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A Child of the Snows

Once again I share a Chesterton poem for Christmas. Unfortunately, this year it’s the same poem as last year. This is because of something I learned last night.

I have DVDs of three of the movie versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I have the Sim version (of course), the George C. Scott version, and the musical “Scrooge” with Albert Finney (a little silly, but that’s the function of musicals). It’s my practice to view all three during the Christmas season.

Last night I watched the Scott version, and because it’s relatively faithful to the text, I followed along with my copy of The Annotated Christmas Carol, edited by Michael Patrick Hearn. In Stave Three, there’s a passage that goes, “All this time the chesnuts (sic) and the jug went round and round; and by and bye they had a song, about a lost child travelling in the snow, from Tiny Tim….” Hearn says in a footnote here, “Apparently Dickens had no specific carol in mind; no such song has been found in Sandys’ or any other collection. G. K. Chesterton apparently realized this omission; in his Poems (1926) he included a verse, ‘A Child of the Snows,’ which might stand for Tiny Tim’s song until another might be found.”



It goes like this:

A Child of the Snows

There is heard a hymn when the panes are dim,

And never before or again,

When the nights are strong with a darkness long,

And the dark is alive with rain.

Never we know but in sleet and in snow,

The place where the great fires are,

That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth

And the heart of the earth a star.

And at night we win to the ancient inn

Where the child in the frost is furled,

We follow the feet where all souls meet

At the inn at the end of the world.

The gods lie dead where the leaves lie red,

For the flame of the sun is flown,

The gods lie cold where the leaves lie gold,

And a Child comes forth alone.



Merry Christmas. Glade Jul.

Thanksgiving day semi-comatose blog

I’ve spent the day alternating between stretching out on the sofa with a book and cleaning the house (or vice versa) in preparation for Saturday’s invasion. I took time this evening to do my bill paying, which I usually do on Thursdays. Since I’ll be able to put them in the mail again tomorrow, I thought I might as well keep up my usual routine.

I have a cheap pocket knife that I’ve been using as a letter opener ever since the old pewter letter opener that belonged to my dad disappeared unaccountably.

I was in the midst of bill paying when I got up to do something (I went to the bathroom, actually, but you don’t want to know that).

When I got back to the desk, the pocket knife was missing. I retraced my steps on the very short trip, and checked all around the desk, and I can’t find the bloody thing anywhere.

I know whom to blame, of course. It’s the elves (or nisser, in Norwegian). It’s always the elves (or nisser, in Norwegian).

What troubles me is that it appears they’re arming themselves…

Thanksgiving Day Live Blog

Happy Thanksgiving.

Yesterday, I thought I might live blog my early Thanksgiving morning, which isn’t the right use of the term “live blog” because no one was awake, I had nothing to do, and I doubt you were here wondering when the lit news is coming. The coffee wasn’t even made. I could update you on what’s coming over an antique radio I have behind me. It’s a Japanese made Viscount “Stereo Solid State” with volume control for both left and right speakers and something called “MPX” on the AM/FM switch which seems to enhance the sound for FM radio. I didn’t catch the name of the composer whose music is playing now, but it’s a work about war and peace in Switzerland.

Ah, Copeland’s Rodeo is on the radio now—Classical 90.5 out of Collegedale, TN. Rodeo makes you think of beef, doesn’t it?

Did you see the story reporting the claims of a Floridian historian who says the first American Thanksgiving was in St. Augustine. Spanish Explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles landed in St. Augustine on September 8, 1565. He claimed “Florida for the Spanish crown and participat[ed] in a special Mass of Thanksgiving given by Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales. After being declared governor of the new land, Menendez invited the Timucua natives to join the Spanish in a Thanksgiving feast.”

Susan Brandenburg reports, “A flurry of national attention followed the reporter’s article about Gannon’s book, with a number of irate New Englanders dubbing Gannon ‘the grinch who stole Thanksgiving.’ In fact, Gannon poured literary salt in their wounds by remarking, with a chuckle in his voice, “’In the year 1621, when the Pilgrims were having their first Thanksgiving, St. Augustine was up for urban renewal.’”

I don’t see why this should ruffle anyone’s feathers, but then I don’t understand why so many will argue for their dog in a fight when they have no personal investment and winning an argument will mean nothing at the end of the day. That’s why I don’t favor one sport team over another.

Anyway Lars said yesterday, we have much to be thankful for. Today, I’m thankful for the rain that fell yesterday evening. The southeast needs a lot of it, and I see rain south of us in middle and south Georgia. That’s a blessing. Perhaps the Lord will not take us through a very dry valley into next summer, but even if he does, I know he will leave us. He will not leave his people, that is, because He works all things together for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose—those whom he foreknew and predestined to be conformed to his image. All things, like droughts and freakish jellyfish attacks on Irish salmon farms.

That’s a huge thing to give thanks for. Bryan Chapell preached a great sermon on prayer which touches on this idea (MP3 link).

What else might an American Christian thank the Lord for today? Good coffee comes to mind, but I’ve drunken all I brewed this morning. Other things? Good roads, stable houses, reliable heating and air conditioning, reliable transportation in various forms. Plenty of food of all kinds. Computers and networks for writing and talking to each other regardless the distances. These are blessings from the Lord of heaven and earth. Because people in our have respected the Lord’s commands, generally speaking, we expect people to keep their commitments, to do a job properly, to deal with us honestly. I know we have become more cynical of these things, and buyer beware is still a good principle, but I wonder if our justifiable cynicism comes to us as our countrymen drift toward a secular mindset and liberal doctrines.

Maybe if we “undertake for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country” our lives in this country, as the Mayflower pilgrims did, we would see more hope for the future of this life as well as hope in the life to come.

I think I’m hearing the foreshadowing toll of the dinner bell. I must go.

Your annual Thanksgiving guilt trip

Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Faithful Reader. I don’t have any particular plans for the day, but pity me not. My brothers and their families will be gathering here at Blithering Heights for a feast on Saturday. Once again I shall test myself against the wily domestic turkey, to learn which of us is the better man.

I may post over the long weekend. Or I may not.

I have several things to say about Thanksgiving, and they don’t all hang together terribly well. But when has that ever stopped me?

For some reason I’ve been thinking today about the old people of my childhood. Not merely my parents. Not even my grandparents (who are much missed, one and all). I’m thinking of the really old people I met in church as a child, incredibly tall people (from my perspective) who dressed in a formal manner, moved slowly, spoke with accents, and seemed possessed of the wisdom of the ages.

And in a way they were.

Those were people who grew up in a world full of Civil War veterans. They clearly remembered the Spanish-American War, and high buttoned shoes, and gentlemen in derbies and handlebar mustaches. They remembered a time when you measured distance (to loosely quote C.S. Lewis) by the time it took to walk from one place to another (or at least the time it took to go in a wagon or buggy).

Some of them were immigrants. They remembered what it meant to come to a country where it didn’t matter what class you were born in, or what your father had done for a living. In America, you could be anything you wanted to be!

They remembered times of being genuinely uncertain whether the summer’s food would get you through the winter. They remembered prairie fires, and locust clouds, and diphtheria epidemics.

They remembered times when things to read were hard to come by. When you got your hands on a book, or a magazine or a newspaper, you read it front to back and then read it again. And then thought about it. Because it might be a while before you got anything more to read.

They were probably all racists, by our contemporary standards. They thought going to theaters and dancing were mortal sins. They thought America started going downhill when we ended Prohibition.

But all in all, I think they were better people than we are. They’d experienced life in a skin-to-skin, scratchy, smelly, painful manner from which we’re far removed today. They knew how to be thankful, because they’d lived with genuine want.

I miss them. I wish they were here to celebrate Thanksgiving with us; to influence us to be quieter, more reverent, more grateful.

Unfortunately, they’re gone.

All you’ve got to bring you down today is me.

And if that’s not something to be thankful for, I don’t know what is.

Thanksgiving Links

Thomas J. Craughwell writes, “If Only the Pilgrims Had Been Italian.”

When the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts in 1620, lobsters were so common all you had to do was stroll down to the nearest tidal pool and pluck them out by the bushel. But the Pilgrims wanted meat, not fish — not even fish as succulent as lobster. Very quickly familiarity bred contempt: The better class of colonists scorned the crustacean as suitable only for the poor. In his journal for the year 1622, William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth colony, recorded the landing of a boatload of new colonists from England. Their arrival was a thrilling event, yet Bradford confessed that he and his fellow Plymouth residents were humiliated that they had nothing better to offer the newcomers than lobster.

Also on The American Spectator, Jay D. Homnick riffs on Georgia’s prayer for rain. “Pray today, give thanks tomorrow. Remember also that prayer is not only a means to an end, as Maimonides explains, it must catalyze each of us into reflecting upon our priorities,” he writes.

“God said, I am tired of kings, / I suffer them no more;” Emerson has an interesting poem here, Boston Hymn.

Gaius writes about the Pilgrims early attempts to live communally. This appears to be within the first seven years of their landing in America. According to what I’m reading, the pilgrims’ voyage was funding by London investors who required they work for them for seven years doing whatever profitable work they could find. At the end of those years, the survivors would receive a small share of the profits, but everything belonged to “the common fund” or that of the investors. Even the clothes they wore were owned technically by the men in London. Perhaps that’s why the colony started with a communal attitude.

Now, a little holiday advice: If you start feeling like this little guy, throw out your inhibitions and do something different. Take that walk. Eat that brussel sprout. Whatever you don’t normally do, do it. (Cute warning alert)

What I meant to say

I missed a step yesterday. As I re-read my post, I thought, the transitions here, from Elvis to Rock ‘n Roll to my personal navel-gazing to fear, aren’t flowing properly. But I had other things I wanted to do, so I let it stand.

But now I remember I’d wanted to say something about fear. Something positive, difficult as that may be to believe.

First of all, I was going to say that, in case you were wondering about my problems with book orders in the bookstore due to the internet being down, that it all got worked out. The IT guy came up and burrowed under my desk a while, and then went down to the server and discovered that the problem was there all the time. So I got my service, and all the orders were placed on Thursday (except for the orders of that one instructor who never gets his orders in until just before classes start. I figure if he can live with it, I can live with it).

I employ a mixed media approach in ordering books from publishers. I use the internet to research the books, learn the publishers and ISBN numbers, and after I’ve transcribed all that information on a spread sheet, I call the publishers’ 800 numbers to actually make the orders. It seems to work best for me that way.

And that’s remarkable, under the circumstances. Because I hate calling people on the phone. When I first took this job, the phone calling was one of the duties I dreaded most. It’s related to my Avoidant problem, as you’ve probably guessed.

But I got past it. After I’d done it a couple times, I learned that if I was prepared, making the calls with my orders wasn’t all that difficult.

I need to highlight this in my mind, which is why I highlighted it above. Within my personal scenario, the warped lens through which I look at my life, there is no place for improvement. I see my life as a place where everything is going downhill. Nothing ever gets better. Instead, the inevitable slide takes me, eventually, to the place where I lose my job, my home, all my friends and family, and end up wandering the streets yelling at imaginary enemies.

But this got better. I actually improved at something. I overcame a fear.

I’d better stop now. If I write any more, I’ll find a way to sabotage it.

Have a good weekend.

What Is Chocolate Really?

Apparently, there’s a scuffle going on over a petition to allow more freedom in the definition of chocolate. There’s possibility the Food and Drug Administration will allow companies to substitute vegetable fat for cocoa butter in producing a chocolate confection. According to the website Don’t Mess With Our Chocolate, “it would allow for the unlimited use of vegetable fats from any source and at any level to replace the added cocoa butter in milk and dark chocolate and still allow the product to be called chocolate.” In candies made of white chocolate, which is supposed to have cocoa butter and no cocoa solid, this new standard appears to allow for candies with no cocoa at all. I suppose if you call it chocolate, then it is .

Schoolboy memories

Better today, thanks for asking. Went to bed early last night and slept hard until the alarm woke me. It was almost worth the deprivation of the previous night to enjoy such luxurious, concentrated sleep.

Here’s an interesting (interesting to me) post from a blog called Shape of Days. The author employs some language I wouldn’t use myself (be warned), but it was interesting to see another blogger writing about his emotional disorder. Indeed, his problem, Borderline Personality Disorder, is a cousin to my Avoidant Personality Disorder. I believe AvPD used to be diagnosed as Borderline, until they refined the criteria, or something.

His problem seems to be more severe than mine, which is some comfort, I guess. He blames it on a “brain defect or malfunction,” and I’m pretty sure mine, on the other hand, stemmed from simply growing up in a crazy environment, where I had to learn crazy behavior to survive. My first mistake was in choosing my parents. The second mistake was that I seem to have run into some remarkably toxic adult authority figures on my way up (or whatever way I was going).

Chief among these was Mr…. I’ll call him Mr. Woundwort. He was football coach and physical education (we called it Phy Ed in that time and place) teacher for our Junior/Senior high school, which meant he was licensed to poison my life for six full years.

The man was a sadist. That wasn’t just something his football players said as a joke after drills. Everyone knew he was a sadist. He was mean at the core. There was a story, a bit of schoolboy folklore, that said he’d accidentally killed his own brother when he was a kid. I don’t know if it’s true, but it would help explain a lot if it were.

Of all his hates, and he had many, his hatred of fat kids was chief. He singled out the fat kids, humiliated them. I was a fat kid. I was on his list from the first day.

One day he had us doing calisthenics, and he noticed that I couldn’t do a push-up. Yes, I wrote that right. I was a farm kid, but I didn’t have the upper body strength to do a single push-up. This was one of many clues which had already proved to me that I was unworthy and defective.

Mr. Woundwort decided this called for special coaching. His own kind of special coaching.

He set the rest of the guys to some game or other. He took a folding chair and a yardstick, and he took me to a corner of the gymnasium. He told me to get into push-up position in the corner, and he sat on the chair and told me to “Do one.” I tried and failed.

He hit me on the butt with the yardstick.

He told me he would keep telling me to do a push-up as long as it took, and every time I failed he’d hit me again.

We went on like that for the rest of the hour. By the time it was done my meager muscles were quivering, and I was sobbing uncontrollably. He had to let me go (he told me he’d test me later, and if I couldn’t do one by then, I’d have to take Phy Ed with the girls), and after showering I went immediately to the school Guidance Counselor, and told him what had happened.

I’m one of those who believe that educational standards have fallen appallingly since those days. I believe students today are coddled and over-rewarded and underdisciplined.

But there are limits, and Mr. Woundwort had gone over the line. Even in those days, I think, what he’d done with me was too much. I don’t know what happened, but Mr. Woundwort eased up on me after that, at least to the point of not punishing me sadistically anymore. So I think the G.C. probably had a heart-to-heart talk with him and made some threats.

I suspect Mr. Woundwort thought I was homosexual. Which is kind of ironic, since one of his prized football players (another sadist, as it happened, one who beat me up many times) later “came out of the closet,” and eventually died of AIDS.

I never told my parents about it, not even when I was grown up.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that they’d take Mr. Woundwort’s side.

Aaaaargh!

I am a frustrated man. A frustrated, tired man.

Today was the first day of our Summer Institute of Theology at the seminary. I was kept busy, off and on, selling textbooks to the pastors who have come in for continuing education. At 4:30 I went home, leaving the operation in the hands of my assistant, with some qualms. He’s a seminarian from a third-world country, and he has never really mastered the cash register. But the last thing he told me was that he felt he was doing better now.

I drove home and fell into bed. No afternoon walk, no lawn mowing (which is needed). I had a bad case of insomnia last night (my own fault—I stayed up late and missed the brain wave curve), and I just wanted a nap. I’d been nodding off all afternoon, and I never nod off in daytime.

I wasn’t horizontal long before the phone rang. It was my assistant. He said he was having a problem with the cash register.

Then there was a noise on the line. My renter had picked up the phone (he always does this. I suspect he’s a little deaf. He seems to hear the phone ringing, but he never hears me talking on it). When he realized I was talking to someone, he hung up. At the same moment I lost the connection with my assistant.

I waited for him to call back. Nothing happened.

I don’t have the number for the phone at the front desk. It’s not a number I’ve ever needed. I tried my office phone, and even the business office downstairs. No luck.

Maybe my assistant thought I hung up on him, and is afraid to call back.

I should have dressed and driven back to work. But I’m honestly so tired I’m afraid to drive.

And now I can’t sleep.

Oh fudge.

Well, I could have worse problems. Like this lady, for instance.

Dale sent this link to a story about an appalling case of contemporary censorship in England.

Every year American librarians rend their garments and sit in ashes, scraping themselves with potsherds, because of all the horrible “censorship” they endure, when parents try to keep them from making porn available to their children.

I’ll just bet the English librarians don’t say a word about this genuine act of censorship.

(Note: Dale points out, correctly, that this isn’t technically censorship, because it’s not a government act. But in suppressing the publication and distribution of a book, a foreign government has managed to restrict the ongoing discussion of ideas in England. It’s much closer than anything the ALA bellyaches about annually.)

Saex talk

We got a little rain today (and that’s a good thing), but it was just a little. When I got home, the evidence suggested that we’d gotten a little more right here. Even better. And the skies were full of dark clouds. I took my afternoon walk on the theory that my vulnerability would prove an irresistible temptation to the heavens, but it didn’t work (could it be that the universe isn’t specifically engineered to frustrate me? This could crush my entire paradigm!).

But when I sat down to start this post it was raining again. A tentative, Avoidant rain, unsure of its welcome. I didn’t have much hope of it, but lo, it continues, even unto this minute.

The weekend went OK. I didn’t have anyplace to go, so I washed and waxed Mrs. Hermanson and did some repair and staining on the latticework underneath my screen porch.

My treat was the arrival of this object:

Saex

This is a Viking saex, hand-made for me by author and knifemaker Michael Z. Williamson. If you’re wondering why a guy who’s been hinting at financial constraints throws away money on things like this, the answer is that I ordered and paid for it a couple years ago, when I was flush, and it’s been delayed for various reasons. So this was a long-awaited pleasure.

I posted about saexes (or seaxes, or saxes, or saekses, ad infinitum) a while back, when I made a sheath for the back-up saex I’d bought for live steel. This knife is not for live steel. This one is fully sharp. Even Crocodile Dundee, I believe, would concede that this is a knife. It’s 16 ½” long.

If you look closely you can see Viking runes inlaid in the side of the blade. These spell out (in Old Norse) a line from the poem, Bjarkamál: “Breast to breast the eagles shall claw each other.” The Bjarkamál was a very popular war poem in the Viking Age. One of King (St.) Olaf’s poets sang it before the Battle of Stiklestad, and this particular line was nearly the last words of Erling Skjalgsson, hero of The Year of the Warrior.

The saex was one of the most common, and prized, weapons in the Dark Ages, and continued to be so long after the Viking Age had passed. It has been suggested that possession of this weapon was restricted to free men, and was a mark of freedom—the Saxons took their name from the weapon. Most men couldn’t afford to invest valuable steel in swords which had no practical use outside of warfare. But every free man had one of these, useable as a machete, a butcher knife and an offensive weapon.

It’s still raining, very lightly. This would be perfect if it just lingered and lingered. I don’t think that’s in the forecast, though. But we’ll take what we can get.