Traditions

Happy Holidays

The Term ‘Holidaze’ is Intentional

‘Tis the season . . . or so they say. Things are not particularly merry at the moment. We’ve been working at getting The Parsonage ready for the Holidays, over the past few weeks, and I’ve managed to injure my back.

Actually, re-re-re-injure it is more the case. I’ve had trouble with my back since the 8th grade. A trampoline was involved.

Things are not as bad as the night I was carried out of the house on a rubber stretcher and shipped to Martha Jefferson Hospital, C.O.D. This time around, I made it to the doctor’s office before things got that bad. Getting in and out of the car was a real trip.

I was given a cocktail of pills to take every eight hours and my faithful wife, Judi, is off to the chemist’s to pick up the prescribed meds.

Happy Holidays to You

Enough of the downers. The main purpose of this rant is to nail my colours to the mast, concerning the use of the phrase, Happy Holidays. People with paranoid delusions claim there is a ‘war’ on Christmas and the phrase ‘Happy Holidays’ is a prime example. The phrase ‘Happy Holidays’ excludes mention of Christmas and that, apparently, is an act of war upon the holiday. Codswallop.

There are eight or nine different religions celebrating a combined total of over twenty-five holidays, feasts, or festivals at this time of the year and Christmas is only one of them. And then there’s New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. There’s no two ways about it; this is a festive time of the year. Admittedly, Christmas has cornered the music market, though.

Political Correctness?

Some may decry ‘Happy Holidays’ as nothing more than political correctness even though the phrase was in use long before PC was invented. No one says much about ‘Season’s Greetings’ being politically correct, but it’s only a matter of time.

I use the term ‘Happy Holidays’ to include everyone – or at least, as many as possible – in my best wishes for the season. Otherwise, I would spend five minutes enumerating all the holidays – Secular or otherwise – taking place before, during, or after the Winter Solstice. The Winter Solstice is the original reason for the season.

If I know someone is a Christian, I will wish them a “Merry Christmas”. If I someone who is Jewish, I will wish them “Happy Chanukkah”. (The ‘C’ is optional, of course.) And if I know a person to be a Scroogian, I will wish them a heartfelt “Bah! Humbug!” Otherwise, ‘Happy Holidays’ covers all bases.

If that constitutes Political Correctness, then so be it. I will prepare the boiling oil and await the angry mob of peasants bearing torches and pitchforks.

Today marked what has become an annual holiday tradition for me: Shipping Day. This the day when I send the fruitcakes off to their – hopefully – eagerly waiting recipients. This year was complicated by the fact that I was shipping books as well.

Hopewell, VA Post Office

The first stop was the Hopewell post office where copies of Urban Mermaid were mailed to North Carolina, California, Bulgaria, and Australia. A far cry from the Good Olde Days©, The P.O. in Hopewell is only open for two hours on Saturday. Obviously, a small window for mailing.

The next stop was the UPS store for  shipping fruitcakes. This was an around-your-thumb sort of journey because the UPS store where I shipped my holiday goodies last year, had closed in the interim. Fortunately, my smart phone was able to tell me the location of another store.

I have one complaint about the UPS app for the iPhone. You need to know the Zip Code™ before you can search for locations. What if you don’t know the Zip Code? They must have done this app on the cheap as it seems to know nothing about geo-location.

Long story short, the fruitcakes were entrusted to the big brown truck and it was time for a hot dog at Five Guys. I know they have great burgers but it’s so darn hard to find a place that sells bow-wows nowadays.

The weather today set some kind of record as it topped out at 79 degrees. It was 80 degrees at Lake Gaston  and no telling what it was in Elizabeth City, NC but I’m sure that Cindy Trimm Henderson was on her back deck with a glass of vino. Somehow, shorts & flipflops just don’t put me in the holiday mood.
Urban Mermaid Logo

I had one of those “Oh, Crap!“© moments today. I am supposed to crank out the first batch of fruitcakes this weekend. The filling includes pounds or raisins, currents, candied orange peel, candied lemon peel, candied citron and candied cherries which are soaked for 24 hours +/- in Scotch whisky – Cluny to be precise. This requires a muckle-sized bowl, for starters as well as another not quite so muckle-sized bowl for the pecans and almonds. All this is before I start mixing the batter.

I usually employ my wife’s set of ceramic mixing bowls of which two have the requisite muckle-ness. The problem is that I’m in Hopewell and the bowls are back in Charlottesville.

Last year, I transported the bowls to The Wonder City® in order to have the proper equipment on hand. This time around, I’ve been to C’ville  three weekends in a row and on each occasion, forgot to grab the bowls. No, I’m not making a quick round-trip to Charlottesville just so I can use those mixing bowls.

Instead, I’m going to have to try & make do by using my mother’s hodge-podge of pots, bowls & etc. Baking the 2015 edition of Howard’s Famous Fruitcakes™ is going to be interesting to say the least.

It’s November 30th – St. Andrew’s Day. St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland and kicks off the holiday shopping season in the run-up to Christmas.

It is also the first day of the Annual Haggis Hunt sponsored by the Scotsman, an Edinburgh newspaper. If you’ve never hunted haggis, here’s how it goes. The Haggis is hunting season runs from St. Andrews Day until Burns Night in January. To join the hunt, simply go to the Official Haggis Hunt Website where you will find all sorts of lore about this wee tasty beasty as well as recipes for properly preparing the rascal. You will also find a set of 10 webcams. It’s your job to check these cameras on a regular basis if you hope to espy a haggis. (This is their season for migrating, mating or something like that so the haggi – the plural of haggis – should be out in force!) If you are indeed lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one of the elusive buggers, simply follow the instructions for reporting your find. Who knows – you just might win something!

A kilt is not required to hunt haggis but a flask of a certain amber liquid – to keep yourself warm, of course, and repel any lingering midgies – is highly recommended.

I’ve never been particularly fond of Thanksgiving. It seems to me to be one of those “made-up” holidays contrived by Hallmark or the Turkey Council. Oh sure, it wasn’t too bad when I was a kid; you got a couple of days off from school and there was a LOT of college football on TV, but . . . I’ll let it lie with “but”. Once public school was behind me, my enthusiasm waned.

During my college years, Thanksgiving turned into a pain in the rear. Everyone was thrown out of the dorms and told to go somewhere else . . . usually home. For me, that wasn’t too bad as home was just under two hours up the road. For those students who lived hundreds of miles away – like the girl who eventually became my wife – it wasn’t quite so easy. It was a odessy. Take my wife. She had to endure a six-hour plus bus trip just to get as far as Philly. Then, there was a two-hour car ride across the state to reach her home at the Jersey shore. Once Thanksgiving Day had come and gone, it would be time to think about heading back to school. No wonder she gave Thanksgiving a miss during her college years and stayed close to Rocky Mt.

Thanksgiving is this insane American tradition where people drive – or fly – hundreds of miles to have a meal consisting of things they wouldn’t eat otherwise with folks they don’t really like. Then, they turn around and drive/fly hundreds of miles to get back home in time for Black Friday. Countless family feuds have been born on Thanksgiving and – probably – countless divorce proceedings as well.

And what do you do – besides watch Aunt Marge and Cousin Mildred bicker – for entertainment on that day? Well, the wall-to-wall college games of yore have gone elsewhere, For a while, the only game you could watch was the Detroit Lions losing to anyone and everyone. There are now a couple of Pro games on and maybe a college match-up. Friday is the day for college sports but you can’t watch them because you’re too busy standing in line at Mega-mart and making a silent vow to never speak to your cousin Ralph again. Ever! Think of all the fun you could have had raking up the leaves in your yard for the 100th time.

What about the food? Well, an occasional turkey sandwich is OK but you’ll probably be sick of it in a few weeks time because Grandma gave you all the leftovers rather than let her brother’s family have it. And let’s not forget Aunt Ethyl – no one can quite figure out just whose sister she really is – and her “famous” pumpkin/mincemeat pie that tastes vaguely like 10W-30. Uncle George swears by her cooking and then spends the latter part of the afternoon in the bathroom. Believe me, you do NOT want to go anywhere near that place afterwards for at least 6 hours.

Thank you, no. I’d much rather spend my time at home with the cats. A pie for dinner sounds lovely but the pizza joins are all closed on Thanksgiving. Maybe Chinese.

Dr. Data plans to drive 90 minutes to his ancestral home in Hopewell, VA and have a late afternoon meal with his brother. He will do all of the cooking and his brother will do the dishes.

Since this is my last post from the 290th Reunion, I thought that I’d bore you with a little story as to ow I started coming to these things.The kids in my cohort started coming around 1964 but I actually started in 1963 . . . Sort of.

The early reunions were just the guys; Off the leash & having a real good time. After a few years, they started bringing their wives and then their kids. My father wanted these gatherings to be just the guys and nothing but the guys so he viewed the onslaught of wives & kids as nothing short of a disaster.

In the summer of 1963, the Reunion was in Greensboro, NC and Dad had planned a trip that would allow him to attend the festivities, visit Clyde’s mother in Peachland, NC for a day or two and then take us on to Wrightsville Beach, NC for about a week.

The McGovern family were on their way to NC the weekend before the event & stopped by 208 Oakwood Ave. I remember Mr. McGovern asking Dad if we were coming to the Reunion and he said no, it was just going to be him. And to a certain degree, dad was right. My brother & I had been ordered to say nothing about our plans for Greensboro.

We headed towards Greensboro a few days after that visit and Mom, Jamie & I were ensconced at the home of Hal and Ora Mae Thomas. (She was a cousin from the Cherokee line of the family. Dad left the three of us to be entertained by Hal & Ora Mae while he attended te reunion. The following evening, he took Hal to the event as a guest and left us with Ora Mae. Hal also accompanied him to the banquet.

In those days, the party went on until long after midnight. He must have had more than his share to drink because he left the car at the motel & had Hal Thomas drive him home. He recuperated the next day and around supper time, we all piled in to Hal’s car to go back to the motel to pick up the car. We were told to stay in the car & not come inside while he went to say good-bye to those who were staying over until Monday morning.

While we were sitting there, I noticed that someone had placed an empty Planter’s Peanut tin behind the right rear wheel of our family car as a prank. (There were plenty of things like that back in those days.) Afraid that Dad would run over the tin & cut a tire, I got out of the car, retrieved the tin, and took it across the street to a litter bin. On my way back, I passed by the big plate-glass windows of the motel’s restaurant. There, next to the window, enjoying dinner, was the McGovern family who had stopped by our house on their way south.

They waved at me. I waved back and Dad never heard the end of it from the other veterans. He was shamed into bringing his family along which is how I attended – for real – the 1964 Reunion in East Brunswick, NJ. Eleven years later, I exchanged vows with a girl from te Jersey Shore a few miles away in South Brunswick. Among the guests & wedding party that day were the Arons family from the 290th. I had met their girls, Paula & Cynthia, at that 1964 Reunion in East Brunswick. It is worth noting that only I attended East Brunswick with Dad. He finally relented & took all of us to Rochester & Washington, DC. Sadly, he only had a few more reunions left to attend, the last being Columbus, OH in 1969.

And that’s it from the 56th & last reunion of the Veterans of the 290th Combat Engineers. Nothing left to do but turn out the lights in the Hospitality Room.

One of the best things about the 290th reunion when I was a kid was the fact that we were able to use a real, live swimming pool. We didn’t belong to a country club or anything like that so we had to rely on Crystal Lake in Hopewell for the majority of our aquatic experiences. Throw in occasional week-ends at OceanView in Norfolk and a dip in Reedy Creek in Lunenburg County and so it went until the 1st weekend after July 4th.

I don’t know about the other kids I my cohort but my brother and I used to strategise as to how we could stay in the pool until we looked like prunes and still participate in all the other doings that the kids were up to. Needless to say, the swimming pool at the 290th Reunion was the highlight of my summer.

As this is the final get-together, I made it a point to hit the pool here in Albany one last time. It was nice to pretend – if just for a moment – that I was a kid again.

For the telling of tales.

290th Reunions were powered by . . . Well, booze and stories from their time in training & overseas and, if nothing else, what happened at the last reunion. Here is one tale that involves two of the founders of the 290th Veterans group and is suitable for readers of all ages.

My Dad was a supply sargent with the H & S Company and Clyde Kiker was his helper. When my father was drafted, he wound up in the 186th Combat Engineers at Camp Shelby, MS. When the 186th left Shelby, a select number of Non-Comms stayed behind to form the cadre for the next battalion to be formed there; The 290th. My father was one of that cadre.

Clyde Kiker served as the Executive Officer and guiding force of the 290th Veterans for many years. In 1944, Clyde was the archtypical baby-faced soldier. Very, very young and hailing from Peachland, NC.

By the time the battalion reached the European theatre and completed their training in England, the Battle of the Bulge was on and – having been given last rites  – the battalion was ordered in to action to hold the line around the salient known as the Colmar Pocket in France. My father was tasked with loading food, ammunition, and other supplies on mules and leading them over the mountains to the front lines which were at the foot.

For the return trip, he and Clyde gathered the earthly remains of the less fortunate, tied them on the mules and took them back over the mountains. My father despatched a letter to his congressman complaining that a boy as young as Clyde should not have to do such grisly work. It is not known if the Congressman ever replied.

During this time-frame, it was cold as it could be and my father – on his way to the latrine one night – passed by baby-faced Clyde Kiker who was bundled up in his mummy sack with only his nose protruding. On his return from the latrine, Dad stoped, grabbed Clyde’s nasal appendage between his thumb & forefinger and said in a voice loud enough to wake the living: “Isn’t this the cutest little baby nose you’ve ever seen?”

This morning, the last business meeting of the Veterans of the 290th Combat Engineers took place. These fine old soldiers recognised the enevitable and voted to make the 56th reunion the last official gathering. At present, there are 23 living veterans and 20 of them are either no longer able to travel or the distances are too great. The organisation will soldier on and periodically produce a newsletter.

This is by no means taps for the family that has grown up around this annual gathering. The kids and grand-kids will have more flexibility as to a date and place and I can assure you they they will continue to get together and talk about their parents for years to come. Nonetheless, these annual weekends will be missed.

As of today, we have three veterans of the 290th Combat Engineers here with us in Albany. These old soldiers are outnumbered by widows, children, grand children, etc. & their respective spouses. Back in the “good old days”, this was a hard-drinking, hard-partying bunch of fellows. The centre of action was always – and still is – the Hospitality Room a.k.a. “The Hospital Room”.  Way back when, things might have slowed down a bit around 4:00 or 5:00 AM but in the 60’s, you could usually find at least two guys with a drink in their hand at most any hour of the day or night.

Nowadays, the Hospitality Room shuts down around 10:30 PM or so and the Veterans retire much earlier than that. It’s the children of the 290th who keep things going that late and even we retire on the early side. My cohort started attending in 1964 or so and we are older now than our parents were at time. Talk about a sobering thought!

Being a 290th kid was pretty neat as for one weekend every year, we had scads of “Uncles” and “Aunts” who would give us a quarter for the candy machine, keep an eye on us when we made our mass migration to the swimming pool or  were simply willing to hear what we had done since the last reunion. These wonderful ladies and gentlemen would kindly look the other way when we got up to our annual mischief. Mind you, our “trouble” was either relatively mild or could not be proven by the hotel management/police..

We kids would spend that terrific weekend listening to stories from the war – or at least those stories which could be told in mixed company. As time went on and we became older, some of these stories sprouted  additional details that were not fit for younger ears. The kids in my cohort attended almost every year until life began pulling us in different directions after high school and college. Since then, we’ve attended when time, distance and circumstance allowed.

It was a running joke that the “Children of the 290th” would carry on after our fathers and grandfathers were gone. Since this appears to be the last time that our heroes  will gather in any organised fashion, perhaps now is our time to carry on their legacy.

 

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