A Christmas Full of Longing and Ache

Friend of the blog georgetteann has a lovely post on Christmas music over at her site, A Walk on the Bright Side:

As my mind drifted away from the conversation at our table and focused on the music, I began to notice I knew almost every song in his repertoire by heart. Some songs were from my mother’s era—great emotional tunes of the 60’s and 70’s that she played over and over when we were growing up. Others were melodies from my high school and college days in the late 80’s and early 90’s. What I noticed was that I could remember exact moments associated with each and every one of them. I could recount people and places and events within the first few notes. As I drove home, I realized my life was like a soundtrack marked by a series of great moments tainted by plenty of unpleasant ones…and then the tears came…and then the words came.

Beautiful. She also reminds us of the devastating classic, “Please Come Home for Christmas” by Charles Brown.*

Lord, that’s devastating. I’ve worn out his album Cool Christmas BluesMy kids don’t get it at all, of course. In a way I’m grateful they don’t. They’ll understand it later, I suppose, as adults do. Until then it’s poppy, upbeat, sing-songy music. Songs in major keys.

We say Christmas is for kids, and I’m not going to argue. But Christmas for kids is Frosty and Rudolph and platters of sugar cookies. Adults have more refined palates. My tastes run to coffee and dark chocolate; my taste in music is for all the pining, longing, aching songs of Christmas. (Sinatra’s “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is the one that gets me.)

*I don’t know much about Charles Brown. Wikipedia says:

“Born in Texas City, Texas, Brown graduated from Central High School of Galveston, Texas in 1939 and Prairie View A&M College in 1942 with a degree in chemistry. He then became a chemistry teacher at George Washington Carver High School of Baytown, Texas, a mustard gas worker at the Pine Bluff Arsenal at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and an apprentice electrician at a shipyard in Richmond, California before settling in Los Angeles in 1943.”

Wow. What a life. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it. May you and your families have much joy. Both the unadulterated joy of a nine-year-old tearing into presents, and the melancholy, nostalgia-infused joy of an adult watching the scene and smiling through sad eyes.

This song always reminds me of my grandfather, who was so upset by his youngest brother’s death in World War II he could barely speak about war, or his brother, for the rest of his life. You can listen to my podcast episode about my grandfather as a young boy, a story that was a gift to my own boys, by following this link.

Christmas Is a Time to Read-Joyce: A Mother

Joyce's Dublin. Image Courtesy of echelon.lk.
Joyce’s Dublin. Image Courtesy of echelon.lk.

[Note: We’re reading one of James Joyce’s Dubliners stories each day until we get to “The Dead” on Christmas Eve. You can read more about the project on the first day’s installment. If you’re arriving late, fear not: it’s not too late to join us!]

A MOTHER

MR HOLOHAN, assistant secretary of the Eire Abu Society, had been walking up and down Dublin for nearly a month, with his hands and pockets full of dirty pieces of paper, arranging about the series of concerts. He had a game leg and for this his friends called him Hoppy Holohan. He walked up and down constantly, stood by the hour at street corners arguing the point and made notes; but in the end it was Mrs. Kearney who arranged everything.

Miss Devlin had become Mrs. Kearney out of spite. She had been educated in a high-class convent, where she had learned French and music. As she was naturally pale and unbending in manner she made few friends at school. When she came to the age of marriage she was sent out to many houses where her playing and ivory manners were much admired. She sat amid the chilly circle of her accomplishments, waiting for some suitor to brave it and offer her a brilliant life. But the young men whom she met were ordinary and she gave them no encouragement, trying to console her romantic desires by eating a great deal of Turkish Delight in secret. However, when she drew near the limit and her friends began to loosen their tongues about her, she silenced them by marrying Mr. Kearney, who was a bootmaker on Ormond Quay.

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It’s The Jacke Wilson Show! Episode 6 – A Boy Named Johnnie

jackewilsonshowimage

ONE…ONE ONE…ONE ONE… IT’S THE JACKE WILSON SHOW!!!!!

Holiday episode! Jacke surrenders to some seasonal melancholy and shares a story of his Grampa Johnnie, a Hungarian-American boy growing up in early-twentieth-century Wisconsin, where the forests were thick, the rivers were deep and fast, and life was rougher around the edges.

Hope you enjoy the show!

You can stream the show here:

Or directly download the mp3 file: The Jacke Wilson Show 1.6 – A Boy Named Johnnie

You can also find previous episodes at our Podcast page.

And subscribe to the whole series at iTunes by following this link:

SUBSCRIBE TO THE JACKE WILSON SHOW ON ITUNES

Let me know what you think! Thank you for listening! Continue reading

Christmas Is a Time to Read-Joyce: Ivy Day in the Committee Room

Joyce's Dublin. Image Courtesy of echelon.lk.
Joyce’s Dublin. Image Courtesy of echelon.lk.

[Note: We’re reading one of James Joyce’s Dubliners stories each day until we get to “The Dead” on Christmas Eve. You can read more about the project on the first day’s installment. If you’re arriving late, fear not: it’s not too late to join us!]

IVY DAY IN THE COMMITTEE ROOM

OLD JACK raked the cinders together with a piece of cardboard and spread them judiciously over the whitening dome of coals. When the dome was thinly covered his face lapsed into darkness but, as he set himself to fan the fire again, his crouching shadow ascended the opposite wall and his face slowly re-emerged into light. It was an old man’s face, very bony and hairy. The moist blue eyes blinked at the fire and the moist mouth fell open at times, munching once or twice mechanically when it closed. When the cinders had caught he laid the piece of cardboard against the wall, sighed and said:

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Best Case Name Ever (A Jacke Wilson Objectino)

Another day, another Objectino.* This one straight from the courthouse…

A JACKE WILSON OBJECTINO

Overheard at a legal proceeding:

LAWYER 1: What’s the best case name you ever cited in a brief? For me, I figure it’s gotta be Lone Star Ladies v. Schlotzsky’s Deli. Or here’s one for you: Fattman v. Bear. New Jersey case.

LAWYER 2: Fattman v. Bear? [chuckling] That’s pretty vivid.

LAWYER 1: No kidding. [shudders] Kind of makes me feel ill, just picturing it.


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Christmas Is a Time to Read-Joyce: A Painful Case

Joyce's Dublin. Image Courtesy of echelon.lk.
Joyce’s Dublin. Image Courtesy of echelon.lk.

[Note: We’re reading one of James Joyce’s Dubliners stories each day until we get to “The Dead” on Christmas Eve. You can read more about the project on the first day’s installment. If you’re arriving late, fear not: it’s not too late to join us!]

A PAINFUL CASE

MR. JAMES DUFFY lived in Chapelizod because he wished to live as far as possible from the city of which he was a citizen and because he found all the other suburbs of Dublin mean, modern and pretentious. He lived in an old sombre house and from his windows he could look into the disused distillery or upwards along the shallow river on which Dublin is built. The lofty walls of his uncarpeted room were free from pictures. He had himself bought every article of furniture in the room: a black iron bedstead, an iron washstand, four cane chairs, a clothes-rack, a coal-scuttle, a fender and irons and a square table on which lay a double desk. A bookcase had been made in an alcove by means of shelves of white wood. The bed was clothed with white bedclothes and a black and scarlet rug covered the foot. A little hand-mirror hung above the washstand and during the day a white-shaded lamp stood as the sole ornament of the mantelpiece. The books on the white wooden shelves were arranged from below upwards according to bulk. A complete Wordsworth stood at one end of the lowest shelf and a copy of the Maynooth Catechism, sewn into the cloth cover of a notebook, stood at one end of the top shelf. Writing materials were always on the desk. In the desk lay a manuscript translation of Hauptmann’s Michael Kramer, the stage directions of which were written in purple ink, and a little sheaf of papers held together by a brass pin. In these sheets a sentence was inscribed from time to time and, in an ironical moment, the headline of an advertisement for Bile Beans had been pasted on to the first sheet. On lifting the lid of the desk a faint fragrance escaped—the fragrance of new cedarwood pencils or of a bottle of gum or of an overripe apple which might have been left there and forgotten.

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Getting Closer! The Film Version of Joyce’s The Dead (John Huston’s Masterpiece)

We’re closing in! For those of you following along, we’re only a few days away from the culmination of our Dubliners project. If you haven’t been reading the stories each day, don’t worry. This isn’t assigned reading; I don’t give out homework.

Except for one thing. This year, you must reserve some time for The Dead on Christmas Eve. THAT is required.

Well, just kidding, of course. No, it’s not required – just highly, highly encouraged. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I’m telling you, reading Joyce’s famous novella on Christmas Eve is as good as it gets. Up there with presents under the tree and It’s a Wonderful Life and my family’s great new tradition of buying a tree at the Home Depot parking lot* and then having lunch at Five Guys. (My kids are driving the Christmas train these days.)

But hey! There’s one tradition I get to keep for myself. It’s private and reflective and deeply enriching. And that’s reading The Dead on Christmas Eve.

We’ll get there! But for now, take a look at this video to whet your appetite. The Dead is not only a perfect story, it inspired a perfect movie, directed by John Huston (his last film). Only a genius director at the end of his career could have exercised the restraint necessary to make this film.

And here’s some commentary on the trailer.

Oh sure, it’s not Die Hard. But its quiet, devastating beauty are just as potent. So brew up a little Irish coffee, toss some more wood on the fire, and cozy up to this film.

That’s you this year: sitting under a big quilt with your special someone and/or those ghosts that chase us all and watching a beautiful film.

And then: keep reading the Dubliners, and we’ll all get to the story itself on Christmas Eve. Onward and upward!

* Part of the tradition: “Do you want some paper under this tree to protect the roof of your car?” says the man at the Home Depot. “Does anyone ever say no to that question?” I ask.