Friday, December 26, 2008

An American Christmas

The Day After
and some significant gifts that may interest you!

by Charlie Leck

There is nothing quite like the day after Christmas and the mountainous pile of debris that needs to be sorted into trash and recycling matter. That’s my job this morning and I began long before the sun came up. Mother worked herself into exhaustion yesterday, getting ready for a crowd of 15 for afternoon dinner.

Santa did his part. On Christmas morning the tree, with stockings hung from the window sills surrounding it, looked spectacular. We had vowed to cut back on our gifts to each other this year. We didn’t. It must be something impossible to do.

I got, in addition to my bacon gumballs and other little stocking trinkets, like a deck of Knowledge Cards about American Civics and politics, which will provide me an extraordinary reserve of information with which I will be able to wow you in the coming months, a pile of new books about which you will hear, also in the coming months. [Go ahead and diagram the previous sentence. I dare you. You may be surprised to learn that it works okay! The basic sentence extracted from the long, dependent clauses, boils down to this: “I got a pile of new books.”]

Some of the books I had hoped for and others I knew nothing about, but I’m excited to tackle them. In the interests of preserving a history of the American Christmas for future generations, I list them here for you.

Doris Kearns Goodwin: Team of Rivals
John le Carré: A Most Wanted Man
Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin: Three Cups of Tea
Jody Compton: Sympathy Between Humans
Garry Willis: What the Gospels Meant
A.J. Jacobs:
The Year of Living Biblically
Michael Oriard: Brand NFL
*Henry D. Thoreau:
A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
*Sarah Orne Jewett:
Novels and Stories [Michael Davit Bell, editor]
*Nikki Grimes: Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope

Those three books above, noted with asterisks, deserve, I think, some further explanation that may help you understand the significance of them as gifts.

A Christmas Book
The book by Thoreau was republished in 1966 by the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company as a Christmas Book. A note from our dear friends, who gave it to me, indicated their hope that I still collected Christmas Books. For all the world to know, indeed I do and, as far as I have been able to discover, I may have the most noteworthy collection of them in existence. I believe I have written here before about my collection of Christmas Books and I will not bore you with an explanation of what they are. If you’re interested, ask me in a comment or email and I will explain them to you. I have Christmas Books written by William Styron, Robert Frost, John Updike and, of course, by Charles Leck and many, many others. How exciting s to receive this Christmas Book because it provides me clues galore that may lead me to others!

Sarah Orne Jewitt
This book was in my stocking, so the gift must be attributed to Santa; however, one of Santa’s helpers admitted to making a mistake in ordering it. She meant to get something else I had asked for and ended up getting this one instead. The book, published by the Library of America (a non-profit publisher “dedicated to preserving America’s best and most significant writing,” left me terribly curious since I knew nothing about it or the author.I began with the obvious question: Who in blazes in Sarah Orne Jewett? Frankly, I’d never heard about her. So, why is she being preserved as part of America’s “best and most significant writing?” Then I read on the dust jacket that Willa Cather “ranked” her with Mark Twain and Nathaniel Hawthorne. My!

And the Chicago Tribune said of the book: “An incandescence of humanity… descriptions so sharply etched you want to put them in your pocket like magic pebbles.” Wow!

And I don’t know about her?

So, what an extraordinary, accidental Christmas gift! You will learn of my reactions to the book in the next week or so because it is atop my current reading piling – having pushed several others to lower rank.

Should you want to read more about Sarah Orne Jewett, you should go to this web site devoted to women writers.

A Children’s Book: Barack Obama, Son of Promise, Child of Hope
Nikki Grimes book, illustrated by Bryan Collier, is a children’s book and my copy is signed by Grimes. A note was with the book, imploring me to read it to my grandchildren. Can’t wait! The book begins this way:

They used to call him Barry.
His family stretched from Kansas to Kenya,
his mama, white as whipped cream,
his daddy, black as ink.
His mama’s folks, Gramps and Toot, were part of the first family
he ever knew.
Love was the bridge
that held them all together.
I look forward to reading it to the little ones.

I hope you had as fine and as interesting a Christmas as I.

Granddaughter, Caroline Jean, on Christmas Day

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