Searching for the world’s pennies at a Minnesota lake
Whether my parents saw the 1936 film, Pennies From Heaven, is impossible to say. During their courtship, the closest movie theater lay ten miles away, in another town. Though not far by today’s standards, it made catching a new release difficult: especially for a couple living without a car.
After marrying and moving to a larger city, they began taking in a movie from time to time, but those nights were rare. Sixty cents — the cost of two movie tickets and two ice cream cones after the show — could have purchased ten pounds of sugar or a pound-and-a-half of coffee, so even occasional splurges were given some thought.
Still, if they didn’t see the film, they knew and liked the Academy Award nominated song of the same name, written by Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke. A positive, upbeat tune meant to cheer Depression-weary listeners, it seemed to do just that. Even after the end of WWII, its popularity endured. My mother sang along when it played on the radio; my father sang it to me when he pushed me in my swing, or sought to cheer me on a rainy day.
“What’s happening with Godot this year?” she asked. Startled, I said I didn’t know. I’d paid scant attention to my little patio friend since April, when inspections revealed no sign of activity in the cactus pot – no new growth, no buds, no blooms. By the beginning of May things still were quiet and, as happens in so many families, the quiet and well-behaved one was left to fend for himself.
Of course, turning your back on the quiet one can be dangerous. Left to their own devices, there’s no telling what they’ll get up to. Continue reading
Johnny Carson said it, and I believed it. Every year, shortly after Thanksgiving, he began the Christmas season by reminding us, “There’s only one fruitcake in the world. It’s been passed around from person to person since time immemorial, and it doesn’t matter how hard you try. You’ll never escape The Fruitcake.”
I knew his little joke wasn’t factual. Every year multitudes of fruitcakes marched like overzealous Nutcrackers into the heart of the holiday season, overflowing store shelves and filling up catalogs. How essentially good ingredients – fruit and cake – could be combined into a “treat” that was both gummy and dry was beyond me. But the fruitcake people had managed to do it. Even though I preferred not to waste my holiday calories on something that appeared to have been circulating since the days of the Roman Empire, people kept pressing fruitcake on me. I wished there were only one. It would have been easier to escape the ghastly conconction. Continue reading
Reminders about the end of daylight saving time have begun to crop up, opportunities for a little congenial and inconsequential grumping in the midst of Eurozone crises, premature snow and political theatre. Some wish “the longer day” would be made permanent. Others consider the fuss over “falling back” nothing more than a relic of another time, like barn-raisings and butter churns.
The annual discussions are repetitive, and predictable as the seasons. Does our clock manipulation save energy? Should it be standardized across the country? Does it help or hurt school children?
I don’t think definitive answers are possible, and I personally don’t care. Like an old-fashioned farmer, I work by the sun, not the clock. Grandma liked to say she worked from “kin to cain’t” – from the moment when the first bird took flight into the dawn until the last light faded against the hills – and I love embodying that part of her tradition. Still, living as I do in a world of clock-and-calendar sorts, it’s important to take their realities into account – including the transition back to “standard” time. Continue reading
I’ve always thought of Boxing Day – the setting aside of December 26 for gift-giving in England, Canada and elsewhere – as a wonderful invention. Associated with the Feast of St. Stephen but evolving separately, it begins the transition away from Christmas and toward the New Year without losing the celebratory aspects of the season.
Not all gifts arrive on prescribed dates, of course. Some arrive unexpectedly, and some unfold over time in the simple course of living. Of all the gifts life has bestowed on me over the years, I particularly cherish the poetry of T.S. Eliot. Regular readers of The Task at Hand know my regard for Eliot. His vision seems true and his language – difficult at times, if not indecipherable – still is able to wrap around the most inexpressible realities and give them voice. Continue reading
Christmas comes differently to the country.
Threaded around and through twin pieces of rusted rebar that serve as mailbox supports, the shabbiness of the plastic pine garland is apparent only to the mail carrier, or to the woman who trudges in slippers up the lane from her house, hoping against hope to find greetings in her box. From the road the garland appears perfect, full and fresh. From a distance, even plastic communicates the woman’s message: in this house, we celebrate. We mark the season. We share our joy with you, the passer-by.
Farther down the road, a wreath made of vines adorns a gate closed across a cattle guard. Its ribbon flutters in the wind, attracting attention, drawing the eye through the gate and into a pasture. There’s a brush pile and some uncleared mesquite. A few trees, pushed over and left to die, wait to be added to the pile. Despite the cattle guard, no livestock roam. There’s no stock tank, no house or pond – not even a pile of rusted, broken-down machinery. Only a despondent wind sighs through the fence and across the field. Continue reading