HE AIN’T DANISH, HE’S MY BROTHER

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Some of you long-time subscribers know that I am unofficially the Sparrow family historian.  Or maybe I’m officially the historian because I’m the only one geeky enough to research this stuff.  I don’t know whether my interest is due to my love of history or simply having too much time on my hands.  Whichever it is, I find out something new whenever I search Ancestry.  Last month I discovered that that the daughter our grandfather had with his first wife turned out to be an international woman of mystery.  More on that another time after I’ve found more information.  And, true to form, what I can’t find in fact I’ll make up.  As the Irish say, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”  I’ve actually been studying a lot about the Irish lately because next month I will be going to Ireland for nine days with four friends on a sightseeing and knitting adventure.  I’ve even learned the national anthem of Ireland in hopes that I can whip that out at a local pub.  As I say, I’m trying to learn as much as possible before I go, not only about the country but about our Irish ancestors.

 

One of our second cousins has done marvelous ancestry work on my dad’s side of the family so I know that we have at least three relatives who came to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1800’s.   Digging a little deeper, I found that my great-great grandmother left Tralee in 1854 on the ship Theodore.  It was somewhat of an ill-fated trip since she ended up being murdered by her cook in 1887.  Some of you may recall my blog about that – it’s a long and sordid story.  But moving along…I’m still attempting to find where the other relatives were from and hopefully I’ll stumble upon something before I leave.  Although we can trace most of our heritage back hundreds  of years, we still have some black holes.  Our mother’s mom, for instance, abandoned our grandfather and our mom when she was three so we know very little about her.  She is the Holy Grail of my ancestry work.  A few weeks ago I got to wondering if maybe she was Irish too – in whole or part – so I decided to do the Ancestry/DNA test.

It’s a pretty simple process – you simply spit into a test tube about five times and ship it off.  Of course, even the simplest test sometimes eludes me so I absentmindedly chewed my calcium pills right before I spit into the tube.  I was horrified to see the pinkish swirls in the tube so I rinsed it out and started over again.  Twice.  I won’t receive the results for a few weeks but I’m afraid they may indicate that I’m part Tums.  I told both of my brothers that I had done the test and that I’d share the results with them so we’d all know our ancestry.  But when I told a friend that, she informed me that brothers and sisters can have different genetic ancestry results.  Well, didn’t I just feel like a complete ignoramus.  The last thing I remember reading about genetics was that brothers and sisters are the closest of all relatives because they share two common parents.  So I set out to research and found a great article on the subject written by a Stanford genetic scientist, Dr. Barry Starr, which I will try to summarize.  If you Google him at “Stanford at the Tech” website you may end up spending hours reading his information and easy-to-understand articles.

Dr. Starr concedes that it’s logical to assume that brothers and sisters should have the same ancestry background since they both got half their DNA from mom and half from dad.  But DNA isn’t passed down from generation to generation in a single block. Not every child gets the same 50% of mom’s DNA and 50% of dad’s DNA, unless they are identical twins.  So it’s possible, really probable, for two siblings to have some big differences in their ancestry at the DNA level. Culturally they may each say they are “1/8th Danish” but at the DNA level, one may have no Danish DNA at all.

What I take away from all this is the impression that our DNA make-up is a bit like a roulette wheel – not all the marbles are going to fall into the same categories.  My test may show a large percentage of Northern European ancestry but with some ringers thrown in just to make things interesting while my brothers…well, who knows what might come up for them.  So what does this mean?  It means that my brothers are going to have to cough up the $69 for their own test.  If nothing else it may prove that we’re really full siblings and mom wasn’t fooling around with the milkman.

 

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Each week I am Dash the Wonder Dog’s Uber driver to work.  The job doesn’t pay much but it has a great perk –  I get to meet a lot of wonderful senior citizens.  I love old people, partly because I’m not too far off myself from soft foods and hearing aids.  Many of the residents in the care center he visits are now well into their 90’s, which means they are part of the much-admired “Greatest Generation”.  I love talking with them about their lives – most of them are so cheerful and love to talk about their life experiences, especially those events that occurred during the “Good War”.  Of course, memories being what they are, I’ve heard a lot of the same stories over the past two years but the recollections are always told with such enthusiasm that it’s easy to be enthralled time and time again.  When Dash first  started his job there were three men who served in WWII.  Last month the last of them, who was my favorite resident, passed away.  Currently, the WWII generation is dying at a rate of 400 per day.  So for today’s post I want to remember the special men Dash and I have met.

General Seth McKee

The oldest, and certainly the most senior of the former military men was Four Star General Seth McKee.  During WWII he held many group and division positions and in November 1944 he assumed command of the 370th Group.  He  served in France, Belgium and Germany, and logged more than 190 hours in 69 combat missions in the P-38 Lightning aircraft.   Over the ensuing years he held increasingly responsible positions until finally, McKee was appointed assistant vice chief of staff, U.S. Air Force. On 1 August 1969 he was named commander in chief of North American Air Defense Command and Continental Air Defense Command (NORAD/CONAD).  So he was quite a guy.  By the time I met him he was 100 years old but was still pretty darn sharp.  I was told that the general had been a dog lover all of his life so I took Dash into his room whenever he was awake.  Shortly before he died I took Dash to visit and put him on the bed.  General McKee petted him and told Dash what a good looking guy he was.   So in addition to being a war hero he liked dogs and thought Dash was handsome – makes him pretty perfect in my book!

Mack Shumate

Mack Shumate made no secret of his WWII service – as soon as you entered his room you couldn’t help but see the huge poster of him and his squadron taken during one of their missions in Europe.  Mack navigated numerous B-24 squadrons during the war and then returned to begin a successful career in the coal industry.  Whenever Dash would visit him, Mack’s aide (a Vietnam vet) would be in the room to attend to his needs.  Usually the aide and I spoke and Mack would give Dash a quick brush of his hand.  But on the final time I saw Mack he was all alone in the room.  I asked if he wanted to pet Dash and he said he did.  Dash laid down and it was the first time I saw Mack really touch him – he had a huge smile on his face the entire time.  He died the next day and I like to think that Dash helped him have one last great experience – petting a dog.

             Bill Hallas

 

The resident I was most fond of was Bill Hallas.  The first time Dash visited him two things became evident – the love for his wife and his pride in his service.  There were pictures of his wife and family – and dog – scattered around the room but the one that intrigued me was one of him with his wife taken during the war, he in his snappy uniform and her in a beautiful outfit with an overnight case in her hand.  I asked him if it was their wedding picture and he told me “No, it’s when we were on our way to a celebration in Miami honoring returning war veterans.”  That said, he whipped around to his nightstand and handed me a list of his WWII missions.  It was impressive – 50 missions all over Europe.  He said, “It was a good time to be 19 and not know any better.”  His bookcase was overflowing with books about WWII and I never walked in his room that he wasn’t reading one.  He also was sharp as a tack, with a great sense of humor.  Due to a paralyzing stroke on one side he pushed himself backwards in his wheelchair everywhere he went.  A few weeks ago I found that he had pushed himself down to the dining room at 10:30 in the morning.  Lunch wasn’t served until noon so I asked him, “Mr. Hallas, are you down here waiting for lunch?”  “Well,” he said, “I sure hope so or I’ve wasted a lot of energy!”

Over the past two years we’ve talked a lot about the war but he always told me something about his family too.  He was so proud of all of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – I could tell he must have been a great dad.  But the real connection between us was that we both loved dogs and we shared a birthday.  Last summer Dash brought him chocolate on “our” birthday and he was thrilled.  Shortly after that he installed a huge aquarium in the facility and dedicated it to his wife, who died several years ago and was a big animal lover.  Last month when we visited him he was not in his room, as usual, but out in the common area staring at the aquarium.  That was the last time we saw him.  The next week I came around the corner into his room only to find it empty except for an attendant making up the bed.  I cried that day and cry still when I think of him.

This generation of men, honed by the Depression and the War, are idols to me.  Common, ordinary guys who thought it important to defend their country.  They became the Citizen Soldiers that won the war, and then returned home to build successful lives and communities. I’m not sure we Baby Boomers ever truly appreciated all that they did, quietly and without fanfare.  I worry that the Millennials, who require safe spaces, may not grow up to be quite as admirable.  I hope they do – in their own way and in their own time.  They need look no further that the “Greatest Generation” for inspiration.

 

OUR FIRST PRESIDENT … WAS WHO?!

 

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

My New Year’s resolution this year was to  tune out the news.  As a result, the satellite radio in my car now plays either music or comedy. So far I’ve been much happier and less depressed so I guess the old saying, “Ignorance is bliss” is true.  But that’s a discussion for another time.   Today, apropos to the holiday, I want to share something I learned while listening to the “60’s on 6” program on Sirius XM.  The host asked who the first President of the United States was.  You just know when they ask such an obvious question that the answer will come out of left field.  Sure enough, a couple of minutes later a guy called in and said the answer was John Hanson.  “Yep!”, cried the host.  I just about drove off the road.  I consider myself a pretty good student of history.  I minored in it in college and to this day every other book I read is a history book of some sort.  I’ve never even heard of this Hanson fellow.  The whole thing sounded bogus to me.  What about George?  What about his chopping down the cherry tree and smiling with his wooden teeth?  Was everything I learned in school wrong?  I went in search of the answer.

  Hanson in the late 1760’s

It turns out that there is a contingent who support the notion that Hanson was our first President.  Conveniently, most of those people are his descendants.  For what it’s worth, here’s a bit of history on him and after reading this you can form your own opinion.  In 1661 John Hanson’s grandfather came to America as an indentured servant.  Two generations later John was born in 1721 to what was by then a very wealthy and prominent family.  Little is known about his early life but his career in public service began in 1750, when he was appointed sheriff of Charles County. He then served in the Maryland General Assembly for twelve years before moving to Frederick County where he held a variety of offices, including deputy surveyor, sheriff, and county treasurer.  He was one busy guy and, if nothing else, may have been our first professional politician.  When relations between Great Britain and the colonies soured in 1774, Hanson became one of Frederick County’s leading Patriots.   He was known for his organization skills in gathering supplies to use against the Tories and even paid the rag tag Revolutionary forces out of his own pocket.  Think about that – do you see any of our current elected officials dipping into their own funds?  So we have to assume he was a dedicated guy.

Hanson, painted when he was “president”

In December 1779, the Revolutionary War victorious for the Patriots, the Maryland House of Delegates named Hanson to the Second Continental Congress; he began serving in Congress in Philadelphia in June 1780.  On November 5, 1781, Congress elected Hanson as its president.  And this is where the controversy begins.  Under the Articles of Confederation, the United States had no executive branch; the president of Congress was a mostly ceremonial position.  The office did require Hanson to serve as neutral discussion moderator, handle official correspondence, and sign documents which sounds to me like he was a high-priced arbitrator.  Apparently Hanson didn’t think much of his duties either because he is said to have found the work tedious and considered resigning after just one week, citing his poor health and family responsibilities.  I think that was the precursor to “resigning to pursue other opportunities” excuse.  Out of a sense of duty Hanson remained in office, and though he obviously was trying to squirm out of the job, the Maryland Assembly reelected him as a delegate on November 28, 1781, and he continued to serve as president until November 4, 1782.  He died 11 days later so maybe he really was sick.

Hanson bronze in Statuary Hall

In 1898, Douglas H. Thomas, a descendant of Hanson, wrote a biography promoting Hanson as the first true President of the United States. Thomas became the driving force behind the selection of Hanson as one of the two people who would represent Maryland in the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington, D.C.  His statue was completed in 1903 and can still be seen today in the Senate connecting corridor.  His selection as one of the two bronzes to represent Maryland has been controversial from the start, with many contemporary historians citing others who were more deserving.  As recently as 2011, Maryland lawmakers have considered replacing Hanson’s statue in Statuary Hall with one of Harriet Tubman.  In any event, the argument as to whether Hanson was the first President was further promulgated in a 1932 biography of Hanson by journalist Seymour Wemyss Smith.  Again, historians dismissed Smith’s viewpoint because his research was less than stellar.

The most compelling argument as to why we consider George Washington, not John Hanson, our first President is that Washington was the first to have true executive powers under the Constitution.  That seems like a sensible argument to me.  The one thing that became clear in my reading is that John Hanson’s reputation has been commemorated far more than most of his contemporaries, other than the Founding Fathers.  In 1972, he was depicted on a 6-cent US postal card, which featured his name and portrait next to the word “Patriot”.   In 1981, Hanson was featured on a 20-cent US postage stamp. U.S. Route 50 between Washington D.C. and Annapolis is named the John Hanson Highway in his honor. There are also middle schools located in Oxon Hill, Maryland, and Waldorf, Maryland, named after him. A former savings bank named for him until it went under during the savings and loan crisis.  And maybe that is the fitting end for his legacy given that most serious researchers consider his elevation to the “first President of the United States” to be based on an old hoax.

 

THE WASTED OPEN

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Last week we hosted over 700,000 people in our neighborhood at the “Greatest Show on Grass”, otherwise known as the Phoenix Open.  Sure, The Waste Management Company is the named sponsor, but even though they’ve paid a lot of money and the tournament moved to Scottsdale 36 years ago, it’s still known to locals as the Phoenix Open. For a long time it was officially the FBR Open but that didn’t stick either. I think Waste Management overlooked the opportunity to call it the “Wasted Open”, which is more reflective of the actual event.  The Phoenix Open is unique on the PGA tour because it is one quarter golf and three quarters party.  Many pro players have refused to play here due to the heckling and the general circus-like atmosphere, but more and more of the younger players revel in the alcoholic ambience.  All I know is every year we rely on the advice we got almost 20 years ago when we moved here: the week of the Open just hunker down and watch it on TV.  The traffic is horrendous and the restaurants are jammed.  That said, the Phoenix Open draws some of the largest crowds of the PGA season.  Here’s just a few reasons why:

The average attendee knows little about golf

We actually did attend the event a few times and half the fun is observing the crowd.  Normally golf galleries are filled with people wearing golf attire and sensible shoes.  These are people who know the game and know what it’s like to walk around a golf course.  At the Phoenix Open the crowd is filled with people either dressed in costume (Big Bird was popular this year) or barely dressed at all.  There is fun to be had watching the young women who come expecting to prance around in their Louboutin heels but quickly discover that they are wearing the wrong kind of spikes.  We’ve seen more than one novice ruin a $500 pair of shoes when she goes “heels down” in a combination of soft grass and spilled beer.

Even the pro-am is entertaining

Usually the pro-am of any golf tournament is just a way for local dignitaries to bring in high flying, no-name customers for a chance to play with a pro.  The Phoenix Open, however, attracts top sports stars, business CEO’s and entertainment celebrities.  We could tell when the week of The Open is occurring even if we didn’t have a calendar – an average of 75 private jets fly over our house into Scottsdale airport every day of the Open.  There are so many planes at the airport that they have to double-park them.  This year the pro-am was spiced up by the addition of a streaker!  Yep – a 24 year-old man was breakdancing, practicing his golf swing and throwing sand up in the air while au naturel.   Apparently he also fell down a lot and, not surprisingly, was eventually charged with disorderly conduct.  What makes the story more amusing is that his antics went on for five minutes before anyone came out to stop him and at the end of his “performance” the crowd gave him a standing ovation.  Again, not your usual stodgy golf patronage.

The 16th Hole

Of course, what defines the Phoenix Open is the 16th Hole – the biggest outdoor bar in the world.  Over the years it has gone from having a few corporate tents around the tee box to its current three-story stadium surrounding the entire hole.  It is now literally like entering the lion’s den.  The 16th hole is famous for caddy-races (now banned after one too many accidents), pros throwing items into the stands (also now banned) and for the rowdiness of the spectators.  What other golf tournament sells tee shirts that says “Bring the Noise”?  There are students from ASU that strive to get the front row seats on Saturday each year and from that vantage point, sing or shout a personalized message to each golfer.  A few years ago the TV golf announcers were marveling at the amount of research this group does, digging up fight songs from obscure alma maters to knowing the name of the pro’s first wife.  I suppose the students’ parents might be wishing that amount of analyzing was spent on studying microbiology or something but for the rest of us it’s pretty entertaining to hear their songs and heckles – as long as it’s not mid-swing.

The upside of putting up with traffic and yahoos who yell “You Da Man!” is that the local charities benefit greatly from the tournament proceeds.  In fact, that’s one of the best aspects of the tournament.  As my neighbor observed, it’s also good that we can watch it on TV and miss the drunks vomiting into the trash cans.  Starting today we can relax until Spring Training starts when, once again, our roads are clogged and restaurants are filled to capacity.  Thankfully, baseball fans seem to be much more sedate than the Phoenix Open attendees.  Hopefully no one comes up with the bright idea to build a bar on third base.

 

 

NO SPITTING ALLOWED

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Seems like everyone has the flu these days.  We’ve had dinner dates and golf games cancelled in record numbers the past few weeks – all parties citing the current flu epidemic as the culprit.  I was beginning to think we had just offended a record number of people but it turns out that the flu bug this year is unrelenting.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there’s widespread flu activity from this season’s outbreak in all of the continental U.S. – something that hasn’t happened in the CDC’s 13 years of tracking the spread of influenza.  You know it’s serious when the CDC postpones a briefing on the public health response to a nuclear detonation to instead discuss the response to severe influenza, as happened this past Tuesday.  Tragically, 30 children have died from the flu and the experts believe that number could be doubled due to cases that have gone unreported.  As of this week, thankfully the flu is predicted to peak and the less serious strain will become dominant for the remainder of the flu season.

We all know how to prevent the flu – common sense measures such as getting lots of rest, drinking fluids, and staying away from crowds until the symptoms subside.  I have some friends who have recently been brave enough to travel by plane.  Or as a doctor friend of ours calls them – “flying petri dishes”.  One person has emerged unscathed but everyone else who has flown the flu-ey skies has come down with something close to the bubonic plague.  Sometimes you just can’t help picking up the bug, as careful as you might be.  Me – I’m something akin to Howard Hughes these days.  I touch nothing and no one out in public.  The other day I was in Walgreens behind a woman who appeared to be coughing up her lung.  To make matters worse, she was coughing into her hand, rather than using the suggested “Dracula” method of coughing into one’s elbow.  In any event, when I got to the check-out counter the clerk asked me to punch my telephone number into their keypad.  I asked her why I would do that when Typhoid Mary had just had her germ-ridden fingers all over that same keypad.  The clerk explained that’s why they wipe the keypad off with sanitizer pads every so often.  I pointed out that she had not wiped it since the previous customer had slimed all over it but she just stared at me.  I’m no fool – I learned long ago not to argue with an officious clerk so I decided to forgo my “Walgreens points” and went on my merry, germ-free, way.

But all this flu talk had me thinking about what it must have been like during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, before Nyquil and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup were invented.  First off all, it’s hard to comprehend the massive numbers of people world-wide who were infected.  In the two years that this scourge ravaged the earth, a fifth of the world’s population was infected!  The flu infected 28% of all Americans and an estimated 675,000 Americans died from it, ten times as many as in the world war.  In fact, of the U.S. soldiers who died in Europe, half of them (43,000) fell to the influenza virus and not to the enemy.  The effect of so many young people succumbing was that the average life span in the US was depressed by 10 years.  The Spanish flu virus is still considered to be one of the most virulent in history; entire families were wiped out in less than a week after contracting the flu.

By the summer of 1919, the flu pandemic came to an end, as those that were infected either died or developed immunity. In 2008, researchers announced they’d discovered what made the 1918 flu so deadly: a group of three genes enabled the virus to weaken a victim’s bronchial tubes and lungs and clear the way for bacterial pneumonia.  Since then we’ve had further, if less fatal, flu virus outbreaks.   A flu pandemic from 1957 to 1958 killed around 2 million people worldwide, including some 70,000 people in the U.S., and a pandemic from 1968 to 1969 killed approximately 1 million people, including some 34,000 Americans. More than 12,000 Americans perished during the H1N1 (or “swine flu”) pandemic that occurred from 2009 to 2010.

So, there you have it – everything you ever wanted to know about flu and its deadly consequences.  The good news is that for most people it’s a virus and will clear up on its own within a week or two.  Or, as my brother used to advise, sit in bed with a bottle of whiskey at the foot of it.  Drink until you see two bottles.  It may not cure the flu but in the morning you’ll either be better or the hangover will make the flu seem like child’s play.  As for me, I’m wearing my rubber gloves next time I go to Walgreen’s.

 

HUNKA, HUNKA BURNING TRIVIA

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

I was going to start out the new year with all sorts of encouragement about fresh starts, resolutions and what a hopeful year this promises to be.   But a quick glance at the calendar quickly disabused me of any notion of improving or uplifting mankind because today is a significant day – Elvis Presley’s birthday.  All of us of a certain age have been influenced by him, or at the very least, his music.  My favorite movie with him was Blue Hawaii and I choose to remember him as that ukulele-playing, handsome heartthrob.  But the fact is that had he lived he would have been 81 years old today.  Seems hard to imagine Elvis as an old man, adjusting his dentures and screaming “whaaaat?” to his friends and family.  I want to remember him with the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Princess Diana – died young and that’s how he’ll stay forever.  I thought I knew a fair amount about Elvis until I started doing some research.  Like so much else in my life, I’m a lot more ignorant on the subject than I thought I was.  So…here’s a few little known facts about Elvis to commemorate his birthday.

Elvis was a twin.  Yep – the King of Rock might have been the Prince of Rock.  He was the second son born to his mom and dad but his older brother died at birth.

It’s good he isn’t in school now.  Wood shop was Elvis’s favorite subject in high school.  He didn’t like music that much and only got a guitar when his mom surprised him with one on his birthday.

He wasn’t an instant sensation.  Some of Elvis’s first concerts didn’t go over well, with one reviewer likening him to “a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party.”

Elvis wasn’t big on travel.  He only ever performed outside of the United States three times, and all three times were in Canada. In 1957, he played Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.

“Maria” could have been his big hit record.  Elvis was originally pegged to star as Tony in the musical West Side Story. His manager Colonel Tom Parker nixed the idea, however, and the part went to Richard Beymer.

This could explain his weight gain.  Elvis only ever endorsed one product in his lifetime: Texas-based Southern Maid Doughnuts.

A little dab will do you.  One of the secrets to styling and maintaining his famous hairdo: a combination of Vaseline and rose oil.  I hate to think what that looked like when he was sweating.  While we’re on hair:

Only his hairdresser knew for sure.  Elvis’s natural hair color is brown; he dyed his hair black.

Elvis was his own security squad.  He was a karate black belt.

Where were the candelabras?  The idea for Elvis to wear more flamboyant outfits in concert came from none other than Liberace.

He could have lived in Beverly Hills or Scottsdale.  Elvis went under the knife in the 1970s, receiving a nose job and two facelifts.

He wanted to be the Godfather.  One film part Elvis always wanted to play but was not considered for: Don Corleone in The Godfather. Hard to imagine him making an offer than someone couldn’t refuse.

He must have been referring to Heaven.   Elvis’s last words in public were reportedly spoken to his assistant and concerned an upcoming concert tour: “Billy, son, this is gonna be my best tour ever.”

So, there you have it.  Some little known facts that you can ruminate on as you celebrate Elvis’ birthday.  Heck, at the very least it’s a good excuse to eat some cake.  I’ll just leave you with this quote from Johnny Carson:

“If life was fair, Elvis would still be alive and all the impersonators dead.”

MERRY CHRISTMAS – JUST ADD GIN!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Today being Christmas Day we assume most of your are either opening presents or sleeping in this morning.  We are too!  So today we share some thoughts about our dad and, as always, share his famous Christmas Ice Cream Gin Fizz recipe.  Wishing you and yours a very happy holiday.

“THROUGH THE YEARS WE ALL WILL BE TOGETHER, IF THE FATES ALLOW…”

A jolly man indeed!

This will be the 16th Christmas without our dad. I miss him just as much this year as I did that very first one. He was a happy, joyful guy, always kind and helpful to others. He was also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. All year long he embodied the Christmas spirit and when I was very young I thought he even looked like Santa, with his twinkling blue eyes, rosy cheeks and a stomach that shook like a bowl full of jelly. He loved the holidays, welcoming friends and family alike into our home. Our whole family misses his loving spirit but we also recognize we were very lucky to have him as long as we did and are grateful that he left us with so many cherished Christmas memories.

 

“…SO HAVE YOURSELF A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS NOW.”

One of Pop’s hallmarks was the Ice Cream Gin fizz he served every Christmas morning. Oh sure, most families had hot chocolate and cider while we were drinking gin. But don’t judge – it has given a roseate hue to many a Christmas morning. We share it in the hopes that you can start your own Christmas memories.  Just keep it away from your Drunk Uncle.

 

POP’S CHRISTMAS ICE CREAM FIZZ

Fill a blender 1/4 full with ice cubes
Add 6 jiggers of gin
Add 4 scoops of French Vanilla ice cream
Add 1 small bottle of soda water (the size you get in a 6-pack)
My brother Bob adds an egg so the white adds some froth, brother Jack doesn’t add an egg. Personally, I’d add it just because you can then claim it’s a protein drink.
Just blend it well and – voila – you have a concoction sure to put a positive spin on everyone and every thing!
Our mom served them in a wine glass with a dash of nutmeg. As we got older we conspired with Pop and ditched the wine glass for a chilled beer mug from the freezer. Saved having to go back for seconds…or thirds.

We wish everyone a Happy Holiday season – we’ll be back in 2018!

THE NORTH POLE: HOTBED OF HARASSMENT!

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Well, children, it’s looking like Christmas may have to be cancelled this year.  Bad behavior abounds at the North Pole and there simply isn’t anyone to make and deliver presents.  It all started with Santa.  Several of his “little helpers” claim that his fingers have been aside things other than his nose.  They have produced videos and photos showing him groping and grasping, despite the girth from his gelatinous belly.  Somehow, he deems himself irresistible despite the food stuck in his snow white beard and the stench arising from his decades-old uniform.  The helpers claim that during their stints at the local mall he has asked them to scout out single suburban moms for him to hit on when he slides down the chimneys in their homes.  It seems that the Jolly Old Man is more like the Dirty Old Man.  He has insisted that they have the wrong guy, but the beard and the red suit make him hard to misidentify.  To complicate matters, Mrs. Claus is no longer around to help Santa prepare toys for his yearly sojourn.  Once she got wind of his extra curricular activities she told him he could get his fat ass into his costume by himself this year and took off for Puerto Vallarta.  Christmas still might have been salvaged if the elves had been able to take over Santa’s duties, but sadly that is not a viable option.

 

It seems the Head Elf has a reputation for hitting on the new intern elves.  He asks them into his office and proceeds to pleasure himself in front of them.  It is known as “The Elf Does Himself” around the toy shop.  He is under the delusion that all women are attracted to his bare body and he is partially right; they say he is the biggest tool at the Pole.  Unfortunately, the other elves began to emulate his behavior and soon the workshop became the very definition of “hostile work environment”.  Toy production suffered because the elves were too busy flirting to get down to making Legos and Mr. Potato Head.  Plus, some of the money that was designated for your hard earned toys was spent on settling law suits.  Still, after all this, there was hope that maybe the reindeer could fill in and pull the sleigh full of toys unchaperoned.  But that was not to be.

 

While Santa and the elves were “busy” in the workshop, the reindeer were playing their own games out in the barn.  Cupid and Vixen took their names literally and were found putting their hooves in inappropriate places.  Prancer and Dancer were performing the strip tease, while Blixen and Donner hosted a floating crap game that landed them in so much debt they ended up in the Reindeer Protection Program.  Who knows where they are?  Dasher and Comet sped out of town, hoping to salvage some shred of dignity.  And we all know that Rudolph has a red nose because he’s blotto half the time and is incapable of steering anything.

So, boys and girls, there will be no Santa delivering toys this year.  But – take heart! – it could be worse.  These characters could be working in the government.

 

 

THE WORLD TURNED UPSIDE DOWN

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

People may not agree on much these days, but I think everyone believes that life as we know it has become more stressful.  Over the past couple of weeks I noticed a strange manifestation of that – lots of people put up their Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving.  Almost seems sacrilegious to me, but then I’m a big devotee of pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes so I don’t like anyone messing around with a holiday devoted to eating.  Still, I get it.  If an Elf on the Shelf or Hanukah menorah brings some joy to the world then I say go for it.  That said, I read the other day that the latest trend in decorations is the upside down Christmas tree.  I got to wondering … why?  Why mess with a perfectly good tradition that has held us in good stead lo these many years?  So I did some research, only to discover that upside down trees are believed to have been a “thing” dating back to ancient times.  History on this is a little sketchy since there was no official paper of record back in the Middle Ages but I’ll try my best to capture the genesis of this rather odd custom.

The history of the upside down Christmas Tree has its roots in the 7th century. It is during this period that St Boniface journeyed from Devonshire, England to Germany to preach the message of God.   He engaged himself in religious as well as social work and spent a lot of his time in Thuringia, a town believed to be the birthplace of the Christmas decoration industry.  So we can infer that Hallmark’s original corporate headquarters was, in fact, in Germany.  I think Thuringia is also known for beer but that’s a subject better covered by my brother.  It is believed that while St. Boniface was in Thuringia he used the triangular fir tree to represent the Holy Trinity as he tried to convert the pagan population.  One can only imagine what the native peoples thought of a guy trying to tell them that the local conifer had something to do with the Creation.  But apparently he was the Steve Jobs of his time because the converted people started to worship the Fir tree as God’s Tree.  By the 12th century it became a custom, especially in Europe, to hang the Fir trees upside down from the ceilings to symbolize the Holy Trinity. The Upside down Christmas Trees also signified that the household was one that practiced Christianity. That’s the best history has to offer us on the upside down tree.  The real history behind the hanging of Christmas Trees upside down still remains vague. Nowadays the tip of the Christmas Tree is made to point towards Heaven, as many think that an upside down Christmas tree is a sign of contempt.  Hmmmmm, given the current social climate, maybe that’s why the upside down tree has become popular.

In any event, my very limited search for upside down Christmas trees resulted in a very surprising discovery.  Walmart is selling a large variety of them this year online.  That wasn’t the surprising part since Walmart seems to sell everything.  The shock came when I looked at the price.  The most expensive one sells for an astounding $910.00!!  Apparently wanting to say “up yours” with your Christmas tree is not an inexpensive proposition.  The cheapest one was $150.00, which still seems like a lot of money for a fake tree.  The larger conundrum is WHO at Walmart is buying these trees?  If photos on the internet are to be believed, most Walmart shoppers wear holey sweat pants and muscle shirts with stains on them.  Definitely underwear is optional, and if worn, is usually peeking out of baggy pants or spandex tops three sizes too small for the wearer.  But who am I to question the marketing geniuses at Walmart? I’m just not sure that the typical Walmart shopper wants to fork over a week’s paycheck on a tree when they can furnish their entire house if they hit the blue light special just right.  Then again, I may be underestimating just how stupidly people can spend their money.  As for me, I’m on my out to buy “A Christmas Story” leg lamp.  Now that’s a smart investment.

 

OH, FOR THE LOVE OF DOG

By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

This month we have the confluence of two events – Dash’s 5th birthday and Thanksgiving.  Since so many of our readers are animal lovers I am dedicating this week’s blog to dogs – something for which we can truly be grateful.

Dash with Daddy on his first day home

“If you don’t own a dog, at least one, there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life.”  Roger A. Caras

I lost my last dog in 1983 and longed for one every day after that.  I desperately wanted to replace her, but my husband kept pointing out that with our work and travel schedules it just wasn’t fair to the dog.  Frankly, I think he just didn’t want to pick up dog poop, but I had to admit he was right – we were too busy.  Still, life felt empty without a dog.  Finally, in 2012 we dog-sat for our kids while they were on vacation and, to his credit, my husband saw how much I loved having a dog by my side.  He told me to start looking for a puppy.  Much research later, I was referred to Kelly Collins of Spice Rack Cavaliers.  When we went to interview her (and her, us!) I was a bit nervous about how my husband would react but my worry was misplaced.  Within minutes, seven Cavaliers jumped on his lap and he was immediately reduced to baby-talk and dog hugs.  We were lucky enough to get a dog from an upcoming litter and in February 2013 Dash the Wonder Dog entered our lives.

    Dash at work

“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, filling an empty space we don’t even know we have.”  Thom Jones

People ask why I refer to Dash as “The Wonder Dog”.  It’s simply this – he has changed our lives for the better since the day he joined our home.  My husband who really didn’t want a dog?  Now he won’t leave Dash alone for more than three hours.  He and Dash conspired not only to have Dash sleep in our bed but to have his own pillow.  I have seen the most wonderful side of my husband in his caring for our sweet little pup.  For me, nothing soothes a bad day or a friend’s slight like walking into the house and being greeted by Dash’s wagging tail.  Even if I’ve just gone to the post box, he runs around as if I’ve been gone for weeks.   And it’s not just us that he helps.  Each Saturday I am his Uber driver that takes him to work at a local elder care center.  It’s safe to say that just a lick on the nose or a gentle stroking of his soft fur provides comfort like nothing else could.  If that doesn’t qualify as a Wonder Dog, I don’t know what does.

       Patiently waiting

“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.”  Andy Rooney

Our friends now joke that they have a high bar to meet in order to get us to go out to dinner – is it a more attractive offer than staying home with Dash?  That is a slight exaggeration, but only by a bit.  I will say that Dash has had a way of helping us prioritize our time.  Before we had him, we pretty much accepted every request for dinner or party invitation.  Now, we really do wrestle with whether we would rather spend our time with the people involved or Dash.  NOTHING is better than Dash curled up next to me, sometimes resting his chin on my leg, but I do realize that we could easily become hermits if we stay home with him every night.  Still…the sight of him waiting for us at the door whenever we go out breaks my heart.  And there’s not many people at a cocktail party who will do that!

 

Cooper and Dusty –  together in Heaven

“So this is where we part, My Friend, and you’ll run on, around the bend…And as you journey to your final rest, take with you this…I loved you best.”  Jim Willis

It is so heartbreaking to lose a dog.  We have lost two in our family this year.  Good dogs, who brought so much joy and love.  Unfortunately, that is the deal we enter into when we get a dog – we know from the outset that they don’t live nearly long enough.  Still, the joy of having one outweighs the grief.  Or as someone said, owning a dog will bring you many happy days and one horrible one.  Which is why, every day, I try to appreciate Dash and all that he brings to us.  He gets lots of belly rubs, blueberries and all the toys he can rip through in 10 minutes.  Spoiled?  You bet!  But it’s not like he’s going to grow up to become an axe murderer.  He never asks for money, the car keys or breaks his curfew so I figure there’s no harm.  Plus, that’s part of the joy of owning a dog – especially a Wonder Dog.

This being Thanksgiving week we would like to wish you and yours – and your dogs – a very happy Thanksgiving.  And while we have a great family that gets along, I leave you with this final quote in case you are dreading your Drunk Uncle over the holiday:

“Dogs are God’s way of apologizing for your family.” Anonymous