Category Archives: Holidays

You Might Be A Redneck If…

If you’re from the U.S., you probably know that this is the famous hook the comedian Jeff Foxworthy uses in his comedy routine (“If you’ve ever mowed the grass and found your car, you might be a redneck.  If you’ve ever taken a beer to a job interview….”)

The kindest definition I’ve found of redneck is “a working-class white person, especially a politically reactionary one from a rural area”.  Which is actually the most accurate.  But the common usage is from Miriam-Webster, which defines it as “a white person who lives in a small town or in the country, especially in the southern U.S., who typically has a working-class job, and is seen by others as being uneducated and having opinions and attitudes that are offensive”.

I had this conversation today with Yard Guy, who is a certified redneck, only by virtue of being from the South and having a blue-collar job.  He has no objectionable opinions, is not a racist, and is one of the most environmentally conscious people I know.  He probably has little formal education, but as far as I’m concerned, that makes him smarter than a lot of people who do.

I told him I was going away for the week of Christmas, so he said he’d be sure to ask his Mama to keep an eye on my house (she lives around the corner).  Also, my next-door neighbor, Kathy.  While we were on the subject, he noted that his Mama and Kathy have become cranky and hard to deal with in their older years (both of them are about my age, and both are widowed).  I said that probably they were spending too much time alone.  He wanted to know why I’m not like them? I said, because I work.  I’m out almost every day.  I deal with the public.  He said, oh, yeah, well there is that.

While we were on the subject of dogs, he informed me that Mama now has a second dog, which like the first dog does not really belong to her, but to his niece who also owns the first dog.  The first dog is a pitbull mix named “Vicious”.  I swear I am not making that up.  The important thing here is the distinction between “keeping” and “owning” a dog.  It’s the same thing as “living” somewhere and “staying” somewhere.  You get mail at one place (where you live), but you don’t actually live there.  You “stay” somewhere else.  Got it?

Yard Guy went on to say that he hates Vicious, who once tried to attack him, and only failed because he happened to see her coming out of the corner of his eye and swung a Weedeater at her.  He told Mama that if Vicious ever actually bit him then he’s going to kill her.  He said he would patiently go to his truck, get his pistol, and shoot Vicious dead in Mama’s back yard.  Just so you know, Mama.  She said, oh surely you wouldn’t.  He said,  surely I would.

And I believe him.  And he can legally do it.  If I had a gun, I would do the same thing, as much as I love dogs.  So you see?  Yard Guy and I are simpatico.  We think alike.

Yard Guy asked where I was going.  I said, North Carolina, where I mostly grew up.  He said, you grew up in North Carolina?  So you’re a redneck too?  (Well, technically, you can’t be a redneck if you’re from North Carolina, you’re a hillbilly).  I said, I was born in Tennessee.  He was like, well that cinches it.  You’re a redneck.  Who knew?

Then he was off and running into a story about a friend, originally from the mountains of North Carolina, who hates it here.  There are just too many people.  The friend has three little daughters, whose favorite food is frog legs, or whatever else Daddy can catch.  Yard Guy and I are not that impressed.  We’ll eat deer meat (and as far as I know, he’d probably kill it himself), but seriously…feed the girls a Happy Meal once in a while.  Branch out.

While we were chatting outside, my dog Pippin was inside whining furiously.  He “knows” Yard Guy and wanted to say hello. I let him out and Yard Guy and Pippin spent a little bonding time.

I love the South.  The few years I spent outside it, I missed it warts and all.
 

 

The First Thanksgiving. Er, Sort Of.

The American holiday of Thanksgiving is this coming Thursday, and here in America we have a host of traditions about it, from the food to the story of the first one.  In fact, we have a lot of stories about a lot of things, some of which are outright myths (Paul Bunyan and Babe, the Blue Ox), some stories which may or may not be true (George Washington and the cherry tree), and the story of the first Thanksgiving, which we all learn as wee children.

Here’s how that story goes.  The Pilgrims came to America from England, in search of religious freedom.  They landed on Plymouth Rock, in Massachusetts, in 1620.  They were befriended by a Native American named Squanto, who taught them how to plant native plants such as corn, squash, and beans, and how to make the crops thrive by planting them with dead fish.  The next year, when it was time to harvest, they had their first Thanksgiving feast.  In drawings, this is usually depicted as the Pilgrims and their native American friends seated side by side at a long table, enjoying turkey and a bounty of other dishes.  And they all lived happily ever after.

So by coincidence, I’m reading the book “Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War” by Nathaniel Philbrick.  This is the third book by Philbrick I will have read.  The first was “In The Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex”, for which he won the National Book Award in 2000.  The second was “Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition”.  He’s written two others, one about the  battle of the Little Bighorn, and another about Bunker Hill.  I’m quite sure I’ll read them too.

The thing that used to confuse me the most about the Pilgrims was the religious freedom part.  When you look at the later history of the Pilgrims (take the Salem witch trials, for example), and indeed the history of our country to this day, religious freedom had nothing to do with it, except for their own.  They weren’t interested in religious freedom for everyone, just for themselves, because they were right, and everyone else was wrong.  Also only half, or slightly less than half of the “Pilgrims” were Separatists (from the Church of England), coming to America for religious freedom for themselves.  The rest were people coming for various reasons, including the hope of bettering themselves financially.  Plus, the Separatists didn’t live in England.  They’d already left and lived in Leiden, Holland.  They had to go back to England to board the Mayflower.  Some things they believed I wish we’d kept, such as a firm belief in the separation of church and state.  They thought marriage was a secular ceremony, not a religious one.  While they thought they were right, there’s been no mention of them attempting to “convert” their Native American friends…so there is in fact evidence of tolerance.  And that was a good move.

There actually is a big rock at Plymouth, but they didn’t “land” on it.  In fact, their first landing was at Cape Cod.

They did have ceremonies called “thanksgivings” on a regular basis, but the First Thanksgiving was more like a harvest feast.  There was a Squanto, and he apparently did teach them to plant corn, squash, and beans, using dead fish as fertilizer.  But there probably weren’t any turkeys on the menu.  The English were familiar with turkeys, they’d been imported to England long before, but the wild turkeys in America were very hard to catch.  Probably they had ducks, geese, and corn, squash and beans 🙂  But probably no fish.  They’d been farmers, and didn’t know how to fish.  It’s thought that the Native Americans brought some deer.  And they may have brought some fish too.  Let’s hope they had a dessert or two.  Maybe something with pumpkin or apples.  They could have sweetened them with honey or maybe maple syrup.

The long table is probably completely made up.  They barely had houses, much less furniture.

All in all, while the story has been simplified, much of it is true in essence.  Except for the part about living happily ever after.  After an auspicious beginning, things go to hell in a handbasket as far as relations between the settlers and the Native Americans.

It remains a good story.  They really were courageous and endured many hardships, both on the ship and in their first year in a strange land.  They had much to be thankful for…having food, having each other, having new friends, and surviving.  If parts of the story aren’t quite true, it’s still a good life to aspire to.

 

The Ghost of Thanksgiving Past

In my experience, holidays are not all they’re cracked up to be. As an illustration, I thought I would tell this story.
The house next door to me is apparently cursed, at least as far as dogs are concerned. I’ll just focus on the residents prior to the current one.
It was a young couple with a little girl who was about 4 years old named Kaylee. They also had a female dog they claimed was a Mastiff. Not. The dog was brown with a black nose, maybe about 70 pounds, my best guess is pit bull/Boxer mix.
They had a swing set in the back yard for Kaylee, and would let her outside by herself…with the dog. The dog was very protective of her and very gentle with her. It was sweet. I can’t remember the dog’s name so I’ll call her…Alice.
One day Kaylee thought it would be fun to open the gate and let Alice out for a romp in the world beyond. Looking out the window, I saw Alice running down the street and went to notify Kaylee’s parents that she was loose. I got about halfway up my driveway, when Alice started back to her house. She caught me there and began stalking me back down the driveway.
Every step I would take backward, she would take a step forward. My goal was first to just back up enough to get back inside my fence. Then I thought maybe I could just back up enough to open the gate and let my Rottweiler out. I didn’t want him to get hurt, but I knew he would win this fight, and I needed his help. But I was too far away even to do that. I had no weapon, no defense.
So I called out to Kaylee, who was giggling up a storm, she thought this was a lot of fun. I said, Go get your parents. I asked twice and she kept giggling. Poor little thing, it wasn’t her fault. Finally, not sure how this was going to play with Alice, I screamed at Kaylee GO GET YOUR MOTHER NOW! Yelling at Kaylee hurt her feelings and she started crying, and ran in the house. Within seconds her father came tearing out of the house, grabbed Alice’s collar and apologized over and over again.
This was in the summer, and before winter, they got another smaller dog, which they claimed was some sort of toy breed. It was black and curly haired, and probably weighed about 30 pounds. My best guess was Chow mix. What was wrong with these people?
They were straight up Florida Panhandle rednecks But they seemed to need their dogs to be sort of fancier breeds than they actually were, which I thought was poignant.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving Day that year. The father went deer hunting very early in the day and brought a deer home, which he cleaned in the back yard. (What!?) He left all the parts he didn’t want in the back yard with Alice and Curly Black Not-Toy dog.
Apparently it was their turn to host Thanksgiving because a bunch of people showed up. All of them were told not to go in the back yard. But two little boy cousins dared each other. (“I’ll go in if you will!”) The minute the 9 year old who had been dared walked into the back yard, Alice launched and bit him in the face.
So everybody there spent Thanksgiving in the Emergency Room. I know this story because the father shared it with me. He told me he was going to have to put up Beware of Dog signs and didn’t want me to feel threatened. Really?
He never did put up signs, and moved away very soon after that. Happy Thanksgiving.

Fakename Explains Mardi Gras

I have an employee, Raslan, who is Muslim, and on Ash Wednesday this week (Feb. 12th) he asked me when Mardi Gras was and what it means.  He had asked a customer, who told him it was always the second Tuesday in February.  Nononono! I said.

I said, you have to count backwards from Easter, which is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.  This is where I start to get into trouble, since already I may be having to explain “Easter” and “equinox”.

So whenever Easter is, you count back 40 days or so to Wednesday and that is Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent.  Oh no.  Here I go again–“Lent”.  But Raslan got that part when I said that Lent is like Ramadan.  Thanks to him, I understand Ramadan a lot better than I ever did before.

Ramadan is a month in the Islamic lunar calendar, during which the faithful are required to fast from sunrise to sunset–although that may not correspond to actual sunrise or sunset since those times are different all over the world.  The times are therefore set by the Imam in charge of your particular area of the world, in this case, the Imam in charge of North America.  In addition to fasting, it’s supposed to be a time of contemplation and rededication to devotion to God.  It’s followed by a three-day feast called Eid al-Fitr.  In other words, Muslims do their partying after the period of self-denial, whereas Christians do it beforehand.  Of course, Muslims celebrate with food, since no drinking of alcohol is allowed.  A spectacle such as Bourbon street on Mardi Gras day is unthinkable.

So Raslan also got the part about Easter being after the first full moon, etc., because it resonates with the lunar calendar aspect of the Islamic calendar.

When I say “Mardi Gras day”, I’m referring to the fact that in practice, most people call what is technically “carnival season”, Mardi Gras.  Mardi Gras is in fact only one day (Fat Tuesday), but the entire period is from January 6th to whenever Mardi Gras is.  January 6th being Epiphany, aka, King’s Day.  And the period before that (December 25th to January 5th) is Christmas–the twelve days of.  Fortunately I did not have to go that far back in my explanation.  I only had to go as far as Mardi Gras. Otherwise, I would have been in even more trouble.

Raslan is an extremely intelligent person, but you can imagine how confusing this all was for him.  He thanked me, but informed me that when he got home, he was still going to have to look it up on the Internet.  Ha!  I understand that completely.

I’m also grateful that I didn’t have to explain why these traditions exist.  That would be a lot harder than just saying when they occur.

At the end of the conversation, he asked me what the meaning was of the ashes on the forehead, and what sort of pattern it was supposed to be.  Several of his customers had come through with that mark.  I said, “It’s a cross”.  As for its meaning, I said, “I think it signifies that you have atoned for, and been forgiven for your sins–but I’m going to have to look that up on the Internet”.
 

 

 

Merry December 25th!

I’m fairly astonished to realize that the last time I wrote a post was 10 days ago.    I’m slipping!  Naturally, it isn’t that I’ve been doing nothing.  Here is a random collection of things I’ve been doing, experiencing, and thinking about.

First, I’ve had a cold for a week and a half.  So I have a few more days to go, at least.  As Fakesister says, if you take care of yourself, a cold will last for two weeks.  If you don’t take care of yourself, it will last for 14 days.  I’m voting for a new name for “cold”.  Somehow that just makes it seem too minor.

I’m about to go to the beach for New Year’s.  It’s oyster weather!  Oysters on the half-shell, that is.  Not sure how that’s going to work out this year.  Oysters require a briny environment, a mixture of sea water and fresh water, and Atlanta keeps stealing our water from the Chattahootchee/Flint/Apalachicola river system.  The oysters will probably be small, hard to find, and expensive.

The situation is really quite dire.  Fishermen and shrimpers are still managing to eke out a living, in spite of the lingering paranoia about the BP oil spill in the Gulf, but the oystermen are suffering.  It’s one thing to overcome the paranoia of the public–it’s another not to be able to find the source of your livelihood.  Or if you do find them, they’re dead from being exposed to too much salt.

Well, I can still read.  Presently I’m reading “Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver.  I decided that for the beach, I needed more mindless beach reading.  Specifically, a whodunnit or two.  So I got “White Heat” and “The Boy in the Snow” by M.J. McGrath. Nothing makes you feel warmer at the beach in December than reading a couple of books that take place in Alaska.   Also my January book club choice “The Language of Flowers”.  Not looking forward to that one.

I am always astonished when visiting WordPress to see the number of countries represented by my readers–at least a reader who visited once.  Here is a list of countries where someone from there visited only once:  Lebanon, Grenada, Iceland, Syrian Arab Republic, Guatemala, Bahamas, Nicaragua, Seychelles, Panama, New Caledonia, China, Northern Mariana Islands, Qatar, Palestinian Territory (Occupied), British Virgin Islands, Madagascar, and Senegal.  Apparently I wasn’t interesting enough for them to come back.  But seriously.  Syria?  I think they are otherwise occupied. Probably not much time to cruise the Internet, assuming they still have electricity.

Also, I started writing a book.  It’s something I always wanted to do, but was too much of a perfectionist to try.  Now I’m like–what the hell.  We can’t all be Tolstoy.  It is–speaking of whodunnits–a whodunnit.  My blog friend Vanessa Chapman agreed to review it for me.  After reading only one chapter, she’s already given me excellent advice.

This brings me to Christmas.  Except when I was a little kid, I’ve always hated it.  I hated the requirement that you spend it with your family, no matter how unpleasant that might be.  I found it a chore.

Now that I’m older, I’ve realized that I don’t have to do things I find to be a chore, no matter how much it’s expected of me.  Go ahead and think I’m strange.  I’ll get over it.

But another thing has happened too.  I’ve finally gotten up the courage to just admit that I don’t believe in it.  I’m not a flaming atheist like my cousin Drew (who says he’s spending today with Tom Cruise at the movies).  I respect all religions, and the freedom of people to choose what that religion is.  Including none.  I just don’t understand why religious people can’t have the same attitude.

So…Merry December 25th.

 

Trolling for Toys

Every year, I get my one chance to buy a toy.  And it’s one of my favorite things to do during the Christmas season.  (In this case, we have to say Christmas rather than Holiday.)

I previously mentioned that I’m on the Board of a business organization, and every year at our Christmas/Holiday party/luncheon, we each bring a toy for Toys For Tots.

For my non-U.S. readers, this is a program started in 1947 by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves.  They collect toys for needy children.  Our organization has been participating ever since I joined 11 years ago, and probably before that too.

I used to think, children need food and shelter and love most, so I felt a little guilty buying a toy.  There is another local organization called the Christmas Connection, which highlights the individual stories of local people needing help.  Maybe I will suggest to the new President of our organization that we do that next year.  But I’m not sure.  Because as time has passed, the better I like Toys For Tots.  Children need food, shelter, and love, but they also need fun.  A child who gets no presents on Christmas Day feels like an outcast.  Children must be made to feel like they belong, that they are special, and that fun is a good thing.

So this one day a year, I get to go to Toys ‘R Us.  (Sorry, I don’t know how to make that R be backwards like it is in their logo.)  It’s a fantasy land.

I always try to get something educational, but not dully so.  I don’t have kids, but I can still remember being one.  I have rules.  Don’t buy things that make noise.  Don’t buy things with teensy parts that children will swallow.  Don’t buy things that require batteries.  Do buy things that make you use your imagination and make you work for the payout.

I did once violate my “no noise” rule.  I bought a little pad that you could turn a knob on, and it would bring up a picture of an item, like an apple.  Then you could push a button and it would say “Apple”.  But it didn’t beep or roar or vibrate or applaud.  It just said “Apple”. But it did require batteries.  Priced batteries lately? These toys are for needy families.

This year’s trip to Toys ‘R Us was a big disappointment.  I think the toy industry is either going downhill (from my perspective) or uphill (from their perspective), since it looks like the planned obsolescence idea now applies to toys.  That might not be a bad idea.  But I have never seen so much multi-colored plastic junk in my life. Stuff I think is going to break on December 26th. It made searching for a “good” toy very challenging.

They had a whole Justin Bieber aisle.  The signs on that aisle were colored pink, meaning, these are the girl aisles.  The aisles where you had toy cars and trains and military action figures were blue.  What is wrong with this picture?

Here are the toys I liked best:  my very favorite was a globe of the world which came with a pointer (batteries).  But you could point the pointer at any country or area or province in the world, say Nunavut, and it would tell you about the people, the geography, the industry, etc.  It was $90 (on sale from $120!)   That was my favorite, but would probably not be a kid favorite.

Next was a very large stuffed lion.  He was very soft and plush.  Then I thought, stuffed animal?  That would have a shelf life of maybe a week.  The idea that kids carry around a stuffed Teddy Bear until they go to college is a myth.

So here’s what I bought:  a “Build Your Own Volcano” kit, from a toy company called Do & Discover.  It comes with materials to build the cone, and glow in the dark paint.  (How cool is it that it glows in the dark?)  So first you have to build the cone, and paint it.  Inside the cone there is a tube for the “lava” to flow to the top of the cone.  The lava requires vinegar and baking soda, and food coloring if you want the lava to be , say, red and scary looking.  But vinegar and baking soda and food coloring are cheaper than batteries.  My inner child wanted one too.

Do & Discover had another one which was a sort of Start Your Own Insect Collection.  It had about a dozen real insects enclosed in plastic.  One of them was a pretty scary looking beetle that was green and almost phosphorescent. It came with a little booklet identifying all your insects.

I decided against that one.  Some parent out there is going to hate me enough when the lava gets all over the carpet.  But what kid (either a pink or a blue kid) doesn’t like gross, scary stuff, and stuff that blows up and makes a terrible mess you will get in trouble for when you get caught?

In the end, this was my ideal toy.  You have to DO something to make it work.  It teaches you patience and it teaches you about nature.  And also, it sort of blows up.

It’s the Christmas Season!

This means we will have to put up with those endless arguments about why you shouldn’t say “Xmas”, and keeping Christ in Christmas, and how Jesus is the reason for the season.  How silly.  Everyone knows that Walmart is the reason for the season.

I’m on the Board of the local chapter of a business organization, and each year we have either a party or a luncheon in December, which the organization pays for.  (The rest of the year, members pay for their own lunches.)  This means that once again, I will try and fail to get them to call it a Holiday party/luncheon and it will be called a Christmas party/luncheon.  We’re a small group, but I’m almost certain that at least one member is Jewish. I feel fairly strongly about the issue.  My point is not anti-Christmas.  It’s that in a business organization, you never know what religious affiliation your members have (if any), and I just don’t think it’s appropriate.  So I just keep using the word “holiday” and my fellow Board members get the message–but they just ignore me.

This reminds me that I have an employee who is Muslim.  Jews at least have a holiday (Hanukkah) reasonably close in time to Christmas, but Muslims do not.  I suppose that eventually, one or the other of their two major holidays (Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha) will get there, because they’re on a lunar calendar.  But the closer it gets to Christmas, Raslan will start wishing all his customers Merry Christmas.  I once asked him why he did that.  He said, “Because I want everyone to be happy”.  Now there is an example of Christmas spirit.

Last week we put up our office Christmas tree.  I enjoy that.  Our tree has lights, a few traditional ornaments, and a star on top (lest we forget the Magi), but the majority of the ornaments are little Matchbox cars.  There are little classic car makes, fire trucks, dump trucks–all sorts of little vehicles.  I call it the parking tree, since I’m in the parking management biz.  It is so fun to see customers in the office puzzle over it, and then they get it and break into a smile.

I earlier (and unfairly) mentioned Walmart, because really, it’s all retailers.  The airwaves are packed with ads to the point where it’s almost a chore to watch TV.  But there are exceptions.  The Budweiser Clydesdales are featured in a new ad every year and I love them.  But the following ad, which is an old one, is one I look forward to every year.  I never tire of it.  So Happy Holidaymas, everyone!