Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Boo for Holiday Booze

December 24th, 2015

mymable“Oh no, Bill, not the boys!”

My grandmother, Mable Michael, had particular, peculiar, nearly miracle hearing. Let’s go with selective. She didn’t respond to all that much and seemed to lose the lower tones as so many older women do. And yet…

I recall a specific Christmas holiday in my college days in her home in the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia. Several of my friends from the area has joined me in her living room, filling the couch and chairs.

She had a clear relationship with alcohol, as in it was sinful, shameful and to be avoided. She was like a Jew who speaks of alcoholism as the shegetz disease, without the quirk of ignoring Jewish vintners or the dominance of Jews in the whiskey distilling trade.

Her hypocrisy was baser and plainer. Her husband (my beloved grandfather) might have two 3.2% beers (all that was legal in West Virginia) and he was on the road to hell. Yet, we all knew we had to bear our version of frankincense each Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas in form of Mogan Davis blackberry wine.

We never saw it. We never saw her or anyone drinking it. By the end of the vacation, somehow the bottles disappeared (and were concealed in bags or more in the trash). She arose about 5 every morning to spend time with The Upper Room devotional, her Bible, and likely a glass of the star of David.

I never saw my grandfather tipsy. Well, maybe once. He took my sister and me to the Burlington drive-in movie and tossed back a 3.2 or two. As we were leaving, he drove off with the speaker still attached to the front passenger window and the cord snapped. High or impatient? We’ll never know.

Anyway, he was no sot and no one ever likely got drunk on 3.2 beer. You’d pee yourself into fatigue first.

That particuar Christmas eve, we were in the living room. She as usual was laboring in the kitchen for her planned massive Christmas Day family feast. After all, her beloved only son would arrive with his brood of four, plus wife.

The ambient noise level was high. The TV was on, as they always were in the 1960s. Hell, they still are (why is that, writes the non-TV watcher?). Granddad came to me in the distant corner armchair. He bent down to my right ear (farthest from the kitchen and his vigilant wife) and whispered so I could barely make it out, “Would you and the boys like a little nog?”

In West Viginia terms of the time, that of course meant some store-bought sugary eggnog from a carton with a small splash of bourbon. I attended the University of Sourh Carolina, where bourbon was a sacrament and such splashes were better suited as aftershave than refreshment. Still it was a host-worthy query.

Immediately from the kitchen — how the hell could she even have the faintest sense of the query — Mable immediately bellowed, “Oh no, Bill, not the boys!”

To this day, I wonder whether she sussed the concept or exhibited some canine-level superpower. Though everyone in the living room was of legal drinking age, she’d have none of it.

Even then we laughed.

 

 

Oh, glänzenden Weihnachtsbaum (Shiny Christmas Tree)

December 16th, 2014

A huge shock of my late teen years was to make the annual pilgrimage to my grandparents’ West Virginia home to find…an aluminum Christmas tree in the living room. My very bright, stern but rational grandmother had her reasons.

That was a betrayal on numerous levels. Yes, yes, it was her home, but it was also mine. I moved every few years throughout my childhood. A constant was summers and holidays in the eastern panhandle of WV, now known amusingly as the Potomac Highlands.

Among the state’s abundances are mountains and trees, lots of evergreens. In fact, the small house itself sported two gigantic blue spruces that were wee when my grandfather planted them or his three then tiny children. He still decorated them with those old-style big light ropes. Inside we always had a fresh local tree. I remember going with family fried and relative by marriage old Charlie Long to cut a tree from his land. That was back in the days when you changed a pickup truck to four-wheel drive by hitting the hubs into position with a hammer…by cracky. Charlie was older than Granddad but he still liked Christmas trees and was delighted to help me pick, cut and load one.

2013treeIt turns out Baba, as my older sister had named our grandmother, had been plotting all those years. When the grandkids were in college, the new living room order would take charge.

Note that she had had her way with the heating system a few years before. Her children and then grandchildren had grown to big sizes with a coal furnace. The work fell to her husband, then her son, then to me. Of course, I did not enjoy lugging the gigantic galvanized cans of slag and powder remains to the curb. Likely the trash guys didn’t like their role either. I did like, no love, stoking the furnace. It was a fair dragon, with roaring mouth of flame and heat begging for more food. I was happy to oblige.

When she could Baba badgered her husband into converting to a very tame gas boiler. Boo.

Her underlying motivation though was simple. she never liked the faint smell of the coal heat in the vents. She absolutely hated cleaning off the faint gray smudges above the living room vents that appeared after a month or two of heat.

Honestly, killing the dragon for a few wisps of residue?

It turns out the Christmas tree ran afoul of similar sins. Her children, grandchildren and husband had always provided and mounted the tree. We had climbed into the attic and retrieved the balls, tinsel and lights. We had decorated to the sweet and dreadful strains of Lawrence Welk and other seasonal shows providing carols and show tunes of the season.

Baba, however, was affronted by violations of her space.

Worst was the profusion of needles. On the wooden floor, on the carpet and rugs, in the presents, somehow spreading like hair from some gigantic green cat. There was also the tinsel…Granddad had to have tinsel on the tree. It too seemed to reproduce and leave spoor even beyond what we had purchased and draped.

Apparently in a curtain lecture, she had let her husband know that when we were all in college, there’ d be no more living, shedding trees in her very own living room.

Baba’s folly aside, in our 35 years in Boston, we have had trees. We are down to two of our three sons  — one is off on that other coast and a father himself — living with us. We have decorations that go waaaay back. My late mother-in-law Sylvia made us a pottery creche. My late mother for years bought personalized ornaments for her grandsons. Our sons produced their own ornaments at preschool. Friends have brought tree baubles which we hung and maintain.

The tree above from last year is typical of our garish display. It includes numerous strands of NM chili lights too.

One son is off visiting his ridge-runner fiancée this holiday. The first  son spent Thanksgiving with us including his wife and toddler. He’ll be with his in-laws for Christmas.  Yet the three of us have the non-metallic evergreen yet again. We have made one concession, dialing it down a notch from roughly 8 feet to maybe six and one-half. I’m not sure we can jam all the ornaments and lights on. We shall try.

Ho ho.

Passing of the Torch Light Switch

November 30th, 2014

Even if our longest-serving Mayor Tom Menino hadn’t died so soon after leaving office, today would have been strange. His replacement, Marty Walsh, threw the light switch on  the Christmas tree in Logan Square.

LoganlightingThat’s in Hyde Park, Menino’s part of Boston (and mine). As a city councilor, then mayor for so long, Menino was the tree guy. He loved the square, the event, the happy kids, the young step dancers and other performers, greeting the constituents, and showing off his phenomenal memory of our names and details. One year when he was ailing, his wife Angela, stood in and up for him, but this was different.

A tree lighting without Tom Menino is a shock to the HP psyche.

Let me note that Walsh did well. I don’t know if he has it in him to be as charming, as avuncular, and as jolly as Menino. I can leave it for others who did business with the city to haul out their favorite vignettes of how Da Mare could, would and did figuratively break their knuckles in negotiations. As a constituent I never experienced that in my decades of dealing with him.

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License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do whLoganhorsesat you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

Walsh is a passable pol. He got elected and reelected to the MA House then the mayoralty. Oddly enough though today in Logan Square, he seemed to get a lot more pleasure out of high fiving the kids than he did glad-handing the voters. Could the new Mayor be shy?

The crowds were also passable. I estimate that half to two-thirds as many who showed as in previous years. That was surprising in that we had relatively balmy 4:30 PM weather. It’s gotten to be a very localized joke that the event brings snow, sleet, bitter cold and strong winds.

However, as always, the kids had a good time. There were silly rides for the littlest ones, fried dough and cotton candy for the shameless and those with strong stomachs, and draft-horse cart spins about.

LoganfaceOh, yes, and the face painting occurred in the Logan Square Barber Shop. That’s where I get what little hair I have trimmed. I found it peculiar that while the barbers were not doing the deeds, kids adults alike were in the three chairs getting done up like tigers or with Patriots’ logos on their cheeks and foreheads.

On the dais, we had the usual suspects — Santa, Rep. Angelo Scaccia, District Councilor Tim McCarthy, At-Large Councilor Steve Murphy. the commander of the local police precinct and such. In no surprise, I kept overhearing the lament of no-Tom-Menino. That’s certainly not Walsh’s fault, but he has a lot of history against his back.

 

 

Team Turkey Day v. My Kitchen

November 28th, 2014

mymableWe had family and friends, close and far and very far this week for turkey goose day. In addition so many of us (almost all with Southern roots) have been assembling for over 20 years for the instant-to-concrete tribe, I love how it’s become a blood group effort.

Growing up, I knew different, as did my wife. Both her mother and my maternal grandmother, Mable or as named by my older sister Baba, identified strongly as THE family cook. Her hand to your mouth. You could set up, clean up and otherwise perform only narrowly defined tasks for Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter feasts. Her kitchen…

Mable was a fine cook, really a chef and baker. I should never complain. Yet both my mother and later my wife did. Their mothers did not let them prepare meals, much less pass along the great folk art and magic of sustenance, of sacred sacrifice on the familial altar.

A few years after my parents married in Fort Sill, they headed to Japan with their two tots as part of the Occupation Army. A few years after that, they returned to Fort Sill and accepting they married blind, they divorced.

While we were in Japan, numerous servants tended to us. They adored the two blond kids, me particularly as the boy. They also cooked for us.

After the divorce when my mother began raising us solo, the full impact of knowing squat about food was all too obvious to her. Her mother fed her, then her college cafeteria, then the Army, then servants. Then what?

So this is a plea. If you are the family cook, teach your kids and if necessary your spouse. You might go away, they might go away, you might get run over by a careering armored truck.

This Thanksgiving, I did prepare most of the overly abundant carte. That would be the likes of goose with cracked peppercorns, cruditiés with four dips, roasted yams with orange, port wine cranberry chutney, wild and jasmine rice, key lime pie and on and on. I get in a groove.

However, the full-time family residents did their do. My uxorial unit is a great pastry baker. She made a highly decorative and delicious tart-cherry pie and a huge plate of deviled eggs. Son 2 made saffron ice cream and brie en croute. Son 3 did an extremely popular stuffed shells with from-scratch tomato sauce.

And so it went…

I likely could have made every dish. In fact, I held off on several I had in mind to make. We were already in overkill. Plus, various guests showed with nosh offerings, wines, ciders, and of course, their own pies — pecan, buttermilk and sweet potato. Our Thanksgiving clan has a real pie jones.

It’s nice….it’s better…t’s great…when everyone feels and exhibits ownership of the life and pleasure giving role. It’s a boat that everyone helps steer, When you arrive, you are happy for the journey.

Give thanks.

 

The Mayor is Dead. Long Live the Mayor.

November 22nd, 2014

clearytreeIt’s the season or at least a season. The recently retired and more recently dead former Mayor Tom Menino clearly had a big saved spot in his big old heart for Christmas and its leading events. He went by Escalade from one Boston neighborhood to another, shameless in his enjoyment of the holiday trolleys and tree lightings. He seemed to be everyone’s dad or granddad.

I can only recall him once missing the lighting of the Anderson tree in our shared Hyde Park neighborhood. He was too feeble that year. His wife Angela stood on the platform for him and performed his greetings and wishes. That itself was remarkable.

For decades, she had preferred to have her people-loving hubby meet-and-greet. Even on the annual July 12th block party celebrating the city while celebrating Tom’s ascendancy to the mayoralty when Ray Flynn scurried off to the Vatican with delusions of legacy and maybe even closeness to God, Angela absented herself while Tom stood in the street glad-handling and chatting up us all.

Yet when needed, she did not let her husband down. She became the first lady of the city.

Now Martin J. (Marty) Walsh rolls into Menino-land in eight days to figuratively flip the switch and by so doing stake a local claim. I”ll be there to see how he carries himself.

So far, the new version of Da Mare has not been as visible in these parts and certainly has not brought the personable Menino character. I’ve observed him at several events and found him rather dour in contrast to the avuncular Menino.  There may be some jollity in him, but he doesn’t let it out much.

walsh1I admit that to Tom Menino I was a constituent. He treated me as such. I had many contracts with him, at political events, when he was a guest on my Left Ahead podcast, when I advocated for or thanked him for bicycle doings, at business openings, in random meetings, and of course at the annual tree lighting.

He remembered…my name, my precinct, that I was a poll warden, that I shared his love of cycling, that I’d  moved from JP to HP (the proper order of things in his judgment, that I had healed from a badly broken leg when he was having his own nether region problems, what my sons had been about. In other words, he was both an empathetic guy and a skilled pol.

I never saw the allegedly hard-boiled Mr. Mayor. I thought of that recently when a police officer who had been one of his union’s officials involved in contract negotiations fairly snorted at the lore of the late Mayor. He saw the thunderbolts and said there definitely were two distinct sides to him.

So hail Marty Walsh, the obscure state rep following the longest serving, fervently popular chief exec of Boston. He inherited the stereotypical urban ills of crime and unemployment, but primarily a city in very good shape. Now what?

Tom Menino always seems to have been Tom Menino. He was personable and above all else loved both his city and its residents. He seemed to recharge with every moment taking your hand or learning more about you — interests, problems, anything.

So far, Walsh has lacked the tiny, constant Menino touches. For one, as a long-time poll worker, I think of the preliminary, primary and general election days. A few pols, like Rep. Liz Malia, show up at polling places with coffee, doughnuts or sandwiches for those of us who spend 14 or 25 hours there. Menino’s people never missed an election or a polling place.

I thought too of the day of Menino’s sudden death announcement. Coincidentally, Walsh was scheduled to appear on River Street in Hyde Park to dedicate a pocket park, really a dreadful patch of paving stones next to a convenience store, badly in need of what my grandmother would have called a bum bench. Walsh didn’t show. The half dozen of us there in case he did were not surprised. On the other hand, Tom Menino would never have left constituents hanging. He either would have had an aide appear to announce a postponement or would have gotten a cop from the station across the street to do that.

I’ll be fascinated to see how the new Mayor handles hoi polloi.

 

The Never-Ending Wreath

March 2nd, 2013

OK, kiddies, it’s March. When do the Christmas decorations come down. Here are just a few in Hyde Park and Milton I noticed on a walk. I do confess that we kept our tree in the living room through January. It was still good and not shedding much when we took it out.

marchxmas7


 
marchxmas8
marchxmas6 marchxmas5
marchxmas4 marchxmas3
marchxmas1 marchxmas2

Pix Notes: You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons, so just cite Mike Ball once. Click images to enlarge.

West Virginia Christmas Right here

December 22nd, 2012

For the life of me, I can’t remember the Christmas tune the white church played in our house. It had music-box works and I enjoyed winding it up, returning it to the cotton “snow” lawn, and grokking the season.

My mother, Wanda, loved Christmas and did it up right. She’s dead, but we have retained much of her joy and rituals.  I’m very sure my sister dumped the oldest fixings and does not decorate as intricately. Here, we almost do.

treemas2012Perhaps like the proverb of dubious provenance, there are no atheists in foxholes,  pleasure in and even obsession with this holiday season may not be limited to Christians. Indeed for me, I was raised as a Christian and was a devoted one when young. I got better. Yet, I generally go to a Christmas eve service, often the old-fashioned New England one, with the fillip of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus performing, at the Arlington Street Church. There’s nothing like an apse filled with bald or gray chubby or saggy men in dinner jackets with beautiful voices singing God’s glory to scream, “He is born!”

Wanda though picked up from her father Bill, my Granddad. His often grumpy wife Mable, Baba per my sister’s dubbing as the privilege of the first grandchild (she similarly named the paternal version Bubu) was not such a Christmas aficionado.  Granddad started with the two three-story blue spruce on the front mini-lawn. He festooned them with strands of those gigantic colored bulbs we boomers knew.

Then he and I could get in Charlie Long’s pickup with him — the kind where you had to use a hammer to change in and out of 4-wheel drive by pounding the hub. We’d thump over the fields and across the shallow South Branch of the Potomac to get to his land that had evergreens. I’d pick the tree I liked, as by far the junior man-let in the group and we’d saw it down. They always let me make the last few cuts that caused the TIMBER moment.

Mable never cared for this treasure. It was work to trim, although she was not involved except for huddling, directing and scolding. It always meant she had to haul out the vacuum daily to inhale the needles. It was more trouble to undress, plus shedding seemingly half its tags on the trip out the front door before trash day. Harrumph, indeed.

miltonluminWanda was in Bill’s mode and then some. Most personally obviously, she bought presents, not only many, but exactly what people wanted or would have asked for had they been as perceptive as she. Very much unlike those who wrote checks, gave gift cards, or approximated age-appropriate gifts, Wanda looked to the soul (and lifestyle) of each recipient. She made sure you got what would delight you. Your delight was hers.

Yes, the outside of her house was lit and tarted up with red, green, yellow and white. Inside tough, it as a monument to Christmas traditions. Bookshelves (of which she had many, many and table tops were layered with chorister candles (never burnt, God forbid), creches, scenes of shepherds with angels, ice skaters, lighted model villages and on and on and on.

I loved it all.

We decorate here, replete with a substantial creche molded and painted by my late mother-in-law. My wife does the Martha Stewart deeds of garlands, lights and more. I and one or more of our sons sets out the luminarias. We get a to-the-ceiling evergreen butchered for our pleasure. We as a family and often with a daughter-in-law real or to be, rig it up with three decades of ornaments, chili lights, a porcelain angel topper, icicles and candy canes.

We do Christmas. It seems genetic now.

Holiday Balance

December 16th, 2012

hugewreath

OM

Finally, the counterbalancing display to the Metropolitan Avenue extravaganza appeared. Likely yesterday, one of the mega-houses at the top of Fairmount Hill stuck its annual huge, honking wreath on.

This is maybe 7 feet across, replete with blinking colored lights…and God’s extension cord.

It’s at the top of Milton Avenue, two football fields away from the other big display.

We are humble ground dwellers. I’ll put out the electric luminarias in a day or two…without aid of an aerial lift or even a ladder. Neighbors have small herds of wire-frame reindeer and such. Around HP, alternately flaccid-by-day and alert-in-the-dark inflatables.

We are amateurs.

Pix note: This and the pix in the linked posts are Creative Commons. Do as you wish with them. Just credit Mike Ball once.

HP’s Flat Santas

December 5th, 2012

Hyde Park Christmas inflatables live like vampires — moribund by day and active at night. The sundry Santas, snow guys, reindeer, polar bears, Snoopy as elf, Mickey as St. Nick are flaccid in the sun. They fill, rise, shine, and undulate in the dark.

Here are snaps of a few flat versions today. The effect can be like the morning after the orgy. The players lie on and seem to hug each other as well as remained passed out on the lawns.

Like drunks the morning after the BIG party, these characters are flat on just one side of this lawn.
Some flat Santas fall over on themselves and anything else handy.
Some flat ones have solid, but horizontal buddies.
Those more solid guys are no more stable than the inflatable holiday clichés.
Deflated animals are less distinctive than guys in red or green costumes.
Many of the lawns had multiples, typically Santas or reindeer, and here differing snowmen.
Others mixed metaphors, such as including the Grinch.
Flat Santas came in all manner of size and ornamentation.

Pix Notes: You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons, so just cite Mike Ball once.

Lights, I see the party lights

November 24th, 2012

And the winner of this year’s Fairmount Hill Decorating Race is at Summit and Metropolitan!

The day after Thanksgiving, the guy on that corner who does the amazing light display was up in his rented aerial lift at the tippy top of his trees.  He doesn’t have that many trees on his smallish lot, but he strews multi-color lights down every single limb.

Then closer to the ground, he does every bush, shrub and apparently anything that doesn’t move out of the way. The woody plants are brown now, but won’t be much longer.

Truth be told, the neighborhood is in awe. This is an order of magnitude beyond those seasonal cloth signs on poles by the door ordinary mortals hang.

Chatter up here is that we are glad he puts on the show and gladder still that he is the one willing to put up with the planning, hanging, time, energy and expense. We’ll enjoy.

Meanwhile, the seasonal contender is at a lower, but still impressive level. At the very top of Milton Avenue, the big honking light-yellow house hangs a wreath that must be 7 or 8 feet in diameter on the front at the top floor. Jolly indeed.

However, they were relative slugs this year.  Their rented lift is in the massive driveway, but no wreath in sight. To the early decorator goes bragging rights. Let the season begin.