Sunday, December 28, 2014

New Year's decision

Traditionally, today is the day Kim and I decide what we're going to do for New Year's.

Party or not to party?

Interestingly enough, our decision is usually based around our grocery shopping habits. Eventually, we'll find ourselves standing in front of the wine racks, casing out the champagne.

"Do you want to celebrate New Year's this year?" one of us will ask.

"I don't know. Do you?"

"Well, I'm not really into it this year."

"Me either."

"Hey, do you think this champagne is any good? It's got a neat label."

"I don't know. The only way to see if we like it is to buy it."

"Well, if somebody invites us to a party, at least we can bring some champagne."

There is a certain logic to this. If we buy the champagne, we're pretty much committed to staying up to midnight on New Year's eve. If we decide it's not worth the trouble, we'll move on to the frozen foods.

If we decide to buy the Moet, however, then it's a trip to the dairy section to find some worthy cheese, followed by a visit to the cracker aisle, with maybe some pretzels and nuts along the way. It adds up.

There have been times when we buy a cheap champagne and celebrate on our own, just the two of us. We'll watch the ball come down on Times Square, sip our bubbly, and be sound asleep by 12:08 a.m. It works for us.

One year, we decided to host a small party at our house. I invited a couple of friends from The Dispatch, where I worked, and Kim invited a few couples from the bank, where she worked.

I think four people showed up. Six of us in all. Cheese and crackers everywhere and nobody to eat it. We never did that again.

Some years, as a sports writer for The Dispatch, I had to cover the holiday Christmas Tournament at Ledford, and the championship games were usually held on New Year's eve. I'd get home at 11:55 p.m. on a good night. Sigh.

There was one year, after I became sports editor, where I didn't have to cover a game but my sports writer did. I felt bad about it. So Kim and I went to The Dispatch with a bottle of champagne, and when midnight arrived, we popped the cork and had a little party in the newsroom with the staff that was there. That might have been the best New Year's party I'd been to in maybe ever.

There's also New Year's Day to consider, especially the meal. Traditionally it's pork (ham), with greens and black-eyed peas and sometimes sauerkraut. It's supposed to bring you wealth, but it's never worked for us.

This year, we're considering a turkey breast in the slow cooker with some dressing that Kim made for Christmas and is taking up space in the freezer.

As far as I'm concerned, that's a pretty good way to start off a new year.

Here's hoping the best for all of you.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Moravian snob

The other day Kim was talking with one of her friends on the telephone.

I was in the next room, playing on the computer, and I got to hear some snippets from her phone conversion:

"Yes, I put some cream  of mushroom soup in the crockpot and the chicken tasted great."

"Our cat is losing some weight and I think we need to take her to the vet."

"Oh, Bruce is a Moravian snob."


That got my attention. At first, I was a little taken aback by her comment, but the more I thought about what she said, the more I had to agree.

I am the son of a Moravian minister. I'm not quite sure how the Wehrle family got there. Our immigrant Wehrles were Catholics from Germany who came to the United States in the great migration of the 1860s. They remained Catholic until my paternal grandfather elected to join the United Church of Christ. Somewhere along the way, I think he became a Moravian, a prevalent Protestant denomination in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania — particularly because the city of Bethlehem (a Moravian settlement founded in 1741) was just across the river.

There can never be too many Moravian stars.
 Dad somehow caught the Moravian bug, even though it took a while. He was a high school English teacher in the Bethlehem suburb of Fountain Hill for several years. Then we spent a year in Portsmouth, NH, when he gave up teaching to join the Red Cross. Then he went back to teaching for a few years in East Hartford, CT.

Somewhere along the way, he heard his calling to become a Moravian minister. We packed up and headed back to Bethlehem so he could attend Moravian Theological Seminary, located on the campus of Moravian College (where, incidentally, Dad got his B.A. degree). This was during my formative junior high years, and I became submerged in Moravian culture — I took my confirmation classes at College Hill Moravian Church.

Bethlehem, no doubt principally because of its Moravian heritage, comes alive at Christmas. In fact, the place bills itself as Christmas City. Moravian stars pop up all over the place. Churches conduct Moravian love feasts on Christmas Eve, with Moravian brass bands and children's choirs singing "Morning Star." And everybody eats Moravian sugar cakes.

Moravians, in fact, were/are very musically inclined (except for me. I can't play an instrument and I sing like Alfalfa). But it is said that Benjamin Franklin often visited Bethlehem because he enjoyed listening to the Moravian ensembles who brought with them the latest hits from Europe. Music is huge in church events.

How was I going to resist all that? Moravian traditions embedded themselves in my DNA. When I moved to Lexington in 1976, I lost contact with the church. This is a phenomenon with many preacher's kids. We usually go in one of two directions: we either become ministers ourselves, or we run. I ran.

Sometime after Kim and I got married in 1980, I thought it would be nice to go to a Christmas Eve service in Winston-Salem (a Moravian settlement founded in 1766). It had been years since I'd been to one. I was surprised by how moved I was by the music and the message, to the point of tears, as childhood memories revived themselves and came running back.

My Moravian DNA bubbled over. I even asked Kim if she would make Moravian sugar cakes at Christmas, using my grandmother's recipe, passed on to my mother.

I hang my own Moravian star these days. I eat Moravian chicken pie. I go to Mrs. Hanes the first weekend in Advent to buy my Moravian sugar cookies. I constantly wear an old, beat up Moravian College baseball cap that I swear illustrates my persona.

I can't help myself. So, yes. I guess I am a Moravian Snob. With a capital "M." And a capital "S."

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas flicks

It never fails.

I always cry when Clarence gets his wings. I know the bell on the Christmas tree is going to jingle; I know Jimmy Stewart (as George Bailey) is going to be saved by his friends; I know all of this stuff is going to happen because I've seen It's A Wonderful Life just shy of a thousand times and I weep anyway.

I think I actually want to cry. I look forward to it, just like I do when I watch that scene in A Field of Dreams where Kevin Costner (as Ray Kinsella) has a catch with his dead father. Go figure.

The first time I ever saw It's A Wonderful Life must have been almost 40 years ago, and it grabbed me by the throat even then. I don't know what it is about that flick, but it makes me incredibly nostalgic for an era that I never even lived in.

Anyway, to my mind, the movie's denouement may be one of the best movie endings ever, Christmas or not. I'm tearing up just watching this clip even now.

I just missed living in that era, in fact. The movie came out in 1946, and I was born in 1951. It was Stewart's first movie since coming home as a decorated B-24 bomber pilot (he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross) for flying 20 perilous missions over flak-infested Europe in World War II.

Stewart, incidentally, made a short propaganda war film at the time to promote enlistments in the Army Airs Corps titled, ironically enough, Winning Your Wings. You can't make this stuff up. I suspect Clarence may have been Stewart's guardian angel even then.

Another Christmas favorite of mine is Miracle on 34th Street, and this is the 1947 version with Edmund Gwenn as an unforgettable Kris Kringle dealing with contemporary issues (along with Natalie Wood and Maureen O'Hara). I love a good courtroom drama and the scene where lawyer Fred Gaily proves the existence of Santa Claus by submitting as evidence bags full of children's letters to Santa is priceless — and brilliant.

Then there's A Christmas Story, a very humorous movie that to me is losing some of its resonance because it's repeated endlessly on a continuous Christmas day loop on TBS.

But I can relate to this flick. This is nostalgia that I actually lived. I, too, wanted a Red Ryder BB gun but was told by my parents that I would shoot my eye out. I can relate to department store Santas, to bullies in the schoolyard and to families gathered around the Christmas tree opening their presents.

I never stuck my tongue on an ice-cold flagpole, though. In a way, I'm kind of amazed there isn't a nation-wide rash of tongue-stickings (as far as I know) on Christmas day, but I have to admit, there is a temptation to try that just because it's stupid and some of us humans just can't resist stupidity. I just don't know if it's possible for a 63-year-old man to explain himself getting in that situation.

There are tons of other worthy holiday movies, most notably A Christmas Carol in almost any of its versions. I must profess a fondness for Alistair Sim's Scrooge, although George C. Scott makes me believe there actually was a Scrooge who really did live and learn. In any case, Charles Dickens gave us a great storyline.

There are others, of course. I'm not sure that Home Alone really qualifies as a Christmas movie, even though the action takes place over the holidays. I still like it, though. Christmas Vacation has its moments, but most of it is just plain silly. The same can be said for Scrooged. And don't even talk to me about Grinches or whatnot...

I guess the classics are classic for a reason.