Thursday
Dec152011

I Plead "Not Guilty"


I am not guilty, and I have the photograph to prove it. The author of the “Afterword” in one collection of Dickens Christmas stories says that A Christmas Carol should be read annually before Christmas with girls and boys – especially boys – around. He goes on to say that boys who grow up without this experience should bring suit against their parents. My two boys are going to have to sue for something else if they expect to collect!


The writer goes on to quote Lord Francis Jeffery’s opinion that the book has done more good than all the pulpits in Christendom. While this is probably an exaggeration, I agree that one is deprived who has not heard Dickens’s story read aloud in its original version.


To this end, and even before I knew I could be sued, my three heard A Christmas Carol annually either nightly under the tree or on a long drive to visit grandparents in North Mississippi from wherever the Army had selected as home for us. If you look carefully at the picture, you can see which one did not pay attention as well as he should.


By the time our children outgrew being my captive audience, I had another one in junior high students. [This clears their parents of guilt as well.] I read it to them every year and waited for my favorite part – the reaction on their faces when they heard the Ghost of Christmas Present throwing Scrooge’s words back in his face. “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” We followed with some good discussions about the girl Want and the boy Ignorance who clung to the ghost’s robe and whether the ghost was correct in saying the boy was to be the most feared.


Video versions of A Christmas Carol crowd TV schedules this time of year, but they inevitably leave out one of my favorite parts or do a pitiful rewrite – such as having Scrooge show up at the Cratchit’s home instead of his nephew’s on Christmas Day, which also negates Dickens’ fine ending of Scrooge “catching” Bob coming in late the day after Christmas. But it’s okay, I have several copies to read – the worn Scholastic copy I read to junior high students and copies my children have given me because of their fine illustrations. I even have enough to loan one to you to keep you out of a lawsuit in case your children have been deprived.

In the hoopla of the best set of wishes during this season, I return to Tiny Tim. I’ll go out on a limb and say that his very inclusive greeting got it right long ago, and I have borrowed it as my hope for each of you and all of us for the season. Yes, it does occasionally snow in Hattiesburg during the season.

Monday
Dec122011

10 Good Things About Main Street Books

Let me say up front that I am in favor of all book stores and am not taking aim at chains, but I do have a preference. After a recent author lunch at my favorite, Hattiesburg’s Main Street Books, I decided it was time I spoke up about a fine independent book store. These are just a few of the good things I have experienced with the store and its owners, Diane and Jerry Shepherd.

1. When they Facebook Friend you, they really mean it.


2. Jerry takes your list of hard to find books and searches for them, but checks before ordering to see if you really want to pay $75 for a rare children’s picture book. [No, thank you.]


3. Diane hosts an intimate lunch for her patrons with a Mississippi author [Susan Haltom] of a book about the garden of another Mississippi author [Eudora Welty]. The excellent more-than-a-coffeetable book is One Writer’s Garden with Eudora’s garden story and great photographs and memorabilia pictures.


4. Diane’s mother Norma serves a delicious home-cooked meal at this lunch.


5. They actually know what is on their shelves and can find it for you. They also do “hand-selling,” meaning they make a match between their customers’ reading tastes and books they will enjoy.


6. They support local writers and supplement their stock of books with local art and products from the area.


7. When you request an order for a new book you’ve seen advertised, Diane just might remember that she had received an advanced reading copy and give it to you.


8. Diane holds a signing for you when you are a contributor to an anthology without waiting until you have a whole book to yourself. [Cup of Comfort for Sisters and Cup of Comfort for Families Touched by Alzheimer’s]


9. A local independent book store is said to contribute 3.5 times more to the local economy than a chain.


10. Now add a cozy place with character in a restored downtown building where you can go to browse, chat a few minutes, or sit and look through books until you make a decision, and you have a real community treasure.

If you’re in Hattiesburg, check it out. If not, I can only hope you can find a good independent with character in your neighborhood.

Thursday
Dec082011

Wishing You a Cricket on the Hearth

I’m not sure how a Charles Dickens fan got this far in life without reading The Cricket on the Hearth, one of his collection of Christmas novellas. Our library’s Classics Book Club read it for our December selection. 

Starring in the story is the good luck cricket who sings on the hearth with Dickens carrying his theme to chapter divisions called “Chirps.” If you pay attention, the cricket’s “good luck” rests in gentle reminders to those in the household of the good things in their lives and of the need to look beyond appearances to a more positive conclusion. In Dickens’ day, the book and the stage play it inspired were even more popular than A Christmas Carol.


Hidden in the fun little Victorian tale with its happily-ever-after ending is the story of The Blind Girl, who is deceived by her father Caleb in his description of their home as being comfortable with nice furnishings instead of the actual hovel that it is. The impetus for this deception is his own Cricket on the Hearth who inspired him to turn the girl’s deprivation into a blessing.


As I read about The Blind Girl, I recalled children’s author Carmen Agra Deedy in her delightful telling of her own story at last year’s Children’s Book Festival. Her account of her family’s life after coming to the United States as refugees from the Cuban Revolution was by turns touching, heart-warming, and funny. I wrote down a quote from her father that helped them deal with the difficulties they faced. “What the eye don’t see, the heart don’t grieve over.” He and Caleb saw life through the same lens. Perhaps her father brought his own cricket from Cuba.   


Since this is Dickens, there is a finely woven moral with those in modest circumstances happily enjoying their friends and family, blessed with the accompaniment of the chirping cricket on the hearth. Of course, the stern money-grubbing toy merchant Tackleton makes his Scrooge-like change at the end with the cricket chirping merrily on the hearth.


As you can see, I tried to create an origami cricket for my hearth. I knew it would never chirp, but I liked the idea until I realized how inept I was at folding paper! But my imagination is alive and well, and I hear him singing his song of joy. I hope this season finds a cricket on your hearth, real or imagined, whose cheerful song of blessing reminders drowns out any longings for the unattainable.

Monday
Dec052011

Sic 'em, Bears

At this time of year, my memory of Daddy goes back to what I learned from him when we lived in Abbeville, MS – ten miles north of Oxford, home of Ole Miss. Now, there are some true and useful things my father taught me that you might list at a funeral eulogy:
•    A love for words
•    Theological truths [He was a preacher, after all.]
•    That girls are as capable, worthwhile, and essential as boys
•    Grammar [He was more nit-picky about “who” and “whom” than any English teacher I ever had.]

But fall memory takes me to Saturday afternoons when Daddy and I sat at the dining table with the radio tuned to the Ole Miss football game, and he taught me to follow the action. Not only did he create a lifelong college football fan with a particular liking for Ole Miss, he made me almost as happy to hear a game as to see one. That came in handy recently.

I’ve been a die-hard Ole Miss Rebel through thick and thin, although never quite as thin as this year. I watch their games, no matter how bad it gets. Two weeks ago, as Mississippi State Bulldogs showed no mercy on the newly renamed Ole Miss black bears, I endured the first half. Never one to forsake my Rebels, I muted the sound for the second half so I could still see. But to improve my spirits, I brought my laptop in and tuned to the Baylor radio announcer to listen to the Baylor/Texas Tech game and heard the rout of the Red Raiders. I considered the absurdity that I was cheering for two sets of bears and wondered what Daddy would have thought about my getting a radio broadcast via computer.


This past Saturday was much better. TV carried University of Southern Mississippi’s Golden Eagles as they upset Houston, followed by the Baylor/Texas game. Mercifully, Ole Miss did not play. Our oldest Baylor son has convinced me that beating the Longhorns is the most important task of the Baylor Bears. He’s even launched a campaign to return a “Hex Tex” spell over the school, which may be working since this is two years in a row with a win over Texas.


The outcome of the game was not in serious question for long. Baylor has a Heisman quarterback candidate, Robert Griffin III [called “R G III” by the sportscasters, and sometimes just “III” by Baylor fans] with a great supporting cast in his teammates. I must admit I loved witnessing his long touchdown pass, seeing him connect to receivers with holes for making yardage, and watching him scramble ahead for first downs and touchdowns. [When comparing hearing vs. seeing, notice that I did use the qualifier almost.]


I’m looking forward to watching III play again on TV in the Valero Alamo Bowl on December 29, joined by two Baylor sons and the grandchildren they’ve indoctrinated. I’ll remember Daddy and hope that heaven has a little corner somewhere with an HDTV or a radio.

Thursday
Dec012011

Yes, Virginia, there is...

Mama had little regard for Santa.  She hated the New York Sun editorial “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” feeling it gave too much credibility to the rotund gentleman and cast aspersions on her good name (also Virginia). Except for church programs, carols, and the Christmas story, Mama endured Christmas with as little fanfare as possible. She stalled our badgering to get a Christmas tree as long as she could and got the tree down swiftly when Christmas was over.


Mama used to send Beth and me as the oldest girls to whichever rural farmer had agreed that we could hunt a cedar tree on his place for Christmas. She handed us the saw which “wouldn’t cut hot butter” and told us to be careful. Beth and I traipsed over the north Mississippi hills looking for and never finding the perfect tree. It couldn’t be taller than we were since we owned but a single strand of lights, and we didn’t want it to look too skimpy.


Ultimately, we’d find one that would do. (One year we actually had to find two and put them back to back to have a decent shape.) Being the oldest and responsible, I would start cutting with the saw and succeed only in creating a fringe in the bark. Finally, Beth would say, “Oh, give me the saw.” She was always more adept with anything requiring physical dexterity. Somehow, she’d work a trench in the trunk and eventually get it sawed in two. We lugged the scratchy cedar home, and Mama reluctantly got it up and ready for decoration. She left the rest to us girls.


The tree lights saga began with at least one of the bulbs burned out which meant none of the lights worked. Playing musical chairs with a new bulb was bad enough, but sometimes more than one light was out which made it even more frustrating. Going to get a new string was not an option. What joy when we got a working bulb in every socket and the string came on! Then we got out our sparse collection of Christmas balls, wrapped sweet gum balls that had a nice hanging crook for a stem with tin foil peeled from the back of gum wrappers we had saved, and pulled out a new package of tinsel – Mama’s only purchase every year.


We four sisters had a good time discussing correct placement of each ornament and sweet gum ball and admiring our work as we went along. I didn’t even say anything when younger sisters got tired of separating the tinsel into single strands for the best effect and threw them on in clumps. I just went back later when they weren’t looking and fixed them properly. We all agreed every year that the tree was “just beautiful.”


I’ve often been accused of being like Mama, but on this issue we part company. I love the Christmas story, carols, and church programs just as she did. But I am on good terms with Santa Claus and take it as a personal favor that the name “Virginia” is in the Sun editorial. I like Scrooge so much I married his replica (he goes around saying “Bah, humbug” throughout the season), and I think the Grinch is kind of cute. I could go on, but I feel a need to stop and get my annual fix of It’s a Wonderful Life with its reminder that anyone who has a multitude of friends is rich.