsch, being Ernst Lubitsch, has so many tricks up his sleeve, that you will find yourself enjoying 3 endings, each one wrapping up a portion of the film that you may have forgotten about. This is the art of Ernst Lubitsch. Just when you think it's over - it's not.

One of the all-time great Christmas movies, this film was remade in the 1990's with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as "You've Got Mail." I have never been able to sit through that entire film. That’s simply because this 1940 version by Ernst Lubitsch captured my heart so many years ago.

Here is a scene from the beginning of the movie;

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Pie

When you get to be about my age; 59 years old; you start to appreciate the smaller things in life which vastly outweigh all the material things you may have accrued over the years. This is well, as it is easy to become cynical in so many ways, having sometimes seen human nature at its worst. And that’s why the smallest of kindnesses can come to mean so much; it’s an affirmation of everything in which you believed before you became so jaded. In my case, this act of kindness came in the form of a pie delivered on the spur of the moment by Isaac, a neighbor’s son.

Now, I have lived 2 houses down from Isaac’s family for over 4 years. In that time we have developed a nodding, how are you, type of relationship with his parents. This is normal, as we are of different age groups and lifestyles. But the best part of being neighbors with them has been watching their 2 children grow. And, over the years, I have given a few things to the kids; stuff like a volleyball, or a basketball; which I can no longer use, but are useful to them. Isaac and his sister Ainsley always greet me with a cheery hello, even calling me "Mr." Robert in the bargain. These hellos are sometimes the highlight of my day, as my own grandchildren live so far away.

Last week; the night before Thanksgiving; Isaac was distributing some pies to various neighbors as part of a church outreach program. He didn't really have a list, and I suppose he was going to the houses of people he knew from church. We passed in the front of my house just as it was getting dark and a bit chilly. We greeted one another in our usual, friendly fashion; which always makes me feel pretty good; and then went our separate ways. But, then he did the unexpected.

As I was headed back into my house he called out, “Hey, Mr. Robert.” Turning, I noticed him fumbling for something in the shopping bag he was carrying. As we got closer to one another he pulled out a pie saying, “This is for you Mr. Robert. I want you to have this.” It was so spontaneous that I could only manage a heartfelt thanks before he departed the scene of his kind deed.

It was a few days later and I was enjoying the last of the pie when Sue walked into the dining room. Seeing me demolish the last piece she reminded me that, “You don’t even like pie.” Well, that's probably true; but as I mumbled back to her, “Maybe so, but this is the best pie I've ever had!”

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Hidden Cost

Today’s post encompasses corporate America, baby boomers, shopping, marriage and the hidden cost of always being right. I know this to be a true story, because it happened to me…

I was doing some shopping last week (that’s the baby boomer/shopping part) and when I got home I noticed that I did not have a receipt from the grocery store. I had, instead, a long blank slip with coupons printed all over it. I must have mistakenly taken it and missed the actual receipt. But, since some stores print on both sides of the tape, I wasn't really sure that I had done anything wrong. (That’s the corporate America part.)

So, I told my wife that I forgot to take the receipt; after being married so long I immediately dismissed the notion that I was right; I mean it must be my fault. Sue just kidded me a bit about getting old and forgetful. (That’s the marriage part.)

So, imagine how happy; nay thrilled; I was the other day when, shopping at the same store, I got the receipt and it was printed on both sides, proving that I did not in fact forget the receipt last week. I even remembered the amount being $29.71; a feat for which I was given no credit at all.

It was with triumph in my heart that I sat down in the car and wrote the note on the receipt pictured above, proclaiming the fact that; just as with Wolf Larson in “Sea Wolf” by Jack London; I was indeed right. I even got about 5 miles down the road before I realized the hidden cost associated with my being right. I had forgotten to take the $6 dollars change I asked for…

Monday, December 9, 2013

"The Flame Keepers" by Ned Handy (2004)

One of my favorite Christmas movies has always been “Stalag 17” with William Holden. Though not considered to be a holiday film by most, the film does take place the week before Christmas. I always felt it offered somewhat of a real life peek inside of a POW camp. And in some respects it did just that. But, overall no movie can ever really capture the horror of being a Prisoner of War. When that film was made into a TV comedy called “Hogan’s Hero’s”, the bar between reality and what these prisoners actually went through was further blurred.

Imagine my surprise at finding this book in the stacks at the Mooresville Public Library in North Carolina the other day. Written by Mr. Handy in 2004 this book sets the record straight once and for all about Stalag 17. It wasn’t just a Broadway play, or a Hollywood movie, or even a TV show. It was years of hell for the men who lived through it; a hell they would never forget; though some would push it back further in their subconscious, only to have it come back to the forefront and haunt them years after the fact. Such was the case with Mr. Handy.

The film, written for the screen by director Billy Wilder and Edwin Blum; was originally a play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski. It is uncannily similar to this book. Where the film has a character named Animal, this book has one named Beast. There is also a fellow from Brooklyn and a few other recognizable characters who will remind you of the movie. This actually makes the whole thing immensely readable. It does not diminish, in any way, from the intensity of what Mr. Handy experienced. Rather, it heightens the experience as you have an immediate connection with the characters from having “seen” them before.

The men in Mr. Handy’s barracks decide to escape; and after obtaining permission from the barracks coordinator; actually dig a tunnel which connects to an abandoned storm drain. The book is an invaluable insight into what life was like for the thousands of Army Air Corp prisoners held by the Nazis all throughout the war.

The book is also an invaluable insight into the mind on one man; and those around him; and how they coped, or did not, with their long imprisonment. New ways to think and dream, as well as remember, become crucial to survival. The author makes this discovery early on in his ordeal, reinforcing the notion that the key to one’s freedom really does lie within.

Note: Mr. Handy, and his story, are featured in the Bonus Materials on the re-released version of the film "Stalag 17". I watched that part of the DVD for the first time last night after finishing this book.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

"Ranch Party" with Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline (1957)

Here’s another example of the weekend entertainment which we missed in the city when I was growing up. Where we had Sullivan, they had Tex. And I think they may have gotten the better part of the deal!

Tex Ritter; John’s father; was a staple of the country music scene in the 1950’s. He was there at just the right time, too. He was showcasing acts that were changing the face of music, like this show with Johnny Cash. We didn’t even hear him on the radio in New York until a few months after the record was a hit all over the interior portions of the country. (I was very young, about 3 years old at the time, so I had to look that up.)

And Patsy Cline was another example of where the city was now sometimes lagging behind the more rural areas in entertainment. Up until then it had always been the big city setting the pace via the radio.

The point is that with the growing influence of the mass media, we were becoming more homogenized as a nation. Soon, what was considered to be “hillbilly” music would become rock and roll, taking the world be storm, and ushering in the 1960’s; one of the most mercurial decades this nation has ever known.

I love looking at these old shows, especially now, living down south in North Carolina. They are windows back into time which let me see what the people who are native to this state were seeing at the time. In turn, that gives me perspective on who they are today. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

"Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" - Max Fleischer (1944)

Here is another one of those magical creations by Max Fleischer, who is undoubtedly my favorite cartoon animator. In this retelling of the classic Christmas story of Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer, Max Fleischer went to great lengths in devising a story to go around the basic plot.

He sets the story in the woods of the great North where the reindeer play and await the Christmas season. Rudolph is the youngest of the herd, and with his shiny red nose he takes a lot of grief from the others.

But, when Christmas Eve comes around; bringing with it the worst fog Santa has ever seen; Rudolph is called upon to guide Santa and Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen through the weather and get the job done.

This cartoon has a great rendition of the song “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” by Johnny Marks. It’s sung in the tight harmonies which were typical of the late 1940’s and 1950’s. The lush quality of the whole production smacks of the post war world into which I was born about 6 years later. I remember it making the rounds on TV when I was about 5, which is probably the reason I can still recite the names of the reindeer from memory over 50 years later!  Watch this one with your kids/grandkids. They’ll remember it forever.

Warning: This song may become lodged in your head for a day or two. Although it can be annoying, I assure you that it is harmless.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Howser House

Nestled about an hour from our house, in the Kings Mountain National Park, is the stone house built in 1803 by a veteran of the Revolutionary War named Henry Howser. The house was home to several generations of Howser’s who farmed the fertile soil there. The site itself is also historically significant; as it sits right on the edge of what was once a famous battleground in the struggle for Independence.

The area in which Kings Mountain sits was a hotly disputed area during the war, with the Loyalists largely holding sway over the daily lives of the people who lived there. Because of this a group of volunteers from Tennessee were compelled to set out to cross the mountains separating Eastern Tennessee from the Piedmont area of the Carolinas. They took their canons with them.

The result of their efforts to help the people there throw off the yoke of British rule became known as the Battle of Kings Mountain. It was a significant victory, as it allowed the Continental Army to exert some control over the all-important mountain routes which were needed to resupply the Continental Army on the other side of the mountain, and as such it united the efforts of both colonies to be free.

The house itself is made of the local fieldstone and was considered to be quite a palace for its time and place. Oddly, although located within the boundaries of the Kings Mountain National Park itself, the house is only open 2 days a year; once in May and then again on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. That’s when Sue and I went, last Saturday.

The Howser House is a treasure for anyone looking to broaden their knowledge of life in the early 19th Century. Staffed by volunteers in period costumes, the visitors are shown how things were done in the old days; everything from raising herbs and vegetables to cooking and even constructing such a house are either demonstrated or discussed.

Sue and I love these type of day trips, as they require very little walking for me, but also provide a fantastic window back in time. With Sue being a member of DAR; and her great grandfather several times removed, Henry Pensinger being an American revolutionary Veteran; these sights are almost personal in a way. With no photographs, and very little in the way of written reminisces of the time, this is one of the best ways to see and feel what his daily life must have been like.

The following links will provide directions and information on both the Howser House and Kings Mountain National Park;

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"George Harrison: Living In the Material World" - Martin Scorsese (2011)

This may be the best rock biopic you will ever see about George Harrison. It shouldn’t surprise you as it was produced by Martin Scorsese and Olivia Harrison. It is filled with personal photos and film footage taken by Harrison and the other Beatles, and is narrated throughout by some of the people who knew and loved him the most.

That’s not to say that this is a marathon of celebrities stating how “Beatle George” affected, or influenced, them. Rather it is a film made by those closest to him, about him. Along the way Mr. Scorsese manages to extract the most telling interviews with George concerning fame, fortune and religion. Mr. Harrison’s take on religion was not so far removed from what he terms the concept of God being “a man in the sky”, which he originally rejected.

After delving into the sitar Mr. Harrison also embarked on a spiritual journey. He began in San Francisco, where he expected to see an enlightened community populated by people who had found some sort of inner peace. Instead he found sloth, rampant recreational use of LSD, and commercialism beyond belief. He promptly fled the scene after his famous walk through Golden Gate Park.

When he got to India he was lured into the Hindu teachings in a very simple way. He had always been taught, from birth, that you only needed to have Faith in God’s existence. But in India it was accepted that one cannot believe what he cannot see or feel for themselves. And, further, that this belief was valid.

His relationship with Ravi Shankar is explored and there is some film of George and Ravi weaving together on the sitar and guitar, melding the East and West into one. The film is so insightful and informative that you come away from it feeling as if you have met Mr. Harrison for the very first time; having misunderstood him for all these years.

Eric Clapton pays homage to not only his friend, but also to the creativity of the Beatles. He even tells the story of how he got to be on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, and the anxiety he felt about performing with them.

Klaus Voorman and Astrid Kirchherr, the two German friends from Hamburg days, give their first impressions of meeting both the Beatles and George, and how that relationship affected them, as well as influenced their own artistry. Their descriptions of the friendship post Hamburg; including the LSD trip which led to John writing “I Am the Walrus”; make this film even better. Klaus went on to do the cover for the Beatles album “Revolver” and also became the bass player in the original Plastic Ono Band.

Yoko Ono weighs in with some delightfully unguarded comments about meeting George and how he perceived her as a fellow artist, rather than an enemy. George Martin is fatherly in his affection for Mr. Harrison, and Paul McCartney talks of their first meeting and how he convinced John to hear George play.When he performed “Raunchy”; atop a double decker Liverpool bus one night; he was in the group.

This film is a delightful treat. I am the type who usually gets up several times during a film, either to eat or stretch. This film had me in my chair for the entire first disc, which runs about 94 minutes. There is also a second disc with bonus features and performances which runs about 2 hours.

Whether or not you were ever a fan of the Beatles; or even George Harrison; you will not leave this film “empty handed.” This film will lift you up while also making you take a closer look at your own system of beliefs. Surprisingly; whether you are an atheist, a Christian, a Jew, or even a Buddhist; this film will touch you in a very personal way.  

Monday, December 2, 2013

"Disunion" - Edited by Ted Widmer (2013)

Even for a Civil War buff like me, this book holds unknown treasures. From the files of the New York Times blog of the same name; which chronicles the Civil War; Mr. Widmer has drawn upon the 106 most poignant articles; each of which illustrates a point about the conduct of the War Between the States, as well as the men who waged it.

The subjects represented here form an eclectic view of our nation’s most trying conflict. From Lincoln’s furtive trip through Baltimore to Washington for his first Inauguration; and on through the first years of the War Between the States, the editors have given us a comprehensive view of not only our own internal struggle, but also a look at what was happening in the rest of the world at the time, and how it affected us all. We were not alone in our struggles.

In Russia the serfs had just been freed, even as we were first going to war over the same issue. The differences in geography and how that affected the Russian serf are explored in a thorough manner, with the author taking only a few pages to make his point.

In Europe the Germans were struggling over the question of whether or not to be Germany or the Austrian Empire. Otto Von Bismarck was in charge and opted for a smaller Germany. The question of what would win out in the end would not be fully decided for 3 more wars and almost 100 years.

Mexico was mired with debt to the European powers; a debt which they decided not to pay. This decision brought the fury of the French down upon them. Maximilian was the designated President but he only lasted until 1869.

A letter to President Lincoln from the ruler of San Marino; a small country nestled in the northeastern corner of Italy which is the world’s oldest Republic, having been founded about 1300; is an interesting event all in itself. It took Lincoln 2 months to prepare the reply which he deemed proper enough to send.

The role which the railroads played in the Union victory is also explored, making the reader fully aware of the new power to get supplies to the front in an expeditious manner. What used to take months now took mere weeks, and sometimes just days, to accomplish. This “progress” made the killing faster and more numerous. And, for those who love the story, the Great Locomotive Chase is not ignored in this all encompassing book.

Here at home the authors tackle such subjects as the hundreds of women who disguised themselves as men to fight in combat. Children were also involved in the conflict, one of the most famous being Johnny Clem, who at the age of 9 years, held the dubious distinction of being the youngest person in the war to have killed a man. Clem was a Union drummer boy, a veteran of quite a few campaigns before he shot the Confederate officer who demanded his drum in surrender.

Abraham Lincoln is at the center of almost every article presented here, giving us more insight as to who he really was as a person versus the legend we have come to know. His relationship with a man named Mr. Johnson, who did some work for the President in Illinois and then accompanied him to Washington, is a wonderful example of Lincoln’s attitudes concerning race.

Mr. Johnson was an African-American man. He cut Lincoln’s hair, and even nursed him to health in late 1863 when the President was stricken with a mild case of smallpox while travelling to Gettysburg for his famous speech. As a result of ministering to the President’s needs, Mr. Johnson himself came down with the pox and passed away as a result. Lincoln had him buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The President felt that, while it could not be proven that Mr. Johnson died as a result of exposure to his illness, it was a strong possibility. He took this burden literally, which is why he paid for Mr. Johnson’s funeral.

Rose Greenhow, a woman who lived around the corner from the White House, was a spy for the Confederacy. She was successful in passing the plans for the Battle of Bull Run to the enemy. Her late husband’s military contacts and her own social circle, allowed her to hear bits and pieces of information which she passed through the lines via messenger.

When she was discovered, Allan Pinkerton, who was in service to the US Government at the time, had her placed under house arrest. She then used her window shades to pass messages to other agents strolling by. At that point Pinkerton had the windows boarded up and Mrs. Greenhow removed to a military prison. She was so much trouble there; where she was the only woman; that she was exiled down South for the remainder of the war.

One of my favorite articles in this book was written by Mr. Widmer and concerns Sarah Bush, Lincoln's stepmother. He saw her for the last time in 1861 on his way to Washington. He gave her a black dress on the occasion, not knowing that she would wind up wearing that dress for his funeral. This is the woman who introduced him to books, and in doing so changed the course of history. This is also one of the finest pieces of writing to grace the pages of an already wonderful book.

The authors also explore the many famous names we have come to associate with the Civil War and give us a little more information about them. For instance, we meet Grant not as a General, but as a failed soldier working in a dry goods store. His star was yet to rise.

Filled with descriptions of everything imaginable about the War Between the States, this book will complement any literary collection about the Civil War. With so many subjects presented in its pages, the book will have the effect of making the reader look even further than ever before in an effort to understand the war which nearly drove a stake in the heart of our young nation, and in so many ways still divides us today.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

"The Preacher And The Bear" - The Jubalaires

This song was originally recorded by Arthur Collins sometime in the early 1900’s. I've seen it listed as 1905, which puts it in the category of a waxed cylinder. It was recorded 2 more times by Claude Hopkins in 1935 and then the Golden Gate Quartet in 1937.  It didn't do much after that for about 12 years until Phil Harris recorded it in the 1947, the same year as the Jubalaires recorded theirs. (I’ll wager that their recording preceded Mr. Harris’.)

It was the Jubalaires who really immortalized the song. That’s the group you see singing it here. This film is from shortly after the records release. It was later covered by artists such as the Big Bopper in 1958, and then many more, including; The New Christy Minstrels in 1962; Jerry Reed in 1971; Jim Kweskin in 1979; David Holt in 1986; and also the Robert Decormier Singers in 1996. I’m sure there are many others, but these seem to be the most well-known versions.

The Jubalaires were a gospel oriented group from Florida originally comprised of Orville Brooks, Ted Brooks, Caleb Ginyard and George McFadden. At times the group included J.C. "Junior" Caleb Ginyard and even Willie Johnson. There have been many incarnations of the group over the decades since these men performed, all calling themselves some sort of derivative of the Jubalaires name. There are the Fairfax Jubalaires, the Sunset Jubalaires and etc. They all perform reasonably well, in the same style as the original Jubalaires, which is reminiscent of the Mills Brothers, with their tight harmonies sounding almost as one voice with different layers.

The group originally recorded under the name of The Royal Harmony Singers, beginning in 1936. In 1941 they relocated to Philadelphia. At that time the group was composed of Brooks as baritone; Willie Wright as tenor; Elijah Wright as bass; (he was soon replaced by Biggie McFadden); and the talented Billie Lee Johnson joined as guitarist in 1946. There had been quite a few others on guitar before him, but his style complimented the groups vocals in a way no other guitarist had done before.

The groups greatest success came in 1942 with their hit recording of “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” which reached #10 on the R&B charts for the week of November 14, 1942.

By 1946 the group was appearing on shows such as Arthur Godfrey’s radio program on CBS. A short time after that Willie Johnson left the Golden Gate Quartet to become leader of the Jubalaires. They recorded on Decca, King and even Capital Records.

For a more lengthy history of this group please use the following link;

Note: You will have to scroll about halfway down the page before you see the Jubalaires, but it’s worth the trip as the article is much more detailed than my own.

The song itself is about a Preacher who goes hunting on the Sabbath, knowing that it’s wrong. He encounters a bear larger than he can handle and finds himself supplicating the Lord to help him in his time of need, all the while knowing he has left his own flock to fend for themselves.

(Traditional / Joe Arzonia)

The preacher went out a huntin’, it was on one Sunday morn’
It was against his religion, but he took a shotgun along
He got himself a mess o’ mighty fine quail and one old scraggly hare
And on the way home he crossed the path of a great big grizzly bear
Well the bear got down lookin’ ready to charge
The preacher never seen nothin’ quite that large
They looked each other right smack in the eye
Didn’t take that preacher long to say bye

The preacher, he run till he spotted a tree
He said, "Up in that tree’s where I oughta be"
By the time that bear made a grab for him
The preacher was a sittin’ on top a that limb
Scared to death, he turned about
He looked to the sky and began to shout

"Hey lord, you delivered Daniel from the bottom of the lion’s den
You delivered Jonah from the belly of the whale and then
The Hebrew children from the fiery furnace
So the good books do declare
Hey lord, if you can’t help me,
For goodness sake don’t help that bear"

Yea, look out preacher!

Well, about that time the limb broke off
And the preacher came tumblin’ down
Had a straight razor out of his pocket
By the time he lit on the ground
He landed on his feet right in front of that bear
And Lord, what an awful fight
The preacher and the bear and the razor and the hair
Flyin’ from left to right

Well first they was up and then they was down
The preacher and the bear runnin’ round an’ round
The bear he roared, and the the preacher he groaned
He was havin’ a tough time holdin’ his own!
He said, "Lord if I get out a here alive
To the good book I’ll abide
No more huntin’ on the Sabbath day
Come Sunday I’m headin’ to the church to pray"

Up to the heavens the preacher glanced
He said, "Lord won’t you give me just one more chance"
So the preacher got away, he looked around
Seen a tree where he’d be safe and sound
Jumped on a limb, turned about
Looked to the sky and began to shout

"Hey lord, you delivered Daniel from the bottom of the lion’s den
You delivered Jonah from the belly of the whale and then
The Hebrew children from the fiery furnace
So the good books do declare
Hey lord, if you can’t help me,
For goodness sake don’t help that bear"