Christmas Memories

I think was blessed to be born in the early part of the 1960s.  Technology had not come near the point where things were handed to you instantly.  Fast Food restaurants did not exist yet and microwaves and cell phones were in the far-flung future.  Because of this life was slower and could be savored and we did even as children.

Television was still in its infancy in the early 60s.  Sure it had been around a while but it was still black and white and though color sets existed they were out of the reach of most people.  We had three channels to choose from NBC, CBS, and ABC.  Eventually, we would have PBS and three UHF Channels for my area they were channels 17, 29, 48.  It was on these channels that the reruns of shows that had gone off the air would play as well as a plethora of old movies.  That was it and I don’t think all of that was established until I was at least 6 or 7.

So what did that mean?  It meant that we had to wait.  There were no streaming shows when we wanted to see them.  There was getting hold of the newspapers TV listings and scanning what was on that week to plan what you were going to watch.  And if you missed it that was too bad.  Never was this more true than at Christmas.

I was the youngest of four children and at Christmas time I became the ruler of the TV set, or at least my family let me think I was.  I was born just as the great Christmas shows were being made for the first time.  I was three When Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer first went up against the Abominable Snowman.  Mr. Magoo had already captured the world with his version of A Christmas Carol and so many were to come.  A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty The Snowman, The Year Without A Santa Claus, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, The Little Drummer Boy, and so many others.  I would grab The Sunday TV supplement every week, as soon as I learned to read, scanning for these yearly events and hoping my family didn’t have to go out the night they were aired.  If we did, it would be a whole year before I could see them again.  I was pretty lucky.  I don’t think I missed any of them except Rudolph once when I was in the hospital with an eye injury.

Anticipation, which ultimately is the theme of Advent, was in the heart of every kid I grew up with.  Not anticipation for spiritual things, that comes with growth and maturity, but anticipation for the fun and joyful things of Christmas.  In some ways, it was good practice for when we grew up and awaited Christmas for its true meaning.

But we didn’t wait just for kids’ shows.  There were other more adult shows that we waited for.  Bing Crosby’s yearly Christmas show, the same for Bob Hope, Andy Williams, and the now almost forgotten King Family.  The whole family gathered around the set for these treats presented to us by the three networks.

Then there was that special night.  My brother Vince would usually spot it first in the TV listings.  The night the movie White Christmas would air.  White Christmas was not a kids movie, it is a full musical that kids can be charmed by but also can be loved by parents.  So every year until the family began to go our separate ways all six of us sat around that TV and watched this beautiful movie unfurl.  That time will never come again but it is sweet to remember.

The family watching White Christmas led me to even more Christmas movies.  Things that were being shown but the rest of my family had little interest in.  Movies such as Holiday Inn and Meet Me in St Louis soon became more yearly favorites.  When a new version of Miracle on 34th Street was shown starring Sebastion Cabot and David Hartman I was hooked and wanted to see the original.  I had never heard of It’s A Wonderful Life until Marlo Thomas remade the film switching the gender roles and calling it, It Happened One Chrismas.  Eventually, these made-for-TV movies made me want to back to view the original and they all became favorites. I directed a stage version of It’s a Wonderful Life in 2000 it remains a lovely memory.

Still, we had to wait every year for these treats.  Watching television was not the only thing that made Christmas special.  I remember going out every year to find the perfect Christmas tree.  At first, it was in local lots where people were selling freshly cut trees, as we grew older my family began to drive out to Christmas tree farms where we would cut down our trees.  By then my brother and sisters were married and it was a caravan that would go to these places.  Stopping at Burger King for a quick lunch and then coming home to hot turkey rice soup and meatball sandwiches that mom had warming in crockpots while we were away.

Then there was the tree decorating.  No one was more of a perfectionist than my father when it came to how the tree looked.  It had to be straight as an arrow before one light or ornament could be placed on the branches.  And the lights, this was still back in the time when if one light had blown none of the lights would come on.  You then had to spend as much time as it took to find the dead bulb.  There were more Christmases with dead bulbs than without.

After that, we kids generally took over looking for our favorite ornaments to hang on the tree.  We had a nice variety of the delicate glass balls, homemade ornaments that my brother had done, and some store-bought figures.  My favorites were Santa’s eight reindeer with Rudolph in the lead.  Those needed to be spaced nicely so it looked as if they were flying around the tree.  My family were tinsel people and my dad again took charge of that,  Tinsel had to be placed delicately on the tree almost one strand at a time.  It took forever. when I learned about garland and you only had to drape it around the tree, I thought I had been given the Holy Grail of Christmas.

Christmas was family time, but not just our immediate family.  I had cousins and aunts and uncles and second and third cousins and we all got together on Christmas night, not just once but three times.  My father had two sisters, My Aunt Mary and my Aunt Dolores.  My grandmother, my father’s mother (My grandfather had died before I was born) would alternate  between her three children where she would go on Christmas day for dinner.  Where ever she was the whole family would descend on that house for dessert first.  After that, we went to the two other houses for dessert making it a three dessert holiday.  Actually, it was four desserts as we had dessert with dinner too.  We kids had a blast because there were still gifts to be received at each of the Aunt’s houses.  I liked going to my Aunt Mary’s and Uncle Steve’s best.  She had a wonderful bakery at the top of her street and she always had mini Danish and coconut cream pie which was my favorite.  I got it once a year as mom never made it. That is not to say Aunt Dolores didn’t outdo herself. At her house, there would be delicious stromboli and Christmas punch made with soda, juice, and a tub of sherbert.

Aunt Mary and Uncle Steve had another wonderful tradition that fascinated all the kids and most of the adults. In their basement, there was an enormous train display. It had mountains and tunnels and trees and all sorts of things to delight the mind of a child. I don’t know where the tradition originated and who was most responsible, my Uncle Steve or his eldest son Steven or if it was a yearly team effort. I do know that Steven kept up the tradition as best as possible in his own home. Trains weere a big part of Christmas. At our house there would occasionally be a set wrapped around the bottom of the tree. But nothing I have ever seen compared to that wonderful set in my aunt and uncle’s basement.

Christmas eve was a day of preparation, as a little kid I remember going to midnight Mass with my whole family.  The Mass was said in Latin up until 1966 so I understood very little of it.  It was, however, still beautiful to me.  There was a solemness in the church that I could feel but also great joy and anticipation.  In those days our church had the whole town of Bethlehem laid out in a special display, I remember filing past this to catch a glimpse of the tiny baby in his manger.  I couldn’t wait for that moment.  At that moment I knew Christmas had come.

I had been to see Santa and I made sure, one way or another a letter got written to him.  In those early days, my family had a custom of meeting my dad in Center City Philadelphia for dinner and to see the amazing light show at Wanamaker’s a prestigious, though now gone, department store.  We would take the train in town and meet Dad at the station, we would then proceed to a restaurant called The Pub and then on to Wanamakers.  The light show was amazing and if I was lucky I could sit on the eagle statue’s base, which was in the middle of the hall.  I am happy to say that Macy’s bought the Wanamaker’s building and keeps the light show going every year.

After the light show, it was on to Santa’s village for the walkthrough display of animated dolls in Christmas scenes, and at the end of the village was the man himself waiting to hear about my list of toys and questioning my behavior of the previous year.  Like I would ever tell him I had misbehaved.

There was still a last treat for the littlest of children.  Between the ages of maybe 3 and 10, you could ride the in-store monorail.  This monorail took you all around the toy department and let you see from above all the things you could wish for.  It was exciting because it was a ride that, after I was 5 years old, I could go alone.  I think that was the first thing I could ever do for myself.  I don’t think there was anything like it in any other store in the country.

Christmas morning came early, even if we did go to Midnight Mass.  Little kids don’t need a lot of sleep and I’m pretty sure I was the first one awake.  I shared a room with my brother Vince who was seven years older than me.  He was the second one to be awake on those mornings. 

I don’t remember eating breakfast on Christmas morning at all.  I do remember piles of gifts for all four of us under a lovely tree.  My parents were generous to us, for me, in the name of Santa.  Not everything was there but there was never a reason to feel disappointed.  There was enough to keep you very happy.

There wasn’t much time to play with my new treasures.  Shortly after we opened the gifts and got ready for the day we got whisked off to my other grandmother’s house for another round of gift-giving and receiving.  Sometimes my grandfather, who was a chef, would make apple dumplings with warm vanilla sauce and the sugar rush would begin.

And there was a sugar rush all day long.  My mother was a wonderful baker and so all kinds of cookies were made and decorated.  There were sugar cookies in Christmas shapes and raisin filler cookies that looked like little round ravioli, then there were butter cookies also pressed out into festive shapes and of course chocolate chip.  And it wouldn’t be Christmas if my mother didn’t spend hours making the Italian Pizzelle.

At dinner, which would always be a turkey (In the early years my grandfather, my mother’s step-father, would cook the bird, but as he got older my mother took over) we also enjoyed mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce from a can, until I learned how to make it myself, green beans, apple, and pumpkin pie and then, what we now call, a Jewish apple cake.  Back then it was a German apple cake.  I don’t know why.  The reason for the cake was that December the 25th was not only Jesus’ birthday but also my father’s and my mom did the best she could to separate the two.  After dinner, we sang Happy Birthday and gave him his gifts.  It was a shame that he had to do it all in one day but he took in stride and never complained.

In later years my sister’s Trish’s husband would be included in the ranks as he was born not on Christmas day but very close.  Mom would always get him a large chocolate chip pan cookie with Happy Birthday written on it from the local bakery.  A lot went on in the Roberto house at Christmas.  For the kids it was a lot of fun, for the adults I think, it was mostly exhausting.

I think the most important thing in my Christmas memories is that from a very early age I knew what Christmas was all about.  I didn’t need Linus to explain the Gospel story to me, I knew it and saw played out in church every year and every Sunday.  At an early age, I connected Christmas to Easter and in the third grade, I wrote a poem about the child who waited for death so near.  Even as a babe Jesus was both fully man and fully God.  This is the mystery of the incarnation, how God worked it all out I will never know.  I only know he did and because of Christmas and Easter, we have freedom from our slavery to sin and great joy in knowing that there is a reward waiting for us after death.

Christmas has come under scrutiny now and many want to dismiss the day.  Some folks only see the non-Christian side and just decorate trees and wait for Santa without knowing what is behind these symbols of the season.  This is very sad because these symbols, the tree, the holly, the wreath, Santa, the TV shows and big screen movies and everything else is pointing directly at Jesus.  But it is as the saying goes, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”  If you are interested in the great traditions of Christmas may I point you to the books by Ace Collns.  He has done his research well and in three volumes captures just about everything you’d want to know about the holiday.

What are your Christmas memories?  I’d love to hear about them.  Please leave them in the comment section so everyone can share your joy in the season.

Moving Day

This weekend began and ended the short journey from Secane where I’ve lived most of my life to Swarthmore.  To be upfront I know moving is hard but it should have never been like this.

It started badly from the very beginning.  My friend Bill arrived on time to help me at 8 a.m. the same time the movers were to arrive.  The movers did not show up until 10:30 they were two and a half hours late.  But wait let’s backtrack.

The trouble started with the initial phone call.  I  was hiring this moving company, one I had used before, both to move me and pack for me.  The main area of packing was to be my books.  I told the person doing the intake what I had to move and I specifically stated that I had seven bookshelves filled with books.  When the packers arrived they had nowhere near the number of boxes they needed for my books.  They called for more but it took about forty-five minutes for those boxes to arrive.  In the meantime, they put my books in boxes too large for them.  More on that later.

Bill, who was devoting his day to me, only had until 4 p.m. to help me.  It was generous of him to give me eight hours.  With the movers being two and a half hours late that made the time that really needed him on the sight of my new home that much shorter.  The loading of the ruck was uneventful it was the unloading that there were major issues.

My feet and my legs are very weak.  And quickly became painful when I am standing or sitting up.  Right now, my left foot which was injured in April is throbbing as I write.  This meant I knew I had to be very specific with the boxes as they were packed so that they would end up in the room they were destined for.  So every box was labeled accordingly.  I planned to sit near the door have the movers read me what was on the boxes and then let them be placed in the right rooms.  I even labeled the books as to which shelf they were to go.  This should have been easy and clean cut.  It became chaos.

The movers were bringing four boxes in at a time.  They barely read the boxes and when they did only the box that was on top.  Some boxes that were clearly marked, they asked “where does this box marked bathroom go?”  I told them which bathroom to put it in but it ended up in the far corner of the office.

At one point I noticed a gouge in a triangular shape outside the apartment door, in the wall that had just been freshly painted.  I asked the mover if he did that and he admitted it to me.  I then asked if he was going to report it and he said he would when they checked out at the end.  I was there when they called the supervisor and the damage was not reported.  I knew I was going to have to report it myself

Bill was doing all he could to help me.  But he ended up helping them by running up and down five flights of stairs with some of the lighter things.  It was during this time that he notices something strange.  One of the movers kept disappearing.  I thought the guy was unloading the truck but it seems that was not the case.  More on this later.

Between the bedroom and office furniture as well as the boxes I became more and more confused.  The one thing I did get out was where to place my bed and dresser.  I was in the room when the dresser was placed, I was not there when the bed was placed.  I had shown the mover where the bed was to go and it was made doubly clear by where the nightstand and lamp were placed.  When I finally got the chance to look in the bedroom the bed was in the wrong spot.  Not at all being able to move the bed I had to move the nightstand and find a way to power the lamp as there are no outlets on that wall.

I felt things were moving awfully slow.  I blamed it on the elevator.  It took less than two hours to pack the truck and four and half hours to unpack it.  Bill, as I said earlier, had to leave at four but he felt bad going.  I started to tear up.  Towards five o’clock I heard an argument between the two movers taking place outside the apartment in the hallway.  The one was telling the other that he had to stop and pray.  The other one said that he shouldn’t stop now as there was still a lot to do.  The first one said that it was past dusk and he had to stop.  The other guy came into my apartment and I asked what was going and he said, “that the guy had gone to pray and it had been happening throughout the day.  That explained the disappearances.

Eventually, it ended and I was left alone.  I first went and looked in the office and almost every box was packed in the office.  I couldn’t move any of them.  Then I looked in the bedroom and saw the bed in the wrong place.  Then I looked at the box in the bathroom, which I thought was the bathroom box it turned out to be a box of linen.  It was then that I lost it.  I called my sister and was talking to my brother in law, I started to cry uncontrollably because I couldn’t do a thing by myself to straighten the mess out.  My sister and brother-in-law live in Tennessee and he couldn’t help me.  In my mind, there was no one to help me.  I couldn’t begin to figure a way out of this mess.  I sobbed hard tears and cried out to God to send someone to help.  Then as God does on occasion I heard a still small voice say, “call Rob.”

Now Rob had been my wingman on packing day making sure the boxes got labeled correctly in one room while I was in another.  Rob is the leader of the Christian men’s fellowship that I was an active member of before Covid.  I hadn’t been back to the group but Rob and I stayed in touch.

It was a short call.  Rob said he would round up a couple of guys from the group and they would be over the next night.  Then the still small voice came again and said, “Call John.”  My cousin John had given me the past three Tuesday mornings to help me move in.  He was great to me and had told me if I need him again to just call.  So I did.  John promised he would come over on Monday morning.

From then on I just did what I could.  Which wasn’t much.  When I woke up the next morning I was determined to go to church but realized the bathroom supplies were in no box that I could even see.  So I had no soap or shampoo or toothpaste.  Somehow my little men’s traveling shaving kit was where I could get to it.  I had my razer, a toothbrush, and a travel-size bottle of Pert, so I made do.  I shaved, brushed my teeth with no toothpaste, and washed my hair and my body with Pert Shampoo and Conditioner, in the long run, soap of any kind is still soap.

I went to church, unpacked some small boxes that I could handle, and at 5:00 Jerry, one of the first men to come from the men’s fellowship, arrived.  He quickly got to work by tackling the wardrobe boxes.  These were four huge boxes filled with my clothes and coats.  They had been placed in front of my closet so I thought I could empty them myself but they were all placed backward with the side that you open the box on facing my windows.  These boxes have a rack inside of them.  Had they been facing the right direction, I would have opened a panel on the box and taken the clothes, still on their hangers, and placed them in the closet.  It should have been easy but I couldn’t swing the box around.  I tried opening one box on the opposite side and the whole rack collapsed.  I couldn’t pick the clothes up at all.  Jerry, moving like the wind, had all four boxes unpacked and all the clothes in the right closets in half an hour.

At 5:30 Rob and Travis, my other volunteer arrived.  Quickly the three of them had all the boxes in the right rooms.  It was at the ned that I found my bathroom box in the far corner of the room sitting all alone.  I thought that was going to be it.  I was wrong.  Though Jerry had to leave, Travis and Rob stayed and they unpacked and filled 5 of the seven bookcases.  I struggled not to cry at the ned.  These men gave me their time and their energy.  They were good company too talking while they worked and I directed.  They were happy to help.  It was a blessing given to me by them through the grace of God.

I felt like a tone of weight was off my shoulders.  Because the boxes were in the right places I stayed up until two a.m. emptying boxes and putting stuff away.  6 a.m. I was shocked when my alarm went off but I knew John was coming and I shook off the cobwebs.  At 8:30 John and much to my surprise and delight, his brother Nick showed up.  They made quick work of the rest of the books and helped me with some other stuff.  Again another blessing.  When John and Nick left I had a home.  There were still boxes to unpack and stuff to put away and pictures to be hung but that could be done over time.

I got a call that day from the moving company asking for an evaluation of how things went.  I held back nothing. The information I relayed was sent up the chain and I got a call today from an administrative person.  He listened to the whole story and told me that he would get in touch with the building about the wall repair and I would hear back from him later today about what they would do for me.  So far I have heard nothing and the workday is winding down.  I fear I will be disappointed again.

I have been told that moving is one of the most stressful things anyone ever does.  I never felt that way before but that turned out to be true this time.  However, every black cloud has a silver lining and my silver lining is all the people who reached out to help me, the people who took time to listen to me and to support me emotionally.  These people are the stars of this show.  It is my prayer that God blesses all of those who helped me and it is also my prayer that each of you, when you hit any snag in life, that there will be good people around to help you. Jesus said, “What you did for the least of these you did for me.”

It’s Not Where You Start…

It’s Not Where You Start It’s Where You Finish is not only the title of a great song it perfectly describes my life now.

It has been a crazy week.  Getting ready to move has many of its problems, but throw in a holiday and a Covid scare and you get quite the mess.

Last weekend I got a call from someone I had been hanging out with the previous Saturday that they had tested positive for Covid.  It would be a far stretch that I would have caught it from this person but the possibility was there so I went and bought a home Covid test.

Have you done a home test for Covid?  My understanding is that the home test for negatives ranges in the accuracy of the high 90s.  It seems they are less accurate for positive results.  The procedure for self-testing is a little hard.  There is a card that has to remain flat on the table the whole time.  Then you put 6 drops of reagent in a hole in the card.  Then with a long cotton swab, you swab out both your nostrils for 15 seconds each.  Then you slip the swab into a lower hole pushing it into the hole that has the reagent.  You then close the card and seal it and wait 15 minutes.  If a line appears in the lower half of the window of the card you are positive.  If it remains clear you are negative.  That’s it.  The kit comes with two tests.  I did them both and both came back negative. YEA!

Because Thanksgiving came less than ten days from my exposure it was prudent to stay home for the holiday.  There is no point in risking other people’s health until you are sure you’re not carrying.  At ten days out I took the second test and confirmed being clean.  Yea for modern science.

I don’t recommend spending Thanksgiving alone.  I wasn’t all alone, my housemate and I had breakfast together and I tried to make it festive.  We had fried eggs, Taylor Pork Roll, Buttered Toast, and Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls.  It was nice.  I wouldn’t see my housemate for dinner as she was working.  It was the last holiday we will spend together as housemates as my move has arrived.  I ordered Thanksgiving Dinner from a local diner and enjoyed it.  It’s not the same eating by yourself but the tastes were there and I had memories of Thanksgiving’s past and there will be more to come.

Friday it was time to organize as much as I could.  I have two rooms in the house that I live in now, an office and a bedroom.  I can cram a lot in a small space and it all had to be packed.  Statues and pictures and toys and ceramics and all other kinds of stuff went into box after box. 

Cleaning out the two closets were particularly interesting as I found stuff I thought I had lost buried under piles of other things.  Looking back it became a bit of a treasure hunt as both closets contained some wonderful items long-buried but now coming back into play.  I was Indiana Jones in my own house.

Right now the living room is filled with packed boxes waiting for Saturday when the movers come.  But that’s not all.

On Friday the movers will come and finish my packing.  Because of my disability what I could do the last time I moved I cannot do now.  My legs are in pain a lot and so are my feet.  I have an extensive library and the last time I moved I brought all the books and all the shelves over to the house myself.  I can’t do that now.  It’s just not possible, so the movers will come on Friday and pack the books up and my clothes, another item I moved in the past, and my large electronic devices.  They will be in charge of safely packing my stuff and then moving it the next day.

One of the things that this move has forced me to realize is my limitations.  I’m heading for 61 years old and my body doesn’t work like it used to.  Some things need to be changed, things that are in my power, and I intend to make those changes.  Still, there are other things that I have no control over like severe arthritis in my knees and feet and the neuropathy in my legs.  These are things whose influence will lesson as I take off weight but they will still be a part of me.  The pain will lessen but will not go away completely.  If I can get enough weight off my knees will be replaced and that will make some difference in my life.

I think the thing to keep in mind here is not that I have all these issues but that all the obstacles the issues have presented can be overcome.  With the help of family and friends, a very difficult move is made so much easier.  My niece and her husband were a tremendous help.  Yesterday my housemate, Lorraine, helped me clear out the bedroom closet. My legs being what they are I could not have done it without her help. My cousin John has come over every Tuesday and carted stuff over to the apartment for the last three weeks and is happy to help more if I need it.  My friends Rob and Gary have supplied boxes and support and Rob will be my wingman on Friday watching the guys as they pack and making sure the boxes are labeled correctly.  My sisters have also been a big help.  Even from Tennessee my sister Susan and her husband Kirk have given me encouragement and solid advice.  My sister Trish has helped with all the financial details and the stuff I didn’t know anything about as I never signed a lease before. My friend Manny has always been there for me for more than forty years. Though we are separated by miles he has been my greatest encouragement. A true Barnabus. A name meaning “Son of encouragement”   Lastly, my friend Bill has given me his whole Saturday to help me unpack and settle in. I’m very grateful to those I’ve mentioned as well as those I haven’t.

Moving is a great adventure and as the song says, it’s not where you start it’s where you finish and I’m going to finish on top.

The Holiday Season

The holiday season is now upon us.  If you are like everybody else you face the next 6 weeks or so with a mixture of Joy and Dread.  I hope that the joy will outweigh the dread but for many, this is not the case.

Why do we allow the most joyous time of year to become a burden?  Why do the stores dress for Christmas before we’ve gotten rid of the last bite of Halloween candy?  I blame President Roosevelt.

Before WW2 no one thought about Christmas until about a week before. The Holiday Season began on December the twenty-fifth, Christmas Day, and ended on January sixth, The Feast of The Epiphany, the celebration of when the Wisemen came to Bethlehem.  So all the fun stuff we do now, before the 25th, like Christmas Parties and multiple family visits were all done after the 25th.  There was even a party held on the eve of The Epiphany called a 12th Night Party and people would gather to play games and sing songs and enjoy themselves.  This 12th-night party is mentioned in Stave 3 of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol when Scrooge is visited by The Ghost of Christmas Present.  Twelfth Night should remind you of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas because those were the 12 days that are mentioned in the song.  The time between December 25th and January 6th.

President Roosevelt changed that with a very small snowball that rolled downhill and turned into a snow monster.  He asked that everyone do their Christmas shopping extra early so that packages being mailed to soldiers either here or overseas would arrive before Christmas,  This was a great idea for the soldiers but it turned into what we have now.  Roosevelt even tried to move Thanksgiving from the fourth Thursday in November to the third to allow people more time to shop,  Thankfully he did not succeed in this endeavor.

If you watch the I Love Lucy Christmas show you’ll notice that they don’t get a tree until Christmas Eve or decorate at all.  Black Friday, the big sale day after Thanksgiving, did not begin its yearly craziness until the 1950s and then grew stronger thru the 60s and seventies.  Now Black Friday can either make or break many businesses.

The history of Black Friday has nothing to do with retail.  How retail adapted the name seems shrouded in mystery.  Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving was given its name by Philadelphia Policemen.  In the early days of football, the Army-Navy game was played on the day after Thanksgiving.  This would bring many visitors and tourists to Philadelphia.  This caused the police departments to have their officers work overtime and pull extra shifts at a time when the rest of the country was taking a break.  So the Philadelphia cops named the day Black Friday.

And with a Bang Christmas is upon us.  If you live in the most typical of North American homes you don’t even get a chance to enjoy your Thanksgiving leftovers before the shopping frenzy starts.  As the years have gone by this frenzy has gotten worse.  This year the stores are claiming you’d better get all your shopping done immediately or the gifts you want to buy won’t be available with our current worker shortage.  In times past the big stores and malls were opening at Midnight on Black Friday or any early hour of the morning.  I remember back in the early days of early store openings going with my brother-in-law to Best Buy and waiting in quite a line for a 6 a.m. opening.  The doors opened and insanity struck.  People pushing and pulling and even slamming folks into other aisles to get to the sale item they wanted.  I never went to an early opening again.

The message seemed to be “Thanksgiving is over now let’s kill each other.”  This is not the message of Thanksgiving or the message of Christmas.

Maybe it’s time to start slowing down.  Yes, there is a lot of preparation for Christmas but do we have to begin that preparation on Black Friday?  I want our retail stores to have great Christmas sales, but they can get our money a few days or even weeks later.  We will buy gifts and shop just not that day.  I think we should have Blue Friday.  In fact, Sky Blue Friday.

On Sky Blue Friday we take up where we left off on Thanksgiving.  On Thanksgiving, we gave thanks to God and maybe to the people who made our lives a little better or helped us through hard times our focus was outward.  Not thinking about ourselves but of God and other people.  On Sky Blue Friday I believe we should look inward.  It has been said that an “unexamined life is not worth living,” yet many of us rarely take the time to examine where we are or who we are.  We don’t ask if who we are is who we want to be?

Self-examination can be hard but it is also a gift we can give ourselves.  In Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is forced to examine his own life by looking at his past, seeing his present, and getting a glimpse of what his future would be if he persisted in his present course.  On Sky Blue Friday we should do the same examine our past and present and see where our current, attitudes, beliefs, jobs, work ethic, relationships, and hobbies may be leading us.  If all is well then there is nothing to do if all is NOT well then we need to determine what changes need to be made and make them.

Black Friday being replaced by Sky Blue Friday can lead us right into the next part of the holiday season, Advent.  Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day.  It is celebrated in Churches as the four Sundays before Christmas.  More often than not the first Sunday of Advent will fall on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  The traditional Advent Calendars that you buy in the store with the little windows that open up begin on December first but that is not the Advent season.

Advent is a special time.  At Easter, we go through Lent and in some way try to participate in the sufferings of our savior.  In Advent, we are looking forward to the coming of our Savior, and this is with great excitement and joy because we know what he brings will be good.  For the Christian, we look to the past for the birth of Jesus into this world and to the future for his promised return.

Advent is a time of preparation.  Many churches have Advent Wreaths as part of the season but this is also something you can do with your family or even by yourself.  Advent candles and wreaths are available on Amazon or you could easily make one yourself with fresh evergreen branches some wire and candle holders.  You can check out the Gospel for each day on the liturgical calendar.  Both Catholics and Protestants use this calendar.  On the first Sunday of Advent, you light the first candle read that day’s Gospel, and say a short prayer.  Maybe even sing some carols or turn on the Christmas Music.  Then each of the following days you do the same reading the Gospel for the day.  If you want to make it simpler there are many advent devotionals you can use if the liturgical calendar isn’t for you.

This is a great way to spend Advent it will slow you down and it will help you focus on what we are really celebrating.  If you’re reading this and you are not a Christian do this anyway.  There are a lot of bad things being said about Christians these days and most of them are false.  If you prepare for Christmas this way you’ll get a taste of who Jesus was and is and it may make your celebration even more joyful.  You may find yourself wanting to know more about Jesus.

Speaking of Joy, did you know that the song Joy to the World is not actually a Christmas song.  It’s not about Jesus first coming over 2000 years ago, although we sing it with that in mind.  The lyricist’s intention was this song to herald the second coming of Jesus.  This is the song we will be singing when Christ comes back as he promised he would.  Now we sing it in anticipation of that event.

There are so many ways to slow down in this upcoming season.  Take in a concert, See a production of A Christmas Carol.  There will be a whole lot about A Christmas Carol in an upcoming Blog.  Better yet read A Christmas Carol.  The book has so much more than any filmed version.  I haven’t forgotten Thanksgiving.  Here’s a last word.  God gives us the sunshine and the rain.  He makes the crops grow and so supplies us with food.  He gave us life and each of our lives is precious to Him.  When you sit down with whomever you share Thanksgiving with or if you are by yourself take one second, a moment and remember all He has done.

Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

Weight Loss

The weight loss journey will officially begin on December 6th, 2021.  That is the Monday after I move into my new apartment.  I chose that day because between now and then eating will be catch as catch can while I move to my new home starting on the 16th of this month.  Things are happening fast.

The first step in my weight loss journey has been accomplished.  I saw my primary care physician this past week to see what his recommendations would be and to see if he would be part of holding me to whatever I do.

He was great about the whole thing.  First, he asked if I would be interested in weight loss surgery?  He got a resounding no on that thought.  I went to a surgeon once, for a consultation on weight loss surgery and it scared me.  Weight loss surgery is a big deal.  It involves sewing up part of your stomach to make it smaller so you won’t eat as much.  That’s all well and good, but because of the surgery, there are certain food that you can no longer eat and those foods could kill you.  That seemed extreme to me.  The other part that has to be taken into consideration is the reasons I overeat.  My food issues are not hunger but sadness and depression or high levels of anxiety or other emotional factors.  Sewing up my stomach will not alter those and so it’s not an answer for me.

My doctor then discussed the new fasting diet.  This diet consists of eating dinner and then fasting for 18 hours after that so basically no food from 6 pm to 12 pm.  Then eating during those 6 hours after the noon hour. This might work but we did not discuss what to eat during those 6 hours.  I could do a lot of damage in that short period.  I need to do an internet search to see exactly how this diet is supposed to work.

The next thing we discussed is how I had lost weight in the past.  This was easy.  I always used Slim Fast.  Two shakes a day and a salad with meat on it, usually chicken.  I have lost a lot of weight doing this at different periods in my life.  The problem is I always gained it back.  I also would do half an hour of aerobic exercise every day.  This was done with a stationary bike, My legs and feet being how they are this is no longer possible.  There are, however, YouTube videos for seated exercises that I could do now that my television will be in my living room.

After a lengthy discussion, we decided that the Slimfast route was probably the best way to go with my doctor actively monitoring me.  He had me set up three appointments before I left the office each in the early day of January, February, and March so he can track my progress.  Ultimately, he will have my back, but it will be tough getting thru the Christmas season this year.  The words no thank you are going to have to be a big part of my vocabulary and my own favorite Christmas treats are going to need to be forgotten this year.

Food for me is a security blanket and it is as much a part of me as Linus’ attachment to that blue blanket.  It’s not all food, of course, it’s the food that is the absolute worst food for you.  I am addicted to McDonald’s.  If I’m having a bad day or am in a general bad temper a McDonald’s triple cheeseburger, medium fries, a Hi-C Orange drink and an apple pie is essential to my survival.  If it’s a really bad day I will buy two triple cheeseburgers.  I don’t eat to live, I live to eat and it is slowly and methodically killing me.

One truth is clear, there are no fat old people.  My grandmother, my aunt, and my dad all lived well into their 90s.  My father is still alive and though he has some old age issues, he is in generally good health.  My mother God Rest Her Soul died at 80 but she had complications from surgery and what age she may have lived to is pretty much undetermined.  I’d like to live a good long life, but it won’t happen if I stay at this weight.

I have to go through a radical lifestyle change and stick to it regardless of the mental consequences that lifestyle may have.  I have to find a way to live without McDonald’s and find other ways to comfort myself other than food.

I’m not blaming my behavior with food on anyone else but me.  Still looking at my early childhood I was sort of conditioned to enjoy high-fat content food.  I think many of us born as part of the baby boom generation were.  I am the youngest of four kids.  There is a five-year gap between my closest sister and myself.  That means that right after I was born my brother and sisters were all in school.  Leaving me home alone with mom for five whole years.  Back then mom liked to eat.  She was an amazing cook and baker, so if a pie went into the oven there would be scraps of pie crust dough rolled out and buttered and then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar and then rolled up and baked just for me.  There would be homemade frosting bowls to lick and sometimes an open-faced sandwich made with mayonnaise and relish as an after-lunch snack.  My mother made amazing dinners every night and there was rarely a night that dessert was not part of the meal.  These were my formative years and I loved them.

Mom changed.  I don’t remember when, but it may have been about the time my sisters got married.  She had put on more than a few pounds and she wanted to get them off and she did.  She joined Weight Watchers and a ladies-only gym and she achieved her goals.  She went back and forth with gaining and losing for a few years but eventually dropped ten pounds below her goal weight and never gained again.  She kept a good healthy diet for the rest of her life.  That’s not to say that she didn’t enjoy occasional or even regular treats.  She and my father would split a pizza every Saturday night after Mass and enjoyed a bottle of wine with it while watching Lawrence Welk on PBS.  Desserts were regulated to Sundays and holidays and she rarely snacked on anything more than fruit.   I can’t imagine the amount of emotional strength it took to accomplish what she did, but I’m about to find out.

I did try Weight Watcher some time ago and adhering to their program I did not lose a pound.  I also tried Noom and though it initially worked well eventually, no matter what I did I couldn’t lose another pound.  After that, I gave up.  It seemed hopeless and I drowned my sorrows in eating everything I could get my hands on and then I turned sixty.

Sixty is a magical number.  It speaks.  It even yells.  Do you what it says?  “No matter what you don’t have much time left on earth.  Even if I live to be one hundred I am past the halfway point.  I’m not young anymore.  I’m not ancient either, but I’m not young.  If I want to see a change in my life now is time and this is the moment.

So, here’s the plan.  Slimfast and some fruit in the morning.  Slimfast for Lunch.   A salad with roasted chicken pieces for dinner and that will be it.  I will allow myself one dessert on Sundays and Holidays but that’s it.  I have a set of free-standing pedals I can put on a tabletop and use my arms and hands to do some aerobic exercise.  I can also use YouTube sitting-down workouts as I will have plenty of space in my new living room. As I mentioned earlier.  All of this will begin on December 6th.  A lot has to happen between now and then.  But I believe that this is possible.  Join me in believing.

Change Two

I’m taking another break from my usual cultural pieces to write again about change. As I previously stated change is not something that is usually welcomed but a lot of the time it produces the best in us and the best for us.  I think this is one of those times in my life.

Since I last wrote about change the great apartment hunt has begun and concluded. Eventually, I found a very nice two-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor of an older elevator building. It has a nice-sized living room, and the bedrooms are just enough. One of those bedrooms will be my office. Surprisingly there are also two bathrooms.  One is a full bath with a tub and shower. The other is a vanity a toilet and a shower stall.  There are also plenty of closets so I doubt I will need the storage locker I get in the basement.

The apartment hunt was an emotional roller coaster. I don’t know if any of you are in the market for an apartment but the market for apartments is just as tough as the market for real estate. Since Covid struck the real estate market has been insane. People are buying up houses almost as soon as they hit the market. I have been told that people who were confirmed city dwellers now want to get out of the cities, and folks that were already out of the city are moving further out because of all the city dwellers moving into the suburbs closest to the city. Now I don’t know if that is true, but it does seem that way.

Covid has also affected apartment living. First, if people can’t find homes in the suburbs, they are taking the apartments and I was also told that some folks that have bought homes found that they can’t handle the mortgage and end up in apartments.  So there is both a rush on single homes and apartments.

But wait! It gets a bit more complicated, and this is where it affected me. When Covid began to hit hard the Trump administration allowed renters that could not pay their rent to stay in their apartments. It seemed a good idea at the time. Businesses were closed and folks were out of work. Most people can’t save a lot these days, and those who do it usually aren’t saving much. On top of that, the 600 dollars a week benefit was given to workers who lost their jobs during Covid. At 600 a week some were making more than when they worked plus they were getting the standard unemployment benefit on top of that.  These things made people reluctant to go back to work and now businesses around the county are looking for workers.

All of this has made apartment owners and management businesses very wary of all folks that come looking for an apartment. For me, there was the added issue of the fact that I needed a handicapped-accessible building due to the neuropathy in my legs. Most buildings were designed 20 to 30 years ago with no thought to the handicapped. These were buildings I needed to look at as the newer buildings that made everything handicapped accessible are charging rent well over 2000 dollars a month. That is way out of my league. All of that to say my choices were few. In fact, in all of Delaware county where I reside, I found only three after looking at several 100 possibilities.

The first was a lovely 3rd-floor one-bedroom apartment with a balcony. The rent seemed reasonable but as we talked more and more to the agent, we found that there were a ton of fees that raised the reasonable amount to unreasonable.  The second one I found was attached to the side of a house. I didn’t overly much like the area, but the street seemed quiet, and the apartment was great.  This too was a one-bedroom apartment.  The living room and bedroom were both very nice sized and it had its own laundry room. It even had its own driveway. The woman that owned the house and the apartment was quite particular about who she wanted in there and a disabled person living on disability was not her idea of a good tenant. She never even let me see the inside. That was all kind of a blow, and I began to get very discouraged about the search.

For a few days, I gave up. I looked at no apartments at all. To me, it seemed that there was just no place that I could find that would work for me and would accept me. Depression set in and I began to wonder if I was going to live my life in a box. After a couple of days of this, I finally decided to look in Swarthmore. Swarthmore is just a few miles from me and is the home of Swarthmore College a very prestigious school so in some ways it’s a college town but not a rowdy college town.  My godparents live there and so I have spent a lot of time in Swarthmore but never thought about living there.

It took a little while to find one that seemed as if it might work.  It had a great, almost Tolkien name, so I made the call. This one worked out but not without a whole lot of hoops that had to be jumped through. I had to show bank statements to show I could pay the rent. Some apartments want proof of three to twelve months’ rent in the bank before they will even allow you to look at the place. Then a credit score of at least 750 and of course a criminal background check. Hoop after hoop after hoop. It was driving me a little crazy. Eventually, all the Ts were crossed and the Is dotted. I Had a new home.

Of course, that’s just the first part.  Now the fun begins. I have friends that are bringing me boxes but this is getting hard.  5 years ago when I first moved I was able to get all the boxes I needed myself.  I then boxed up my belongings and took car full after car full to the place I was moving.  I only used movers for the big stuff.  Now with the neuropathy in my legs and arthritis in my knees, most of that is not possible.  I’m walking with a cane now so gathering empty boxes and getting them to the car is difficult.  I can pack boxes but, unless they are light I can’t move the box very far.  My boxes will be heavy as I have a lot of books.

I hate not being able to do things for myself.  This is a huge change for me and it takes a lot of getting used to.  It is making me a more humble person and maybe that’s a lesson I need to learn.  I am at a stage in life where I truly need help and it’s not wrong to need help.  Every time someone helps me I am confident that God in Heaven is happy with them as I am grateful to them.  After all, Jesus said, “What you did for the least of these you have done for me.”

This coming Wednesday another change will begin to take place.  I go to my doctor’s office to discuss some sort of plan to get this weight off my body.  I have my mental health care provider working with me too.  I have a feeling I will need to get a bit obsessive-compulsive to achieve what I need to do, but that’s alright.  It’s good when a mental issue can be used in your favor.

I make light of the seriousness of my weight situation. I shouldn’t do that.  I can’t seem to keep gaining and I don’t want to.  Some of it may have to deal with the meds I’m taking but some of it is because I eat when I’m sad and lately I’ve been sad a lot.  Covid has taken away many things that I loved deeply.  Going to the movies, to theaters and concerts has all become just a little frightening.  Covid seems to be everywhere and nowhere.  You think you’re safe and then find a friend you had lunch with last week has come down with it.  You get tested and hope for the best.  So far I have been kept safe from the illness, but none of us are safe from its social effects.

I’m also sad because my life is changing again.  I know I’m going to love the new apartment, but I’m going to miss the neighbors that are here.  I haven’t gotten to know many of them well, I wasn’t here long enough, but the few that I have gotten to know even a very little I liked and wanted to know more.  That time is over now and I regret it.

I’m sad too because I will be leaving behind the area I grew up in.  I still love this area.  Knowing the stores and the people that run them.  Having three supermarkets just blocks from each other and knowing almost for sure that I will be able to find almost anything I need in my own backyard.  I won’t have that backyard anymore and it’s sad.

I don’t like saying goodbye.  I never have.  Saying goodbye always seems so permanent.  You make plans to see friends that you’ve left and you promise to keep in touch but that rarely happens and when you do finally see each other again the time has passed and people changed and the bond that was there can be very hard to find again.

Now, I have some friends that this will never happen.  Manny J, Jim R, Kevin S, Eric K, Tim G, Mary R, Brad F, and Saundra F, Tammy D, Jeff B, Carrie O, Nick R.and others when we pick up the phone it’s like we just saw each other yesterday.  Most of these people don’t live nearby so it is our hearts that bind us together and keep the relationship alive.  I love these folks a lot and am very grateful they are in my life.

GRATEFUL!  It just struck me.  The best way to manage change is to be grateful for the change.  Grateful for a new apartment and the chance to meet new neighbors and have new experiences.  Grateful for the people we have known and are no longer part of our lives but their influence still lingers.  Grateful for the folks we have lost either thru death or other ways that people grow apart.  Those people added depth and color to our lives and so whether they are here or not they are part of us.

This is the month for gratefulness.  That gratefulness can be shown first to God and then to all the people in our lives that brought something special.  And, you know, there isn’t one person in our lives that didn’t bring something special.  There is not one event in our lives good or bad that didn’t have a purpose or a meaning.  Everything in our lives we designed by God to show us he is here and he loves us and so for that alone change has to mean being grateful.

Life is change.   Sometimes it’s painful and sometimes it’s beautiful, but most of the time it’s both.

  • Lana Lang Smallville

Magic

Magic!  What an amazing word and there is so much meaning in those five simple letters.  There is the “magic” in a child’s eyes when they spy the gifts under the tree at Christmas.  There is the “magic” that a stage magician conjures up by diverting us and seemingly makes impossible things happen.  There is the scary “magic” that real witches perform or at least claim to perform by casting spells and make potions and charms.  Then there is the fictional “magic”, the magic of The Lord of the Rings, Bewitched, The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series, this is the magic I’m going to focus on today.  This is my own history of magic.

I guess my first exposure to fictional magic would have been the television show Bewitched starring Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York as well as the amazing Agnes Morehead.  The premise of the series was that a mortal Darin Stevens marries a witch a fact that he is unaware of until after the marriage takes place.  When he finds out he forbids her to use her powers in the house and of course this is impossible especially with his wife’s family of witches and warlocks always at hand.  This show was cute and funny and stayed on the air for several years even after having the original Darin replaced by another actor.

The next bit of magic would have been when I was introduced to the classic film The Wizard of Oz.  The Wizard of Oz is based on the children’s book written by L Frank Baum and published on March 17, 1900.  It quick became a childhood classic and Baum would go on to write fourteen more Oz books.  These could have made a great movie series but for some reason MGM, the studio that produced the original film, made the adventures of Dorothy trying to find her way home. A dream, so no future films could be done.

There seems to be certain films everyone is afraid to touch because they are perfect the way they are.  The Sound of Music, Funny Girl, Gone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz are four of those.  People have tried to do sequels to Oz, but they all pale in comparison the original movie which was almost flowless in its making.

The Wizard of Oz in the 60s became a yearly treat that families would gather around their television sets to watch around the Easter holiday.  My family was no exception and I remember being little and hiding behind my father whenever The Wicked Witch of The West would make her appearance.  There wasn’t a lot of magic actually done in The Wizard of Oz.  Dorothy gest to Oz by tornado.  She walks to The Emerald City and meets non-human creatures and talking animals but the only magic that is actually performed is Glinda magically having the Ruby Slippers appear on Dorothy’s feet, The Wicked Witch conjuring the poppy field and Glinda creating the snow that destroys the poppies effects.  Of course, Glinda makes her appearances in a magic bubble and The Wicked Witch rides a broom stick but that’s about it.  To compare the two there was more magic in a half hour of Bewitched than there was in the full-length movie of The Wizard of Oz.

But Oz was magical in an of itself.  A talking Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion as well as talking apple trees and colors that were brighter and more beautiful than in our own gray world made this movie a delight for our senses.  And at the end of the 1930s when America was just coming out of the depression but was on the brink of another world war, that kind of beauty and unreality was much needed by children and adults.

My next stop in my magical tour must be Neverland.  I was introduced to Peter Pan fairly young.  My mother was a big fan of musicals and when Peter Pan starring Mary Martin was aired on television in the early 60s it was a family event.

Peter Pan began as a nonmusical stage play by JM Barrie.  Mr. Barrie based his play on his relationship with three young boys and the games they would play.  Peter Pan opened in 1904 and did very well.  Mr. Barrie was already a celebrated playwright, but Peter Pan elevated him to an immortal status and is the only thing still remembered today.  Peter became so famous that Barrie, told everyone to watch Kensington Gardens for a surprise on a certain date and when London woke up that morning there was the magnificent statue of Peter in the gardens.

It was in 1911 that Barrie published the novel that told the story of his play for all the world.  He titled the novel Peter Pan and Wendy, and it is still enjoyed by people today.

Peter Pan is a difficult role, and it was decided early on that a child could not handle the work in a full length play so a woman has been traditionally cast as Peter.  In recent times in cartoons and films as well as some stage production this has changed but more often than not Peter is still played by a woman.

Peter Pan has very little magic.  In fact, the only magic we see is Peter teaching the children to fly.  We know there are fairies as Tinker Bell is a main character in the play and we know that is by thinking good thoughts and the use of fairy dust that we can learn to fly.  Bu that is the extent of the observable magic in the play.

Let’s talk about flying.  When Barrie first opened his play in 1904 Peter had only one requirement to fly.  You had to think good thoughts.  Many children left the theater with that idea in their heads and soon found themselves jumping off roofs and out of windows thinking they would fly.  This of course caused some injuries but as far as I know no life was lost.  On learning this Barrie modified his play to add fairy dust to the flying equation and the attempts ceased.  I believed a similar situation occurred in 1964 when Disney released Mary Poppins and Mary seemed to fly by umbrella to the front door of the Bank’s home.  I know my friends and I spent some time jumping from steps with an umbrella in hand, but we never got air born.

Neverland is a magic place.  It is inhabited by fairies, and mermaids.  We know from the play that it is Spring, summer, Winter and Fall all at the same time on different parts of the island.  Peter describes it as crammed with hardly any room between one adventure and another.  And of course, if you go there as a child, you never grow up.  There is magic in the very soil of Neverland.

I was transported as a child to Neverland in my dreams.  Not long after seeing the Mary Martin TV special I brought to see the Disney version of the classic story.  The problem with Disney and Miss Martin’s work is that they watered the story down quite a lot.  They took out the scary stuff and so missed some of the best parts.  In time I grew to love the book that Barrie wrote mush more than the film versions.  To this day no one has written Peter the way Barrie did.  I would love to see new stage production that left it all intact.

The fantasy that taught me how to think would begin and end with The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  The Phantom Tollbooth is about a bored little boy whose name is Milo.  Milo has no interest in anything until one day a mysterious box appears in his room.  The box contains a life size toy toll booth which Milo proceeds to put together.  When it’s completed Milo gets into his toy electric car and drives thru into The Land Beyond.  

Milo’s adventures in the Lands Beyond are filled with strange creatures that are magical in some ways but they only way to deal with them is to think.  There is the land of the doldrums where you get very sleepy, and can get yourself killed if you don’t wake up and begin to think your way out by reciting poetry and equations as well as using your imagination.  Milo is saved from The Doldrums by Tok a watchdog.  This is a large dog that has a clock built into his side and he guards time he especially is after those who waste time.

Milo is told the story of the Lands Beyond and knows that there are problems there that could be solved if the Princesses Rhyme and Reason could be rescued from the castle in the clouds which must be gotten to through by way of The Mountains of Ignorance. This stuff is great.  He must first get permission to save them from the warring kings of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis the kingdoms or Words and Numbers.  The kings hate each other even though they are brothers because they each believe that their own kingdom is better than the other.  In other words, words are better than numbers and numbers are better than words.

Milo has many adventures in The Lands Beyond and meets many strange creatures including a Spelling Bee and a Humbug but he eventually reaches the princesses and rescues them through the power of thinking.  When he returns home, he has a new lease on life and is no longer bored as there is always something new to learn.  This is a lesson many adults could use right now.

As I grew up so did my magic stories.  First there was my comic book heroes.  Doctor Strange from Marvel Comics and Doctor Fate from DC.  Doctor Fate came first and made his first appearance in the early 1940s in the pages of More Fun Comics.  He is Kent Nelson who, as a boy, finds The Helmet of Nabu an ancient Egyptian wizard, when he puts the helmet on, he becomes Doctor fate with all kinds of magic abilities.  Doctor Fate would fade away with the rest of the comic book heroes in the early 1950s as discussed in earlier blogs.  He would return the 1960s in the pages on The Justice League of America when DC Comics rebirths The Justice Society in the pages of that magazine.  He would eventually get his own title for a short while but for the most part remain a supporting character in the comic book universe.  With the popularity of the television series Stargirl and the reemergence of The Justice Society Doctor Fate may soon make a return.

Doctor Strange made his first appearance in Strange Tales and remains a favorite character of mine to this day.  Steven Strange is a surgeon, skilled and vain about those skills.  He cares only for money and little for the actual people he treats. An accident renders his hands useless and in seeking a cure he becomes a penniless derelict.  His search continues, however, and he makes it to Tibet where he hears of a man known as The Ancient One who may be able to help him.  He seeks The Ancient One out and finds him only discover that it is sorcery that the Ancient One believes can cure Strange.  Strange, being a man of science, rejects this and decides to leave only to discover that the Ancient One’s disciple Murdo is going to kill The Ancient One.  Strange attempts to warn the old man only to be stopped by a spell put on him by Murdo.  The Ancient One saves both Himself and Strange and Strange becomes the new disciple.  After years of training Doctor Strange become The Master of the Mystic Arts and a main player in the Marvel Comics and Cinematic Universe.

My journey in fictional magic continued.  The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magic Kingdom of Landover, The Belgariad and The Harry Potter books all added to my magical fun and adventure.

Why does magic entice all of us so much?  Why does the idea of conjuring strike our imaginations so hard?  I think the answer lies in what CS Lewis once said.  Lewis, the author of the Narnia books said “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”  And we were made for another world.  When God created us in The Garden of Eden, he created us in a perfect world and was grooming us to be like him.  He wasn’t looking for slaves or he wouldn’t have given us the ability to choose.  But the ability to choose comes with consequences.  Adam and Eve were told they could do whatever they wanted except to eat from the fruit of one tree.  They couldn’t accept that one rule and so were banished from a perfect world into this one.  And here we remain as Lewis calls us, the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve.

But God left in us a desire for our true home.  He gave us glimpses of that home in our imaginations and in the many books of fantasy that have been written.  Whether you are a fan of The Shire or Shangri La, or Neverland or Oz all of those places are glimpses of Eden our true home and the place we all long for.

The thing is we have another act of God where in we can begin to get Eden back.  God sent his son Jesus to pay for the sins of Adam and all the rest of us.  Jesus’ death on the cross and his ultimate resurrection pave the way to the real place of magic known as Eden or Heaven.  To return to that place God asks only one thing from us and that is to believe that Jesus died and was resurrected for us.  That’s it.  This is what Tolkien called “the one true myth.” No great acts of heroism or penance are required just belief that in the work God has done.  Will our lives change after that?  Yes, they will but the change will come not as an act of payment but as an act of gratitude that comes from believing in this amazing gift.  It would be the same way you would act toward the person who showed up at your door with the keys to a brand-new house or a car.  Just handed those keys to you and said enjoy it.  We would go out of our way to show our gratitude.  This is why our lives change when we understand what God has done for us.

I will continue to enjoy the fantasy worlds that are so much a part of my life.  These worlds have added color and excitement and mystery to this existence, but they have also been a pointer.  Little by little they pointed me back to Eden and to God.

Change

I have, mostly been writing about things and people that are dear to my heart.  This time around I’m going to make a turn and write about something most people are uncomfortable with and that is change.

Before we begin, I want to be perfectly clear that every change has the opportunity to be good.  If it’s an unwanted change we can learn from it if it’s a positive change we can delight in it but we all will react to change in one form or another.  Now to be frank I don’t like change.  Almost every change in my life had come with some sort of negative aspect that I wasn’t anticipating and so I get thrown or depressed.  This has been a life long struggle but it is one I eventually conquer.

Change has been happening to my body over the last twelve or thirteen years.  It began with my legs.  I realized I had no feeling from my knees to my toes and was diagnosed with neuropathy a condition mostly found in diabetics of which I was not one.  Then both of my feet became full of arthritis and my knees followed with the same thing.  To date walking is very difficult and standing for long periods of time impossible.  It became clear that I could not work and had to drop out of the work force.

I miss working.  Working gave me purpose and a sense of meaning to my life.  Since I worked in the health field, I also felt a sense of accomplishment as I helped others become well or deal with their illnesses.  For a brief period of time, I worked in a nursing home as an assistant activities director and that job gave me great joy as I could see the good, I was doing and could use the skills I had as an actor and director. 

We are all given a number of gifts when we come into this world.  I can picture God in heaven designing each and every one of us and pouring into us from his vast store house of gifts the things we will love and the things we will be passionate about.  For me he decided on English and music, writing, and acting, directing and creating.  He gave me the heart of an artist and the temperament of one too.

I remember my experience of directing different shows but most especially the ones I did for the church.  I could literally feel God’s pleasure in me as I did my best with what he gave me for him.  Those weren’t only good times they were amazing times.

Of course, it didn’t last, a monkey wrench got thrown into the works and everything came apart.  That was the best time of my life and it seems to be over now, but I also feel like there is more in store hopefully sooner than later.

Change

Our whole lives from the moment we are born until the day we die is about change.  You can resist it all you want but it’s going to happen.  In fact, it’s safe to say that if you are not actively changing you may well be actively dying.  Because change is life.  It challenges us, it makes us learn, it forces us to find courage, it builds bridges between people and sometimes it takes down bridges and pulls people apart.  This can be good or bad.  Some people need to leave our lives.  It’s best for them and for us.  Sometimes it’s hard to let go when a dear friend needs to leave to follow his or her passion or dream but it’s exciting too, knowing that the friend is going somewhere to be the best they can be.

Sometimes people leave us and it is not in our will or good.  A dear friend and you have words and the link that has been between you is suddenly gone and you mourn that person as though they were dead, but they’re not.  They have left your life and sometimes you don’t understand at all what has happened.

Then there is the hardest leaving of all death.  I have been present at the death of many people.  Most of them because of my job.  Some of my family.  Those were hard times.  My mother’s death was the worst.  You only have one mother and when she dies it feels like all the love in the world has gone with her.  No one loves you like your mom.  No one can love you like your mom.  Eve may have been taken out of Adam but everyone else since has been taken out of Eve or out of woman.  Every birth is a miracle and every woman who has given birth knows this.

I lived with my folks for a long time.  When I got really sick I became crotchety and obnoxious. I made it a point to stay out of the way of everyone so as not do or say the wrong thing.  My mother would boldly walk in where no one else would come.  She’d feel my head and make sure I had what I needed.  My mood would not interrupt her mission.  Not long after she died, I got very sick and our dog, Lucky, came into my room jumped up on my bed and put his nose to my forehead.  He then went down and snuggled at my feet.  I felt mom was there telling me she hadn’t really left me and when I was in trouble, she would still be with me. 

Change

About two and a half months ago I knew I had to do something to make my life have some sort of purpose.  I had toyed on and off with blogs, but it never seemed to be able to stick.  This time I was bound to make it work. 

I like to write.  I started keeping a journal at a very young age because of the TV show The Waltons.  I idolized John-Boy and saw in him the person I wanted to be so I began to write.  First a journal, occasionally short stories and eventually one full length play that was performed.  Writing can be the most difficult thing to start but once you get going who knows where you’ll end up.  JRR Tolkien started by giving us a children’s book in The Hobbit but ended leaving us with a fantasy masterpiece in The Lord of the Rings.  The Lord of the Rings was crowned the most important book of the 20th century by two different polls. 

This blog has become my work.  A goal set weekly to keep me from doing nothing.  It exercises my mind and my imagination, and it is my hope that it entertains and maybe educates my readers.  It may not be deep but is real and it is honest.

Change

As the last few years have gone by I have gotten weaker in my legs.  Walking has become harder, and I am now using a cane and may have to go to a walker.  Things that used to be a joy to do are now chores because they all involve pain.

For instance, I used to love to go grocery shopping.  I loved finding the sales and looking for the best of the meat.  Finding the fresh produce was fun and when the seasonal stuff came out just the smell of a grocery store would excite me.  In April several of the metatarsal bones at the top of my foot fractured.  It took twelve weeks for them to heal but because of the arthritis the pain and the swelling won’t go away.  I am in pain with almost every step and walking around a supermarket can be agony.  Yes I can get groceries delivered but that’s not as much fun and you don’t know what you’re getting.  You must hope that the person choosing for you thinks like you do.  It doesn’t always work out that way.

Change

My weight is now out of control and I understand mentally that I must change my ways.  Back in my twenties and thirties my weight was easy to control.  I didn’t drive and public transportation, though close to where I lived, wasn’t exactly near, so I walked about a mile or so a day.  More so if SEPTA went on strike, and they did like clockwork.  After I began to drive, in my thirties, weight started to add up on me.  I would lose it and then gain more.  This has become an unhealthy pattern, and something must be done and only I can do it.  No one can lose weight for you.

I have investigated bariatric surgery where they sew up your stomach.  I know people that have done this, and it has worked well for them.  But there are a lot of things that can go wrong after surgery.  I went through the initial interviews where everything was explained out and I got terrified.  I’m going to have to lose weight the old-fashioned way taking it off pound by pound until it’s gone.  My mother, God rest her soul, did it that way and there is no reason thst I can’t.  And I really want to do it, after all, you don’t see any fat old people and I’d like to live at least a few more years.

Change

This weekend DC comics announced that my favorite character, Superman, would have a new motto.  After 80 years of “Truth, Justice, and The American Way,” It would now be “Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow.”  I didn’t want to hear that.  I liked the old motto; it was a comfort to me.  It held dear the things that I held dear.  Why change it?  As a Christian I would have preferred a change that said, “Truth Justice and Mercy,” because that seems to me to be the message that the God of the Old and New Testaments is all about.  It would have reflected the core of my own beliefs.  I thought the new motto sounded very Disney.  After all you can’t go into a Disney Park and not be made very aware of what the world should be like and as much as Walt was an entertainer, he was also a futurist hoping to design and be part of all the latest in technology.  The song It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow rings throughout Magic Kingdom.  But where does Superman fit into tomorrow.  I think Superman is a bringer of light to a dark world.  He brings hope.  He makes every kid who feels like he’s Clark Kent know that there is something special about him.  That underneath he can be Superman.  I think Superman brings hope in hope can come a better tomorrow.

Change

Recently I found out that I would have to move.  The reasons don’t matter but moving is a monumental task and even more so now.

Five years ago, when I last moved, I could do so much more for myself than I can now.  I could gather boxes and load up and drive car loads full of them to where I was going.  I may be remembering wrong, but I think I moved all of my books and the shelves that come apart all by myself leaving not a lot for the movers to do.   Now I can’t even get the boxes.  Having to use a cane makes carrying stuff difficult, even empty boxes and I don’t do well on my feet because of the issues with my legs.  I’m going to need a lot of help with just the move.

Looking for an apartment has been no joy either.  Because I am disabled finding a building I can get into has been almost impossible.  Every place seems to have steps.  I did see one place where it looked really easy to get into, but the building was run down and dirty, it didn’t look like a very nice place to live so I passed on that.  There are a lot of second floor apartments with beautiful space but nothing with an elevator, so it won’t work.  They say moving in one of the top stressors of life and I believe it is, but it’s compounded by so little choice of where I can live.

Change

Change, we all go through it and ultimately it is good for us.  Change stretches our minds and our bodies.  We find we can learn, and we can adapt if we allow change to have its way.  We bend but we don’t break.  Change can even be fun.  Moving is tough and there is a lot I am not looking forward to, but I enjoy sorting through my belongings and thinning things out.  I like to organize and pack.  When the mover do come they will find me more than ready and the day will go smoothly.  Even losing weight can be fun as I find new foods to enjoy as I give up the stuff that does me no good.

I stated earlier in this missive that change is a part of life and if we aren’t actively changing we are actively dying.  And what is death if not change.  It is the change we have no control over and it is the change most people fear more than any other.  To end this I quote from from the Broadway musical Mame “LIVE LIVE LIVE, Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Or is it  CHANGE CHANGE CHANGE, Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.  To live is to change.

Superheroes

Superman, batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Ironman. Marvel Girl, all of these bring up thoughts of adventure and selfless heroism.  I was born in a time when superheroes were on the outskirts of accepted entertainment for young minds.  Under McCarthyism and with the influence of the book Seduction of the Innocent they had gained a bad reputation after only really being around for 33 years.  However not long before I was born the comic book superhero would enjoy the beginning of a renaissance that still contuse today.

I wish I had a time machine and could travel back to New York City in the year 1938.  The world was still in the throes of the Great Depression but with Roosevelt in The White House people were beginning to hope better days were ahead.  These were the days when newspapers and magazines were sold on newsstands on the streets.  Big boxes made of plywood which opened up with racks of colorful  magazine covers or the black and white print of newspapers.  One day in April a new magazine would appear on these racks.  It had a man dressed in red and blue wearing a cape and he lifted a car above his head seeming to shake the occupants out of it.  This was Action Comics number one dated June of 1938, but to give the magazine a long shelf life the magazine was released three months earlier than its cover date a practice still used by comic books today, the man in the colorful clothes was Superman.

Superman was the granddaddy of all the superheroes that would follow.  He is the standard that all superheroes are still measured by. Superman is timeless and remain popular throughout some of this world’s toughest times.  He survived The Great Depression, The McCarthy era, social reform, and every other fad that society could throw.  Superman adapted and grew.

Today’s Superman looks much like the original figure from 1938 but he has changed.  Originally Superman could jump an 8th of a mile or has a high as a building but he could not fly.  He had great speed, was invulnerable, but things like X-Ray Vision, Heat Vision, super breath and remaining in outer space in just his uniform were years in the distance.

Superman was a hero for the people.  Stopping corrupt politicians, catching murderers and stopping executions of the wrong man were more of his everyday work.  His alter ego Clark Kent has also changed over the years.  In the 30s and well into the 80s Clark Kent was a klutz, sometimes afraid of his own shadow and always involved in a three-way relationship between himself, Lois Lane and Superman.  After the yearlong event Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Clark changed.  The glasses were still there but he was no longer the weakling that everyone could walk upon.  He would reveal his identity to Lois Lane and the two would marry. 

Superman is as relevant today as he was in 1938.  He has changed with the times and in those times a lot has happened.  Women’s Liberation, Racial Equality, Equality for all people regardless of skin color, gender, or sexual preference.  Superman has met each of these challenges in one form or the other not though super heroics, but by treating every individual he meets as an equal.  Worthy of respect just for being human.  We could all learn a lot from Superman.

Batman, however, is not Superman.  Batman created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger is totally human.  He has no super powers.  He has trained his body to perfection and honed his mind in the same way.  He is an expert at hand-to-hand combat and with simple weapons.  Like Superman Batman has a no kill creed.  He brings criminals to justice.

Batman is a story of tragedy.  Superman a story of hope.  Superman is sent from his dying planet to earth to be raised by Kansas farmers.  Superman grew up with good moral teaching and with two loving parents.  Batman saw his parents gunned down and was raised by the family butler.  His mind is always set on his mission that no one will go through what he went through.  In his original origin story young Bruce Wayne vows by candlelight to avenge his parents death by warring on all criminals.

Batman is a study in psychology.  What do you do when tragedy strikes?  How do you react to it?  Batman goes to the extremes.  His parents left him wealthy, he can afford to do as he wishes so he studies and grows strong to begin his war on evil.  But it leaves him a half person.  Batman in many ways cannot really love because he has left no room for it in his obsession.  He likes other people but in today’s comic stories he seems more interested in how an individual can help his cause than about the individual themselves.  This is why there have been four Robins each leaving Batman in one way or another to find their own way and not be caught up in the obsession.

Superman and Batman were created in the late 1930s.  Now we jump up 20 odd years to the early 60s.  Comics lost favor with the public in the 1950s and almost all the heroes hung up their capes and masks.  But in the late 1950s DC Comics made the decision to resurrect their comic book heroes.  But they would do it in a whole new way.  Gone were the original Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman and born were the new versions, streamlined with new origins that had a healthy dose of science fiction too add to the colorful heroes.

Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman were the only three heroes to survive the 50s but soon they banded together with the new heroes and formed The Justice League of America.  The JLA became a very popular title and came to the attention of the editors of Timely Comics soon to become Marvel and one editor told a young Stan lee to come up with a team of heroes that would rival the JLA.  Lee was about ready to leave the comics business, but he took on this assignment and created The Fantastic Four and new era in comics began.

With the publication of The Fantastic Four comic book heroes began to grow up.  The Fantastic Four argued with each other, had obvious character flaws, and sometimes split up.  Sarcasm and anger were a part of every issue and the heroes seemed more human.  This new way or writing superheroes would spawn The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and Spiderman.

Spiderman made his appearance in August of 1962 in the last issue of Amazing Fantasy.  He was the collaboration of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and became an immediate success.  Young angst laden Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider which give him the powers and strength of the arachnid.  It doesn’t however remove the social problems of a teen age boy and Peter finds it hard to be Peter made fun of by his classmates and Spiderman who is praised by the same people.  He is hurting and lonely and yet he always stays in the fight.  Tempted to give up by never giving in.

Superheroes are our modern mythology.  They are the Hercules, Ulysses, and Perseus of the 20th and 21st century.  We need fictional heroes.  They are important and they serve the function of passing on moral values.  They do this is a way that entertains and enlightens us without whacking us over the head.

Superman is embodiment of all things good.  He provides hope in a world that has gone very dark.  His primary-colored costume of red. Blue and yellow are a joyful expression of heroics and of light over coming darkness.

Batman is different.  Batman does not inspire hope of goodness as much as he shows the potential of every individual.  He takes it to the extreme, but he is the lesson of us becoming anything we want to be if we work hard enough to pursue it. 

Spiderman, in his origin tale allows the man who would ultimately kill his beloved Uncle Ben to get away.  When he learns that because of his in-action tragedy struck he comes to the understanding that with great power comes great responsibility.  Spiderman goes on to become a hero and that’s great but the lesson he leaves behind is that we need to hold those in power over us to that same thought.  From the President of the United States to your boss the power they hold is a responsibility and the responsibility is to do good with what you are given.  To not serve yourself but to serve others.

To not serve yourself but to serve others is the message of all good superhero stories.  We are put on this earth for only a brief period of time, and it is what we do for others that makes us human and what makes life worth living.  The more you reach out a hand to those in need, the more you will become aware of a sense of self satisfaction.

We are about to enter the holiday season.  Now more than ever the words of Charles Dickens ring down through the years that “Want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices.”  Do you have an abundance? Share something with those in need.  Go into your closet and give away the clothes you haven’t worn in a year.  Go through your house and whatever you don’t need give away.  There are a lot of people hurting in the world if you and I can gather the resources that we have at our disposal and choose to help those who are in need we will be superheroes.

Mystery

I remember being in Beverly Hills Junior High School and going to Seller’s Memorial Library for the first time.  Seller’s is the main branch of the Upper Darby Township Library System and is one third an old Victorian type house and the rest a modern building attached to the house.  It’s a pretty cool piece of architecture.

Beverly Hills Junior High School was only a short walk to and from the library.  My house was nowhere near the main branch, and I wanted to go because I was on a quest.  So, after school one day I walked to the library in search of mystery.

The year was 1974 and Murder on the Orient Express had made a huge impact as a film starring Albert Finney as Hercule Poirot and a host of other A-list stars including Lauren Bacall and Ingrid Bergman.  I saw the film and fell in love with it.  I was already an enthusiastic reader and wanted anything and everything by Agatha Christie.

I started with my school library at first, but I don’t remember finding very much there.  Junior High School English had already introduced me to Sherlock Holmes, but I wasn’t ready to commit fully to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective yet, I would in the years to come.  I wanted Mrs. Christie.

So, one late afternoon in 1974 I found myself fully engaged in the mystery section of my hometown’s biggest library.  I was combing my way through the stacks looking at title after title when an older gentleman approached me and asked what I was doing in that section.  I was a little bewildered.  It’s not like I was in some sort of X-rated area of the library so I stammered out some kind of answer and he replied that this section was for older people, and I should look for books somewhere else.  To quote Hermione Granger of Harry Potter fame, “What an idiot.”

Needless to say, I didn’t listen to him and went on with my search much to his annoyance.  I don’t know what I went home with that day, but my guess is it was And Then There Were None, probably the most famous of all Mrs. Christie’s works.  When I opened up that book, I opened up a whole new world of mystery one that I still live in.

Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None were my first two trips into adult mystery, but my love of mystery goes back to my grade school days when I was reading Encyclopedia Brown and The Hardy Boys.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, Encyclopedia Brown was a series of short stories where all the clues were laid out in a pretty obvious way.  The reader was challenged to solve the mystery themselves before looking at how the hero, Encyclopedia Brown, solved it.  The books were fun but, in many ways, they were a one-time only read because after the mystery was solved there was no point in going back. 

The Hardy Boys were a different story, they were probably another level up.  The adventures of Frank and Joe Hardy solving mysteries in their hometown or in exotic locations were the stuff of fifth and sixth grade fantasies and doing it with your brother made it even better.  I’ve mentioned my cousin Steve before.  It was his library, that he left at home, that also introduced me to The Hardy Boys.  The first book I read was called While the Clock Ticked.  My aunt made me give this one back too, but I started my own collection after that and read several of the books in the next few years.

I stayed with Miss Christie for a long time, as if she were the only mystery writer worth paying attention to.  There was reason for this.  She wrote so many novels that you just don’t know when to stop and enjoy other authors.  Mrs. Christie had a whole stable of detectives that she created, and they were all worth reading.  Besides Hercule Poirot there is Miss Jane Marple and Tommy and Tuppence Beresford to name her most famous.  There were also her standalone books such as The Pale Horse and Endless Night all totaled Mrs. Christie wrote 82 detective Novels.  I have no idea how many short stories and several plays.  She was and is the queen of mystery.

Other author’s and movies would come along as I got older.  Soon I began to notice other detectives in novels and movies.  In 1934 Dashiell Hammett published his novel The Thin Man with the crime solving detectives Nick and Nora Charles.  This was not the first husband and wife detective team.  Agatha Christie was first with Tommy and Tuppence Beresford.  Tommy and Tuppence were middle class when pitted up against Nick and Nora.

The Thin Man was soon scooped up by MGM and immediately and made into a popular film starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora.  Though filmed in black and white the film showed the opulence of upper-class New York because Nick and Nora Charles were very wealthy.  This was the exact opposite of what most Americans were living like at the time. And because of the opulence and the devil may care attitude of the leading players The Thin Man became very popular and a series of films, totaling six, was produced from 1934 to 1947.

Mysteries were popular on both sides of the Atlantic and though we started with Agatha Christie we must now go back in time the great Victorian era.  London was gaslights and fog.  The English countryside was speckled with large estates nestles against mysterious moors.  And one man walked through those mysteries into international fame, the great Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes first appeared in The Strand Magazine in 1887 in a story titled A Study in Scarlett.  He was creation of Arthur Conan Doyle.  The story goes that Doyle, who was a doctor, did not have a very busy practice so to pass the time he created Sherlock, Doctor Watson.  It is said that there are three characters every child knows, Mickey Mouse, Superman and Sherlock Holmes.

In the Sherlock Holmes canon, there are 4 novels and 56 short stories that Doyle originally wrote.  After Doyle came many who tried to emulate Doyle’s style, and some came close.  There is The Seven Percent Solution by Nicholas Mayer and most recently a whole series of Holmes books which are surprisingly good, written by Kareem Abdul Jabaar.  But there are probably 100s of other authors who have taken up the pen to write further stories of the great detective.

After the popularity of the Holmes stories Doyle himself got a little tired of writing about his detective and had him killed in a story called The Final Problem.  The public outcry was so great and the national mourning so sincere for a fictional character, that Doyle brought him back first in The Hound of the Baskervilles which took place before his death and then he resurrected Holmes in a story titled The Empty House.  Holmes had never actually been dead but had faked his death to make himself scarce to those who still wanted to kill him.  Sherlock Holmes is now part of our great arts culture.  He will continue to be loved and to be enjoyed for generations to come.

One of my favorite detectives that I have discovered in the last couple of decades is the wonderful Nero Wolfe.  Wolfe aided by his handsome, man about town assistant Archie Goodwin was created in 1934 by Rex Stout.  He would go on and publish about a book a year until 1975.  There are 33 novels and 41 novellas and short stories in the Nero Wolfe canon.  I have read about thirty percent of the novels and have enjoyed each of them.

Nero Wolfe lives in an NYC brownstone house in the heart of metropolis.  He weighs a quarter of a ton and rarely leaves his home unless under extreme compunction to do so.  He solves his mysteries in a great desk chair built especially for him and has all the leg work dome for him by Archie Goodwin.  The Wolfe stories are told in first person from Archie’s point of view.  Wolfe, in today’s language would be called a foodie and takes great delight in being involved in the preparation and the consumption of his meals. He has chef/butler that lives with him as well as a gardener who manages his large collection of Orchids that are kept at the top of the house in the plant rooms.  Some of his greatest stories are centered around the office, the plant rooms, or his meals.  For those who desire to eat like Nero Wolfe there was even A Nero Wolfe Cookbook that was published many years ago and is still available today.

Nero Wolfe was not left off of film. There is one movie I know of and two TV series.  The best television series was done in the early 2000s and starred Maury Chaykin as Nero Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as Archie Goodwin.  These shows kept very close to the source material and are fun to watch.  The producers decided to hire a company of actors that worked across all the shows playing different parts.  In some of the shows the performances are so good you don’t realize you had seen the performer in a different role the week before.  These shows can be found on YouTube to watch for free.

To delve into humorous mystery, we are going to make one stop.  The Polly Pepper Mysteries.  There are four books in The Polly Pepper series.  Remains to be Scene, Final Curtain, A Talent for Murder and Set Sail for Murder all written by Richard Tyler Jordan.  Mr. Jordan worked in Hollywood for a long time and his books are riddled with caricatures of famous celebrities.  Half the fun of reading his books is trying to guess who the real people are behind the characters.  The Polly Pepper book have been described as a cross between Carol Burnett and Murder She Wrote.  Polly Pepper herself is an out of work actress who once had her own wildly popular variety show.  She knows and schmooses with the best of Hollywood but when a murder gets committed leave it to Polly to solve the crime with the help of her openly and well-loved gay son and an outspoken maid.  The books are a hoot and should be on the shelf of every mystery loving fan.  Here’s to hoping Mr. Jordan decides to take up the pen and give us more Polly adventures.

Most of the detectives I’ve written about went from page to screen but there is one that took the opposite route and went from screen to page.  That would be Jessica Fletcher and the television show Murder She Wrote.  Murder She Wrote starred Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher a retired schoolteacher and widow living in the fictional town of Cabot Cove Maine.  We are introduced to Jessica as her nephew has secretly submitted her murder mystery book to a publisher.  The book is excepted and becomes a best seller.  Jessica is pinned in the spotlight and whisked off to New York City to meet her publisher and to solve her first murder.  Murder She Wrote gave the audience the chance to solve the mystery and entertained television viewers for twelve seasons.  It had many celebrity guest stars including Florence Henderson, Shirley Jones, Van Johnson, and June Allison. 

Not long after the show started a series of books began to be published supposedly written by Jessica herself.  These are told in the first person as if Jessica is speaking to us.  The books are very good and keep the flavor and the pace of the TV show.  Murder She Wrote had stopped new TV episodes several years ago.  New books come out regularly.

Charlotte and Thomas Pitt are the creation of Ann Perry and began their adventures in 1979 in the book The Cater Street Hangman.  The stories take place in Victorian London where Thomas is a police detective.  Charlotte, his wife always finds a way or stumbles into his investigations. 

These books aren’t just telling mysteries.  Miss Perry has all her characters grow.  There is a regular cast of recurring supporting characters that you begin to care about as much as Charlotte and Thomas.  In the first book Thomas meets Charlotte in the second they are married as the series continues; they have children.  These books don’t just tell of the solving of a good case but also are the story of a family.

In recent years there have been several new detectives that come at solving crime through cooking up delicious food.  These books are three quarters story and maybe one quarter or less cookbook.  The best of these are The Hannah Swensen series by Joanna Fluke.

Hannah is a caterer in Aspen Colorado when meet her in The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.  She is divorced but is doing quite well on her own serving up meals to the Aspen elite.  In this series the characters also grow as Hannah meets new people falls in love and starts a new family. All of this takes place over several delectable tales.  The latest is the series is The Triple Chocolate Cheesecake Murder.  The recipes in these books are usually easy to follow and fun to try.

Mystery!  Why do we love these stories of who dun it?  It is kind of odd that we take delight in murder.  Or is it possible that we don’t delight in the murder as much as we delight in the solving of the puzzle?  All murder mysteries are puzzles and the pieces are all laid out before you to find if they seem obscure.  These mysteries may be a metaphor for life.  After all we start asking questions and trying to solve the mystery of our existence almost as soon as we can talk.  What parent doesn’t cringe a little when their three-year-old asks, “Where did I come from?”  No parent is going to give a technical answer regarding sex so other answers are given that a child can appreciate, but the question remains.  Where did I come from?  It soon turns into why am I here?  Is there a God what does that mean for me?

We all ask these questions.  And we spend our lives trying to find out the answer.  I think mysteries are there to tell us that the answers are there if me choose to seek for them.  There is a meaning and a purpose for every person born on this planet.  The hard part is that no one can tell you the answers to your questions at least not the most basic ones.  You must seek those answers out on your own.  I think mysteries tell us that there are answers to all questions.  I think mysteries give us hope.