Holiday High Five

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Before Kevin McCallister, Scott Calvin, and Buddy the Elf entertained us on big and small screens at this time of year, there were already some really great black and white Christmas movies.  I’ll tell you my top five in descending order, because I don’t care much for building up to Number 1 (It doesn’t follow the inverted pyramid).  Here they are, with notes on a few others:

  1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
  2. A Christmas Carol (1938)
  3. Miracle on 34th Street (1938) 
  4. Holiday Inn (1942)
  5. The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

It’s the cast that makes It’s a Wonderful LIfe so wonderful.  And the simple story Frank Capra chose about appreciating life itself, which began as a greeting on a Christmas card.  But not much beats watching Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell and Beulah Bondi at home in the same small town.  There’s even a short performance from Sheldon Leonard, the television genius, as Nick the bartender.

You’d think we would have said good-bye to all of its adult actors by now, but there is one who is still living in the Midwest. The beautiful Virginia Patton, who played Harry Bailey’s new wife is at home in Michigan with her real-life husband, Cruze Moss.  The Mosses are retired Ann Arbor business owners and true-maize-and blue University of Michigan supporters. They still enjoy giving interviews.

John Wayne’s buddy Ward Bond played Burt the cop, just one of his supporting roles on the big screen. He was also in Gone With the Wind, the Wagon Train television series and many, many westerns.

Jimmy Hawkins was the youngest Bailey child (“Scuse me! Scuse me! I burped!”) He was a teen actor with Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap and also The Donna Reed Show in the 1960s.

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A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens probably has the most movie adaptations.  The one that stands out for me was made in 1938, starring Reginald Owen as Scrooge.  He was actually much younger than Scrooge would have been, and ended his career with Mary Poppins in 1964.  The Gene Lockhart family played the Bob Cratchit family, with another Gone With the Wind alum, Ann Rutherford,  as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Who can forget little Natalie Wood’s performance in the original Miracle on 34th Street? The story that begins with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and ends with Santa Claus delivering her to a real home is on many lists of favorites. Edmund Gwynne and Maureen O’Hara were perfectly cast, with John Payne in the part he is most identified with.  It was a busy year for Gene Lockhart, who plays the judge in the trial courtroom.

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,Holiday Inn

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Then there’s all the song and dance talent of Holiday Inn, featuring Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, and Marjorie Reynolds.  Why Ms. Reynolds was not a major star has certainly to do with studio politics, not her ability (She also played a belle in GWTW).  Irving Berlin classics, including Easter Parade and White Christmas light up the screen.  According to my aunt, the number Be Careful, It’s My Heart was supposed to be the big hit of the film.  As much as I love the later movie White Christmas with Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen, it heralded the beginning of Technicolor, and so is not in the b/w category. 

Lately Holiday Inn has been criticized for racial reasons, and rightly so.  Let’s remember that it was a different time, and not diminish the film’s good points.  Minstrel shows are part of our history.   I also think the black actors outshine their white counterparts in many scenes.  Little Daphne and Vanderbilt are adorable.

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Does anyone not love to watch ice skaters?  Cary Grant’s faux performance on the rink is noteworthy in The Bishop’s Wife.  As another angel sent to earth, he encourages Loretta Young in her unenviable position as the wife of David Niven, an ambitious man of the church.  Grant was a master of timing and facial expression.

Barbara Stanwyk, the iron woman of The Big Valley and other shows, plays quite different parts in two early movies, Remember the Night and Christmas in Connecticut.  I favor the former because I think the portrait of rural Indiana in the early 20th Century is right on.  Beulah Bondi appears again, as the mother of Fred MacMurray, who was quite different looking when he was young  (Don’t think of him only as he was in My Three Sons).  In the second movie, Ms. Stanwyk is a society columnist who gets caught in her fake story of ideal country living, and has to hire a husband to play it out.

Many black and white pictures have memorable Christmas scenes – including Little Women.  I like the one in which Jo March is played by June Allison.  Peter Lawford doesn’t hurt it any, either.

The current deluge of Hallmark movies is nice, with several that I enjoy watching more than once.  But best are the ones with interesting shadows, old actors, and timeless music.  To me, they are the real Christmas gems.

 

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Treasure Viewing

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Buckets of treasure wait for visitors in the archaeological museums of Greece.  We perused two in our recent trip: one large and one small, but each had its own highlights.

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At the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, I stood in awe of this Olympic gold medal from the ancient games.

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According to the museum’s website, the Dervein Papyrus here is the oldest surviving book in Europe, enduring because it was charred in a fire.  Dating to 340 BC, it consists of theology and philosophy.  What else?  It’s from Greece.

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Classic sculpture.

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Inside the smaller Archaeological Museum of Corinth, there were phenomenal pieces of sculpture and art, like this marble garment.  A nearby quarry provided the raw material.

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Dozens of the iconic black and terra cotta pottery in all shapes and sizes stood on shelves there.  Many were from burial sites; Romans destroyed homes and their contents when they took over the area.  But they left the Temple of Apollo, because they worshipped the same god.

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Mosaics depicted mythical scenes.  Others formed borders for walkways.

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This small sculpture intrigued me because it still showed some paint.  I’d assumed all statues were white.

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A small model of  a circle game, horses pulling children in a small carriage, and a metal wagon showed that people of all times have pondered youth.  Perhaps they also took their sons and daughters to museums, educating them in the Arts…until the next army overran the country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wandering Greece

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Though Ephesus is across the way in Turkey, its ruins are essential to view while on a Grecian trip.

When you spend two weeks in Greece, your mind wanders as well as your feet.  The History of Western Civilization stands before you with no editorializing.  More mountains than valleys and fields loom in the background.  Olive trees present their cool blue-green leaves beside the road.  Columns, statues and mosaic walkways speak in a way all people of the world understand.

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Remains of old cemetery markers at Philippi.

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Old Roman market.  Somewhere buried nearby is the dungeon where Paul and Silas were chained, but sang anyway.

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Statue in Thessaloniki of the young conquerer, Alexander.

As we traveled north to south on the mainland and then took a short island cruise, we could see the new contradicting the ancient.  Sleek, modern hotels offering comfort and tantalizing Mediterranean fare.  Resorts beckoning the weary for a few days in the sun.  Tourists shopping for textiles and other local goods to bring home.  But not to be hidden is a very depressed economy blighted by ugly graffiti everywhere on vacant buildings.

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Modern Thessalonoki on the Aegean shore.

Image may contain: one or more people, sky, outdoor and natureTemple of Apollo at Corinth.  The only Greek temple not razed by the Romans.

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The famous Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens.  Though we visited up close, we could also see it from the rooftop restaurant of our hotel.

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On the way to La Plaka marketplace in Athens on a Sunday afternoon.

I do not wish to make a travelogue; Rick Steves has more than taken care of those.  But I will share, in coming weeks, more glimpses of what we were fortunate to see, lost in time, wandering Greece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Dishes

I love china.  Most of all I love the pieces which have belonged to my family, some for generations.  Each one, whether I have others to match it or not, has a special place in my heart.  The plate, cup and saucer of the Lenox “Harvest” pattern below belonged to my Great-Aunt Elsie, who grew up in rural Steuben County but moved away when she was married.  I think she chose it because it reminded her of the farm.

Elsie’s mother, Maria (pronounced with a long i), had a soup tureen which passed into my mother’s hands and then mine.  It is heavy, white stoneware.  I can imagine holiday dinners when Great-Grandfather lifted the squash handle and dished out hot food to his strapping sons.

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Delicate Depression Glass, like this fruit bowl of my dad’s mother’s, to me suggests a charmed life with tea parties and society ladies.  Far from it.  She did hard physical labor inside and outside the house.  But she liked pretty things.

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 Because I inherited her name, my maternal grandmother’s place setting of her grandmother’s transferware came to live in my china cabinet.  It traveled from England to America on a sailing vessel in 1843, according to a  handwritten note taped to the bottom of the saucer.  I photographed it (as well as the fruit bowl) on a linen tablecloth which Margaret Edith Beck tatted before she was married.  The transferware pattern is Canova, named for a sculptor; in the center of the design is always a large urn.

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Before I was married, I chose a china pattern.  Had I been a little older I may have selected something different.  But it was what I liked then, and so I cherish it because of those special days of looking forward to house and family and making more memories.  Are brides today choosing good china?  Is it practical to have a special set of dishes when time is so limited and schedules permit only the fastest ways to get things done, so time may be better enjoyed?  I don’t know.

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I had planned to include research about the source of Early American china, and how manufacture and sale of dishes have changed throughout the years.  But I think I’ll leave these photos as they are, with their special owners attached, and let them speak for themselves.  It is my history.  That is enough for now.

It was 1987 when my husband and I last entered the Magic Kingdom. Our daughters were seven and ten years old, and somehow we’d been able to take them to Orlando over Christmas Break. There was security then, but no double bag checks and X-rays. We also remember that in order to take a picture of Cinderella’s Castle in […]

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As You Were

Along with reunions of the summer come lots of memories and thoughts about them.

Family reunions are usually of the picnic variety.  Ours is, I know.  Younger and older cooks bring casseroles, salads and desserts for which they’ve become known over the years.  Before, during and after the eating we tell stories.  We ask how others have been.  We exclaim at how tall the kids have become.

Like Christmas, it’s as if no time has passed when you see cousins, aunts and uncles.  But there are always poignant absences of those we’ve lost, among those who remain.

Class reunions require more planning for the meal and entertainment, and draw people who haven’t seen each other for five or ten years, or maybe since graduation.

People come from all over to their reunions, be they groups related by blood or by experiences of school days.  But they usually find some peace and laughter because the ones who are there want to be there.

And appreciate the time spent with those who remember and accept you, as you were.

 

 

On the Road

 

Did you ever wonder what a road trip was like 150 years ago?  Assuming there was a road to where you wanted to go.  You probably wouldn’t be on vacation, but more likely going to town, to visit someone, or to a new place to find a home.

Railroad companies were still laying track cross country.  If you lived in the east you might be able to buy a train ticket.  But most people walked or traveled with oxen or horses.

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Were covered wagons on wooden wheels the SUVs of the day?  People carried their furniture, fortunes and family with them going west.  The time it took to travel by horse-drawn vehicle was considerable.  They camped under the stars, cooked with what they’d brought with them, and hunted game along the way.  No McDonald’s for a quick Big Mac then.

If you were already in the west, which could mean anywhere from Illinois to the Pacific Ocean, traveling by stagecoach was popular.  I doubt if it was as fun as movies have made it seem.  The ride would be rough and dusty.

Hotels were available in towns.  No running water, of course, but it seems like a pitcher of water and a bowl would be as good an opportunity as any to wash up.  Hopefully you didn’t have to share a bed with someone you weren’t acquainted with.

Do you suppose there were occasions of road rage?  A light buggy driver cutting in front of a farm wagon?  “GIddap!  I’ll show him!”  And the wife would say, “Honey, is it worth it?”

Or maybe, “I want to make it to the next county.  We can stop for water and feed for Bessie then.”

Or, “Pa, I have to go NOW!”

“Well, there are some bushes.  Jump off and when you’re done, run and catch up with us.”

Swifter, more direct fare by river or canal was available, and passengers were able to sleep on board.  Some beds were shelves turned down from the walls at night.

Like today, people took trips to homes of their relatives.  They just didn’t get to see each other that often.  Maybe letters informing them their kin was coming didn’t make it there before the people did.  But it’s always been good to see familiar faces.

We’ll leave a lantern lit for ya.

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This was composed in Minne”soota” at a rest stop along I-94. while the driver was taking a nap.