Tag Archives: seasons

448. The Good King

Merry Christmas and why are you on the internet when you should be sitting by the Christmas tree?

Christmas is my favorite holiday. Of all the masses of Biblical knowledge I accumulated in my religious childhood and youth, the story of the Nativity is the only part that still moves me to joy.

I particularly enjoy Christmas carols, even the unsingable ones. However, I never understood the appeal of Good King Wenceslas until I saw and heard it in the movie Miracle Down Under, where it is sung by a poor family and some swagmen to the accompaniment of a washboard. Then I understood the bump-bump-bump-bump-bump-bump-bump non-melody as something that could be handled even by coarse voices without instruments.

I also paid attention to the lyrics for the first time. The King is watching over his people, and when a poor man is spotted gathering wood for his fire, the King goes to his hut with food. The final few lines are particularly moving, despite their awkwardness as they are tacked on as a sort of “moral of the story”.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
    wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
    shall yourselves find blessing.

Not bad. Even today, we could use a President who understands that simple message.

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447. Lupe Revisited

Last Christmas, I told the story of Lupe in a world where Donald Trump was going to be President. Now he is President, and things have not gotten better. Here is Lupe’s story again.

Ramon came in, stamping the snow from his feet, and shook the snow from his jacket before closing the door. The sun was low in the eastern sky behind him as Lupe moved up and hugged his leg. He smelled of sweat and manure and soured milk, but she didn’t mind. She had hugged him this way every morning for as long as she could remember, and he always smelled the same. For Lupe, the smell was as familiar and welcome as his cold fingers on the top of her head.

Every morning Ramon rose before the sun was up, and left the house. His daughter greeted him when he returned hours later, and saw him off again in the afternoon. She was usually asleep when he came home at night.

It is hard work milking cattle twice a day, and the pay is low. The cattle march in from the muddy lots to take their turns in the stalls, where fast moving men attach the milking machines. The cattle resent the process and the workers have to move quickly to avoid having their hands caught against he stanchions. It goes on for hours, in heat or cold, beginning every morning before daylight, and continuing again every evening until long after dark.

Lupe stepped aside to make room for her mother. Today she seemed worried; her voice was unusually sharp as she asked, “What did he say?”

Ramon said, “I didn’t tell him.”

I translate, of course. Every word was in Spanish.

“You got your money for the week?”

Lupe’s father nodded, “I told him I needed it today, to buy things for Christmas. I was afraid to tell him the truth. He is a good man, but it seemed best that he should not know.”

Lupe’s sister came out of the single bedroom with a cardboard box in her arms, tied up with twine. Lupe looked up with interest. It was not wrapped in paper, but any box is interesting so close to Christmas. Carmella put the box down on the floor and returned a moment later with blankets and bedding, also rolled up and also tied up with twine. Lupe asked what she was doing, but Carmella ignored her.

Her father carried the box and roll outside. Her mother came out of kitchen with a box of food, and that began a procession of boxes, coming from various parts of the house and out to the car. Lupe’s mother and sister had gathered their possessions during the pre-dawn, while Lupe slept.

Now Lupe dragged at her mothers leg asking questions, but she was ignored until Carmella pulled her aside and said, “We are going away.”

“Where?”

“I wish I knew Lupita. I wish I knew.”

“But why?”

“It’s only a month until he becomes President. Everyone here knows who we are. We have to go away, somewhere where people don’t know us.”

“But why? I was born here. This is home.”

“So was I, Lupe, but mother and father were not.”

When they pulled out an hour later, Lupe stared back at the little house where she had spent her whole, short life, until it disappeared around a bend. Then she looked out the windshield, past her mother and father’s silent heads. It was a long road, wet with melted snow. Her father would not leave the house tonight before the sun went down and go to the cows. There would be no more money, no more warmth, no more little house. It would be again as it had been, before the job at the cows, before she was born. Lupe knew what that was like from hearing her parents talk. Now it would be like that again.

*          *          *

Is Lupe real? She was born from the hundreds of little Mexican-American girls I taught over twenty-seven years. How many were undocumented? I never knew. I never asked. I didn’t need to know.

Is she real? She is as real as heartache. She is as real as fear. She is as real as dislocation, cold, hunger, and injustice.

443. Booklist Reboot

On December 15, 2015 I posted this list of Christmas books. 

Here is the annotated booklist I promised you yesterday. You could also Google Christmas or old Christmas, or search either of those subjects on Amazon. I suggest you do. This is not a best list because there are too many books on Christmas for anyone to have read them all. This is simply a list of what I’ve discovered over the years, minus the clinkers. Some of these are easy to find, others will lead you through the back stacks of used bookstores, but there’s no harm in that.

A Christmas Carol by Dickens has to head any list. He also wrote many other Christmas works and gets his own post next Wednesday, the 23rd.

Washington Irving had a powerful influence on Christmas, which is largely forgotten today. Among his followers was Clement Moore of Night Before Christmas fame. They also get their own post, on Christmas Eve.

The rest of this list is in order from decorator froth to historical complexity.

Go to any bookstore and you will find dozens of Christmas cookbooks and books on Christmas decor, sometimes with historical tidbits. You’re on you own here, with one exception. The Spirit of Christmas series by Leisure Arts is classy, has been around since about 1990, and fills up ten pages of Amazon with choices.

Christmas in Colonial and Early America, 1975, by World Book, is an early, sepia toned version of this kind of book with a little more meat in it’s history.

For almost two decades, Ace Collins has been writing books titled Stories Behind . . . , beginning with Stories Behind the Best-loved Songs of Christmas. The title tells the tale; the individual stories are interesting and heart felt.

The Curious World of Christmas is lightweight and breezy, a book of short entries which can be digested one little bite at a time.

The only recent Christmas book I can’t recommend is Nicholas, by Jeremy Seal. I found it dark and tedious, and couldn’t get past page 42, but if you want a detailed look at how St. Nicholas became Santa, it’s the only work I know completely devoted to that subject.

The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford and Inventing Scrooge by Carlo De Vito each tell the story of the genesis of Charles Dickens’ most famous story. As a writer and a lover of Christmas, I couldn’t choose between them. Read the one that is easier for you to find. Then read the other one next Christmas.

A Mark Twain Christmas has been sitting on my next shelf for a couple of weeks. I will give it a tentative approval based on a thumb-through, and the fact that it is also by Carlo De Vito.

A Christmas Treasury of Yuletide Stories and Poems by Charlton and Gilson has works by every famous author you’ve ever heard of, from St. Matthew through The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.

Ruth Kainen’s America’s Christmas Heritage contains well written regional histories of Christmas at a level of detail that is satisfying without being overwhelming.

John Matthews’ The Winter Solstice has a look similar to the decorator/cookbook works above, but with a unique twist. It concentrates on the Roman, Celtic, and Germanic contribution to Christmas. It feels like the Middle Ages, without falling into the trap of New Age Gaia worship.

Christmas Customs and Traditions by Clement Miles is a Dover reprint of a 1912 work. It is an old fashioned history of the evolution of Christmas from Roman times to what was then the present.

Christmas in America by Penne Restad is a scholarly telling of the history of American Christmas. 172 pages of text, 36 pages of notes. You get the picture; a book for the overeducated Christmas nerd, but it is still a good read.

The remaining “recommendations” are probably over the top.

I have in front of me Christmas in Early New England, 1620-1820: Puritanism, Popular Culture, and the Printed Word by Stephen Nissenbaum, published by the American Antiquarian Society. I have already confessed to having two masters degrees, one in Social Science and one in History. This is the kind of thing I used to read for a living. I still read them, but only if they are on a subject that really interests me. Nissenbaum taught at Amhurst; you will find his original research referenced in many of the less scholarly books above. His book The Battle for Christmas was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, but a scholarly work of 400 pages is not something to take on casually. I confess to not owning it; I read it on interlibrary loan years ago. If, however, you are a Christmas nerd and a history buff, it is available in paperback. Go for it; what have you got to lose?

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BY THE FOLLOWING YEAR I had purchased and re-read Nissenbaum, and wrote three posts summarizing The Battle for Christmas. If, like me, you are a complete Christmas nerd, click here to read them.

440. Pearl Harbor Day is Tomorrow

Pearl Harbor Day is tomorrow and for the third time, I am not going to write about it directly.

In 2015, I used Pearl Harbor Day as a jumping off place to discuss the decision to go to war in Iraq.

In 2016, I used Pearl Harbor Day as a jumping off place to discuss Japanese Internment.

In 2017, I am even less able to salute and shout hallelujah than I was on the last two times Pearl Harbor Day rolled around. Things are even worse than they were then.

Do I think we were shouldn’t have retaliated to the Pearl Harbor attack? Don’t be absurd.

Do I support disarmament? I wish I could, but it would be national suicide.

Am I a veteran? Yes; and I would love to be the last veteran.

Am I a pacifist? Don’t I wish. I would love to live long enough to be able to say yes to that, but I won’t. Neither will you, and you are younger than I am.

There are times when we have to fight and Pearl Harbor signaled one of those times, but our national default setting should not be attack. We should fight rarely, and only when necessary. For many years now, we have been doing a terrible job of deciding when to fight, so I find it hard to wave the flag. Someone might think that means I’m ready to start shooting.

Tomorrow is Pearl Harbor Day. It is also the forty-fifth anniversary of the last manned moon launch. I think I’ll write about that.

439. Jose, Maria, y Jesus in Trumpland

[Don’t expect even handedness here.]

In English we call him Joseph, in Italian he is Giuseppe, in Basque he is Joseba, in Spanish he is just plain Jose.

In English we call her Mary, in Hebrew she is Miryam, in German she is Maria, and also in Spanish.

In English he is Jesus, in Cornish he is Jesu, in Italian he is Gesu, and in Spanish he is Jesus again, but pronounced Hey-sous.

We are going to walk with these three in this sermon for the Christmas season.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went, every on into his own city. And Jose also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, to be taxed with Maria his espoused wife, being great with child.

Of course that could be written as Joseph and Mary, but surely they are the same couple, in any language. Jose was a carpenter. He built things out of wood to feed his family, and he paid his taxes like everybody else. All the world was to be taxed, and he had to go back to the place from which his people came.

Where would that be? Perhaps a land with cities named Sacramento for the Holy Sacrament, or maybe Atascadero, Alameda, Camarillo, El Segundo, or Escondido. Perhaps cities like Fresno, La Mesa, Madera, or Mariposa show where his people once lived. Certainly they must have lived in cities like Los Angeles, Merced, Paso Robles, Salinas, or San Francisco. Even if his people no longer own the land, certainly the city named after him, San Jose, must once have belonged to his people.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

I think Luke shortened this a bit. Was there only one inn in Bethlehem? We can see the young couple, going from place to place, Jose leading, Maria on a burro since she cannot walk so late in her pregnancy. Everywhere they are turned away. Are all the sleeping places truly full? It may be. Or perhaps something about the two of them, perhaps the color of their skin, makes the innkeepers turn them away. Luke does not tell us.

I see migrant housing everywhere I go in California and I think, perhaps, a manger was preferable.

Now they are in a place where their people once lived, but to which they are no longer welcome. And here, their son is born.

Donald Trump would call Him an anchor baby. I wonder what He will call Trump, when they finally meet.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

To all people. ALL people. Imagine that!

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Luke’s story is complete, but ours is not. It is up to every one of us to see that it turns out right.

436. Thank You

This is for Thanksgiving, but posted a day early. After all, who looks at their computer while the Macy’s Parade is happening?

If you grow up Christian, God never leaves your bones, even if you lose your faith.

Thank You

Thank you.
Even if you aren’t there, thank you.

We need you so badly,
That it almost makes you real.

Thank you for peace.
We have precious little of it;
Help us appreciate the days we have.

Thank you for bodies that are often without pain;
Help us remember those days, when the pain comes.

But most of all —

For the days when our lovers sit beside us,
Close enough for a reached-out hand,
Thank you.

428. Ve Speak Goot English

This is from today’s post in Serial:

(Language), Neil knew, was a real problem for those families who went back and forth between Mexico and the United States. The brightest children leaned to speak, read, and write English, but they were illiterate in Spanish. They could speak the lower class Spanish used in their homes, but they usually could not read or write it. Worse, their dialect was no more suitable for a good Mexican school than an American hillbilly dialect would have been suitable for a high school in Boston.

Fiction has its place. It can make us think and care, but plain old non-fiction can sometimes get things across more quickly. To wit:

We are a nation of immigrants. Everyone knows that.

Spanish is an immigrant language. Yep. Everyone knows that, too. However, so is English. If we we spoke a language that isn’t an immigrant language, we would all be speaking Cherokee, or one of several hundred other native tongues. Aztec, anyone?

English got here first. No, actually it didn’t. Of European languages, Old Norse got here first with the Vikings, but it didn’t last. Spanish got here second. English, French, Portuguese, German, Swedish — the list could get tedious if we let it — are all late comers.

English won.

Now we are zeroing in on the truth. The French gave up the right to provide the language of choice for about half of the USA when Napoleon sold Jefferson the Louisiana Purchase. Spanish lost out as the language of choice in Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, part of Colorado and Louisiana, tiny corners of Wyoming, Mississippi, Alabama, Kansas, and Oklahoma, and all of California at the point of a gun. Or, a bunch of guns. That’s roughly a third of the lower forty-eight.

Like it or not, it happened, and it is irreversible. English is the language of the US, despite the innumerable other languages spoken by our immigrants. They came here, procreated, the original speakers died, and their offspring now speak English.

So why are the Spanish speakers different? It is certainly not because of anything wrong with them. It’s quite simple. When Germans immigrated, they didn’t go back. Modern immigrant Spanish speakers, primarily Mexican, documented or undocumented, go back and forth.

Migrant labor is typically seasonal. Besides, wouldn’t you rather spend winter in Mazatlan than Minnesota if you could? Hordes of Anglos do it, and they don’t even speak the language.

Not all people of Spanish background move back and forth. Many of them came to the US and stayed. Tens of thousands of them were already here to greet the Anglo pioneers when they arrived. See map above! Millions of them don’t speak any Spanish, just as Nils Hansen of Kenosha, Wisconsin (hypothetical person) doesn’t speak Danish. There is a word for these people — Americans — and they don’t pose any language problem in the schools.

Those who do go back and forth are not going to stop doing so. It works for them. Summer labor in the US, then back to Mexico for its mild winters and lower costs is not just logical, it’s capitalism. It’s entrepreneurship. It’s survival for the Mexican families and cheap food for you. Drive by any field in California at harvest time and count the Anglos bending their backs in the sun. Your total will be zero.

A wall won’t change it. A path to citizenship won’t change it, either. The idea of a hermetically sealed border is a Trumpean delusion.

So where does that leave the children of migrants? In a tough spot, to be sure. They often don’t spend the whole school year in schools in America, and they often don’t enroll while they are in Mexico. Many don’t learn to speak, read, and write English as well as their Anglo or permanent Mexican American classmates. Some barely speak, read, or write English at all. They speak Spanish, but they often don’t read or write it.

Solutions? That would take a shelf of books, not a post.