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Latest Ornament Story



A Hessian’s Story

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Christmas night scene. Snowbound cozy rustic house with smoking chimney and luminous windows and decorated Christmas tree at snowfall night. Decorative 3D illustration.

love letter with wax seal and a wooden pencil

By William E, Horsham, PA

My brother Hans:

It has been a long time since we saw each other. I am once again far from our home this Christmas. It is cold here in the “colonies” as they call them. Maybe one of the coldest I have experienced.

I am standing outside and am putting a note on the tree outside our barracks. It is a simple prayer asking for a blessing. It sounds funny to some people. A man who makes his living as a mercenary – a hired killer — celebrating Christmas with a note asking for a blessing and remembering the most holy of nights.

Here I am along the river watching the waters. Waiting for…for who? … for what….?

I am not supposed to say where we are but who cares or who can stop me. We are stationed near a city called Trenton, close to Philadelphia. We had heard about Philadelphia and its importance to the English. I haven’t had the chance to see that city, but I can see why the English want to keep these colonies under their control. There is a lot here that will give the English a step up on the rest of us.

The English troops are weak and incompetent. That’s why they called for us. You know we are the best fighting people in the world. So when we finish helping the English, maybe we will just turn around and take the colonies for ourselves!

We hear the English ridicule us. “Hessian brutes.” “War Prostitutes” “All braun. No brain.”

As weak as the English are, the colonists are ready to collapse and cannot win this war. They have no real weapons. They have no real organization. They have rage and anger. But that is not enough. Especially when you pit them against us.

I have no love for the English or for these colonists. I only have an allegiance to my fellow fighters. The ones in our campground now. Trying to keep warm. Waiting for Christmas. They are the only ones we can count on out here. They and our families back home are the reason we go on.

After thinking it over I am now sure that this will be my last campaign. I am tired of the fighting. Tired of the constant movement. Tired of being away from our home. For too long I have missed many moments and grow weary. I miss you by my side. Fighting together.

Wagon wheel & barrel outside an old blacksmith's shop at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

This Christmas I am feeling the loneliness more than ever.

The rest of the troop is celebrating Christmas. Drinking. Laughing. Enjoying each other’s company. This is my last assignment. I will go and join them after I hang the note. We have nothing to worry about from the colonists. Or the English.

We will control Trenton and soon move to Philadelphia. Then it will be over and I will come home. This will be our last Christmas apart.

This will be a memorable Christmas that the history books will recount. Of that I am sure.

Your brother,

Claus

Somewhere near Trenton in the English Colonies, 1776

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A Football Story

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Deflated Football

By Robert R. , Philadelphia, PA

Impressionable. That’s what 12-year olds are — impressionable. Very impressionable. I think about that when I hang up my football ornament.

I think you’re even more impressionable when you are part of a kid’s football team. Now, we were only 120 pounds, playing in a playground league, but we were intense. There was an expectation to win. The program had won the last 4 years in a row without losing a game! That’s right. Undefeated for four straight years.

And it was all because of our coach — Maxie Burroughs. Maniac Maxie. Talk about making an impression. Maxie made an impression in everything he did.

Maxie Burroughs was a private detective — at least that’s what he told people. He was an ex-narcotics officer who had done two stints in Vietnam. He was from the area known as “the Pocket.” Tucked in the northwest corner of South Philly, just below Center City, hemmed in by the Schuylkill River, bordered by crime and drug infested, crumbling neighborhoods on each side. The Pocket produced survivors. Working class, hard drinking, family loyal, neighborhood do or die-ers.

So Maxie’s craziness was legit. So was his brush haircut, black with hints of grey and lathered with brill cream. So was his odor — stale Old Spice. Maxie had been married three times. No one was surprised. No woman could take him for very long. Maxie had five kids but no one knew much about them. We heard that they hadn’t spoken in years. Who knew why Maxie and his kids didn’t speak. We didn’t ask.

At 50 plus years old he looked more like 30 and as he said, he could “bench press your mother with one hand while knocking out your father with the other.” None of us wide-eyed, impressionable 12-year-olds doubted that he could. He whipped the 12-year olds into shape. His shape. A snarling, break your head and lamp you any chance you got group.

Our team was from 2nd street — close to the Delaware River — a pretty tough neighborhood as they go. Maxie lived near the Schuylkill River – about 3 city miles from us. That walk across South Philly from his house to our field took him through some of the meanest streets and neighborhoods anywhere. Maxie had colorful ways of describing his walk.

He boasted that the walk was his way of showing South Philly who was boss. More than once he flat-out stated, “I can walk 10 blocks and never leave the scene of a crime. When I pass through, Rottweilers genuflect.”

It was nothing to see Maxie running laps with the team. He would have us run 3 laps around the football field and give us a 1 lap head start. If he finished his three laps before you, then you had to do another lap. You could head him huffing and puffing –not because he was out of breath — but to intimidate you. He would pass us and say “One lap for Maxie. If I pass you again you will run and run and run more laps. You better pray to Saint Rita because I’m going to make your eyes bleed!” None of us wanted to face those extra laps and whatever else he had planned.

All football. All the time with Maxie. Neighbors would see him in his back yard lovingly spray painting the team’s helmets at the start of the season. He would use that spray paint that absolutely stunk up the place and blew into the air who knows what carcinogens. And you knew he was spray painting because the aerosol cans made a distinctive sound when he shook it up. It was like two balls were clanging around in that little can.

He painted the helmets gold. Just like the helmets of his beloved Notre Dame. All the while he listened to annoying jazz from Roland Kirk at incredible decibels. “If my neighbors don’t like it, they can croak. It’s their fault for living near me,” he would snarl to no one in particular and to everyone in general.

 

A retro football helmet and football on a white background

As the season wore on and scratches appeared on our helmets, he would take those scratches and place heavy black lines in magic marker across them so that they looked like stitches. I think he got the idea from Gerry Cheevers, the hockey goalie for the Boston Bruins who did that with his mask. He said it made us look like warriors.

The football team was Maxie’s to have and to hold. If everything else in his life was a mystery, or broken, or in limbo – the team was something he could point to with pride.

Four straight undefeated seasons. And we were working on the fifth. The pressure was there. Maxie made sure we knew the expectations.

We breezed through the regular season and smoked our first round playoff opponent. Then came the title game. Played in a cold November rain, with mist and wind. Miserable.  Just miserable.

There are some days that you know things are not quite right – that something is just not hitting the way it should be. That was how this day felt. We were on the field but somehow, something was just not right.

We inexplicably faltered and were down 6-0 at halftime.

Maxie’s neck veins popped the whole half. He was scarlet red. We heard the familiar huffing and puffing. The other team was just as stunned as we were. We wobbled into the clubhouse for half time, Maxie first to the door. Clubhouse — that’s a nice way of saying a small shack on the public playground.

Maxie closed the door not saying a word. We formed a circle around him, as we did every halftime. This time he held a football. He placed it on the ground in the far corner of the clubhouse and spun the football. What happened next will always stick in our minds. Maniac Maxie Burroughs. Private Detective. War Veteran. Outstanding coach. Looking like a sheriff from the Old West. Quick drew a gun from his waistband and shot the spinning football!

The ball stopped spinning and immediately deflated spraying puffs of white powder around the room and onto many of us. The blast from the gun shook the clubhouse and shook the whole team. We were shocked. Impressionably shocked.

Calmly. Very calmly, Maxie put the gun back into his waistband, walked out of the clubhouse and took his place on the sideline. We got his not-so-subtle message.

We scored six unanswered touchdowns and won the game.

 

American football design in grunge style. This is file of EPS10 format.

After the game Maxie didn’t come back to the clubhouse. He just left. Never coached again. Never saw him again. Who knows where he wound up. I still see some of my teammates from that championship team and we make up stories about Maxie and where he may be.

Is he with the secret service? Maybe he is in North Korea trying to overthrow that government? Maybe he got back with one, two or all three of his wives? Maybe he is a janitor at some community college?

Maxie may have disappeared but the memory of him and that spinning, deflating football and the sound of that gun reverberating remains. I think about it every time I put that football ornament on the tree.

 

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A Very Beatles Christmas

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beatles ornament onion

By Johnny Z., Philadelphia, PA

Can you pick out at least 40 Beatles songs in this ornament story? (there are more than 50)

Dear Prudence,

Thank you for the ornament shaped like a glass onion. It was so nice of you to think of me when you were back in the U.S.S.R. It is so beautiful. I love those classic, old Eastern European designs. And putting the Beatles — my favorites — in their Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band outfit was classic.

So this is Christmas, (no snow this year, only rain) and despite all the running around helter skelter, it is a good time to tell you what’s going on in my life and across the universe. Yesterday, the new guy at work gave out Christmas presents. He gave the office flake “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” a letter opener made of Norwegian Wood. I mean who gives out letter openers anymore!? I overheard one of the other guys at work say to him, “Hey Jude,  you should make a play for her”, if not he was going to lose that girl.

Lizzy said she usually doesn’t date one guy exclusively instead she enjoyed being here, there and everywhere. But she said this boy, meaning Jude, is cute and really seems nice and Lizzy said she was interested in him. She said she didn’t care if he was only a junior accountant and would spend the rest of his career figuring out ways to understand the taxman, claiming that “money can’t buy me love.”

That night we go to the office Christmas party at this neat place called the Octopuses Garden, located right on Penny Lane. It was hooked up next to Revolution, that hot new dance club run by Maggie Mae, the famous signer from Philly. This year they did something nice as part of the money collected through chances and the like at the party was donated for the benefit of Mr. Kite, the old guy in the office who was diagnosed with kidney disease. He should be fine but that was nice to be all together now for a common cause. It was put together by Lady Madonna, I know that cheapo husband of hers, Dr. Robert wouldn’t have thought of that, all he gives to is the NRA, for him happiness is a warm gun.

As for Lizzie’s actions at the party, I saw her standing there before sidling up to Jude. She put on her best “Sexy Sadie” dress and tells him about her feelings and other things that only your mother should know. Now watching all this is our Human Resources manager, that nasty mean Mr. Mustard and his sycophant assistant Eleanor Rigby. Because he doesn’t want this to escalate into an office romance, he tells them “Hello. Goodbye” and pulls Jude away to chastise him telling him to stay away from Lizzie as it would lead him, nowhere, man. Jude says, “I should have known better” and apologizes.

Lizzy leaves. Jude leaves but sneaks back in. Eleanor was guarding the door like she was guarding Her Majesty so no one could get back in. Lizzy couldn’t be kept away. Lizzie had an idea but the girl needed help so she asked Long Tall Sally to give her a boost as she came in through the bathroom window, then motioned to Jude. They hooked up outside. Jude says, “Do you want to know a secret?” He whispers something in her ear; Lizzy screams out loud, “Baby, you’re a rich man!”

Yep, the truth is that Jude is loaded. They walked up the long and winding road to happiness thumbing their nose at Mr. Mustard who was left standing like the fool on the hill. It was enough to make you cry, baby, cry. So in the end she got her man.

You may say it’s only love. But it’s something else. It’s like fate. And just from me to you, maybe I’ll do the same with a guy I have had my eye on. Maybe I’ll go up and tell him that I’ve got to get you into my life. And he doesn’t need another girl. Or maybe it’s better to just let it be and act naturally.

Wow! Here comes the sun. Well, good day sunshine. I can’t believe I have been up all night wrapping gifts and eating a box of Savoy Truffles. Thanks again for the ornament. Let’s pick a time we can come together, our schedules aren’t so crazy that we should pick a date. I’m sure we can work it out. If I get a ticket to ride the train I will get back to see you soon.

Your best friend,

Michelle

And if I don’t say it enough — P.S. I love you.

 

 

beatles 2

Here are the Beatles songs highlighted:

Dear Prudence,

Thank you for the ornament shaped like a glass onion. It was so nice of you to think of me when you were back in the U.S.S.R. It is so beautiful. I love those classic, old Eastern European designs. And putting the Beatles — my favorites — in their Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band outfit was classic.

So this is Christmas, (no snow this year, only rain) and despite all the running around helter skelter,  it is a good time to tell you what’s going on in my life and across the universe. Yesterday, the new guy at work gave out Christmas presents. He gave the office flake “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” a letter opener made of Norwegian Wood. I mean who gives out letter openers anymore!? I overheard one of the other guys at work say to him, “Hey Jude,  you should make a play for her”, if not he was going to lose that girl.

Lizzy said she usually doesn’t date one guy exclusively instead she enjoyed being here, there and everywhere. But she said this boy, meaning Jude, is cute and really seems nice and Lizzy said she was interested in him. She said she didn’t care if he was only a junior accountant and would spend the rest of his career figuring out ways to understand the taxman, claiming that “money can’t buy me love.”

That night we go to the office Christmas party at this neat place called the Octopuses Garden, located right on Penny Lane. It was hooked up next to Revolution, that hot new dance club run by Maggie Mae, the famous signer from Philly. This year they did something nice as part of the money collected through chances and the like at the party was donated for the benefit of Mr. Kite, the old guy in the office who was diagnosed with kidney disease. He should be fine but that was nice to be all together now for a common cause. It was put together by Lady Madonna, I know that cheapo husband of hers, Dr. Robert wouldn’t have thought of that, all he gives to is the NRA, for him happiness is a warm gun.

As for Lizzie’s actions at the party, I saw her standing there before sidling up to Jude. She put on her best “Sexy Sadie” dress and tells him about her feelings and other things that only your mother should know. Now watching all this is our Human Resources manager, that nasty mean Mr. Mustard and his sycophant assistant Eleanor Rigby. Because he doesn’t want this to escalate into an office romance, he tells them “Hello. Goodbye” and pulls Jude away to chastise him telling him to stay away from Lizzie as it would lead him, nowhere, man. Jude says, “I should have known better” and apologizes.

Lizzy leaves. Jude leaves but sneaks back in. Eleanor was guarding the door like she was guarding Her Majesty so no one could get back in. Lizzie had an idea but the girl needed help so she asked Long Tall Sally to give her a boost as she came in through the bathroom window, then motioned to Jude. They hooked up outside. Jude says, “Do you want to know a secret?” He whispers something in her ear; Lizzy screams out loud, “Baby, you’re a rich man!”

Yep, the truth is that Jude is loaded. They walked up the long and winding road to happiness thumbing their nose at Mr. Mustard who was left standing like the fool on the hill. It was enough to make you cry, baby, cry. So in the end she got her man.

You may say it’s only love. But it’s something else. It’s like fate. And just from me to you, maybe I’ll do the same with a guy I have had my eye on. Maybe I’ll go up and tell him that I’ve got to get you into my life. And he doesn’t need another girl. Or maybe it’s better to just let it be and act naturally.

Wow! Here comes the sun. Well, good day sunshine. I can’t believe I have been up all night wrapping gifts and eating a box of Savoy Truffles. Thanks again for the ornament. Let’s pick a time we can come together, our schedules aren’t so crazy that we should pick a date. I’m sure we can work it out. If I get a ticket to ride the train I will get back to see you soon.

Your best friend,

Michelle

And if I don’t say it enough — P.S. I Love You

 

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See you at Midnight Mass

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visitors in cathedralHandmade Christmas decorations,paper angel on wooden background. Triptych

By Larry G, South Philly

Let’s face it. For many people Midnight Mass is more a social event than a religious gathering. Oh, the priest sprinkles the water and lets fly the incense. The choir sings the carols. The people pack the church. You know the ones — the ones they call the CAPE Catholics — Christmas, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday and Easter.

So it was no surprise that it all went bad on a cold, blustery Christmas Eve for Jack Marrone. Jack and his wife Mary walked to Midnight Mass as they did every year. They would then come home to do the final wrapping of the presents for their children and grandchildren who were coming the next day for Christmas Dinner.

Jack had a special gift for Mary this year. Three identical Lennox ornaments of a child and on each was printed the name of one of their grandchildren. The fourth was of a woman – a grandmother — with her hands outward so when you put the children and the grandmother figure next to each other it looked like they were holding hands. He was going to give them to her after Midnight Mass was over.

Jack and Mary squeezed into the crowded church, getting there about 11:30. Just in time for the fashion show to begin. The young guys got there early to watch the young girls parade in with their new coats, new shoes, new outfits. Reeking of their new perfume. This year was no different as the 20-somethings paraded in and up the aisle making as much noise as possible for everyone to see them.

Jack and Mary were seated in the middle of the Church, right behind Mrs. Kowalski — a big woman with a big hat and a big mouth as she sang each carol as loud and as off-key as she could. They were also next to a group of young guys — late teens — who were ready to have fun — prayer was secondary.

The children’s choice began its pre-Mass concert. The young guys began singing loudly trying to one up Mrs. Kowalski. At the end of “Angels We Have Heard On High” one of the teens let out a tremendous fart that reverberated off the wooden pew echoing its joyous strain.

The young guys began to laugh hysterically, the pew shaking from their laughter. Jack had to laugh — c’mon, farting in Church is funny — while Mary shook her head holding back her laughter.

But Mrs. Kowalski, showing disapproval turned to the young guys and pursed her lips. “Well.” She said indignantly.

That caused the boys to laugh even louder. Jack also laughed louder. Mrs. Kowalski turned to Jack. “I would have thought better of you.”

Jack’s jaw dropped and the young guys next to him pointed and laughed. Now it was time for Mass to start. Everyone stood up and Mrs. Kowalski proudly bounced up, hymnal at the ready to begin her song. Well, her skirt had bunched up and was sticking in her butt.

One of the young guys pointed to it and whispered something to the other. “Really?” the one said. “Yeah, go ahead.” Just as the congregation was singing “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” one of the young guys reached out and began picking the dress material which had bunched up out of Mrs. Kowalski’s butt crack. She spun around and let out a long “hurrumph” sound right in Jack’s face accompanied with a long exhale.  Of course her breath smelled like sour milk causing Jack to cringe.

“What do you think you’re doing,” Jack half yelled and half hushed his voice. “Hooligans” was all Mrs. Kowalski said.

Two of the boys began speaking again. “You think?” one asked. The other nodded. As the song continued, this time singing in Latin, “Adeste Fidelis” the one young boy attempted to tuck the material back into Mrs. Kowalski’s butt crack. She wheeled and let out the same sounds and the same stinking breath.

“Hey, what the…” this time Jack yelled out loud.

Now the rest of the church was looking at the action in the middle pew. And you guessed it. Once the crescendo of the song hit one of the young guys farted. Again.

People began looking at Jack as if he had let it fly. Jack couldn’t believe it. He was mortified.

Through it all Father Graham just kept on going reciting prayers and swinging the incense.

Mafra, Portugal - September 02, 2013: Basilica of the Mafra Palace filled with faithful during the Mass. Baroque architecture. Franciscan religious order.

Jack settled into the pew ready to listen to the readings. All was quiet — for now.

It was during the homily and Father Graham was going on..and on..and on…as only Father Graham could. From the back of the Church, loud enough for everyone to hear was a voice that yelled “Amen. Amen already Father. Just say Amen.”

Jack’s ear perked up. He knew that voice.

Jack knew that Midnight Mass was about to take another turn.

Father Graham went on undeterred.

Again from the back. “Hey Father, Amen. Let’s go. Amen!”

Jack looked back. Oh, no! It was his brother Al who had obviously gotten into the holiday spirits before coming to Mass.

Of course Al saw Jack. “Hey Jack. Jackie boy. Merry Christmas,” Al yelled. “Hey Mary — Merry Christmas.”

Jack looked straight ahead — trying to be inconspicuous. But Al kept on going.

“Hey Father. Amen!

“Jack you were right,” Al continued to yell from the back of the Church like he was hollering over a fence to a neighbor on a summer afternoon. “You said Father Graham never knew when to shut up and he could bore a dead  man. Amen already Father!”

Mortified. That was the only word that Jack could think of as his younger brother got up from his seat. “I’m leaving! Jack, you coming with me?”

Jack wouldn’t turn around, but he heard Al get up and leave as the Church door creaked open and then slammed shut.

Amazingly Father Graham finished his sermon as soon as Al left.

The Mass took on a more normal tone except right after the consecration of the bread and wine. As Father Graham was finishing the consecration and the congregation was rising to recite the “Our Father”, a stunning young woman dressed in a fur coat came clicking and clacking her way into Church.

The noise she made and the bombastic entrance got everyone’s attention. Her shiny, blazing, red high heels and her Clydsdale-like gate reverberated through the Church as she stomped her way to the front pews. No one knew her. No one recognized her. He blond hair was wild and her red lipstick was a little too heavy, but she was stacked — you could tell through the fur coat.

When she saw the front was filled she squeezed into the pew with the young guys stepping over them and wedging herself and her pungent perfume right next to Jack.

He tried to be respectful. He looked at Mary with a shrug of his shoulders. Father Graham asked everyone to give the “Sign of Peace” and as Jack turned toward the woman — that’s when Jack was stunned –the young woman let her fur coat fly open to reveal — well to reveal that there was nothing underneath except a sheer negligee. Almost naked! At Midnight Mass!

“She’s only wearing a negligee,” he whispered to Mary. “Excuse me?” his wife answered. “She’s almost naked!”

“What!”

The door swung open again. This time it was a young man, dressed in a brand new dark suit. He strutted up the aisle checking out each pew. He spied the blond with the fur coat and began stepping over people and grabbed her. “We gotta go.” He grabbed her by the arm and began pulling her out of the pew. As she was being dragged her coat fell open to reveal her unique Christmas attire to the congregation.

It was then that Jack recognized the guy — it was “Louie Utah” — one of the local mobsters. Louie glared right at Jack, “Whatta you lookin’ at? Got a problem?” Jack just stiffened and shook his head “no.” “Louie Utah” — no one understood how a guy who never left South Philly got a nickname of a state out West — hustled his mistress out of Church all the while glaring at everyone in the pews.

Blood, wine and holy water. Holy Mass in the church

Jack knelt down and was waiting for communion to be distributed. It was the one part of the mass he enjoyed as he could really block everything else out and just focus on prayer. And gratefully, he received that peace and quiet. And for that he was thankful. He sat back after communion and held Mary’s hand.

The Mass was almost over. One last fart from the young guys to “Joy to the World” accompanied by the glare from Mrs. Kowalski and the longest and strangest of any Midnight Mass was now done.

Jack and Mary left the Church bracing against the cold wind. “Please, let’s just go straight home — I don’t think I can face anyone else,” he said.

Mary held onto Jack as they made the short walk back to their house.

Once inside the quiet of their house Jack poured himself and Mary a glass of wine to toast the holiday.

He handed her the package with the ornaments.

“Merry Christmas.”

Mary opened the package and gently unwrapped the Lenox figures. “Oh, Jack, this is the best gift.”

Together they hung the ornaments on the tree. They sat there gazing at the tree and Mary broke the silence. Mary said, “Every time I look at these ornaments I’ll think about our grandchildren — and tonight!

“You know. That Mrs. Kowalski really does have a big butt.”

“And my brother has a big mouth.”

“And that blond had – well, she had a lot.”

“Are we going to go to Midnight Mass next year?” Jack asked.

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Mary answered as they clinked glasses, laughed and toasted the holiday.

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A Tripe Story

Posted on Updated on

Lampredotto   Cucina italianaBoule de Nol argente

 

As told by “The Mick”, Glendora, NJ

Pain-in-the-butt Aunt Tessie always plopped herself at my parent’s house on December 21 and stayed until January 6 — “the Epiphany ya know” as she would remind us. Aunt Tessie’s kids — our cousins Nick and Maria — were grown with families of their own and lived out of the area having moved from South Philly to Chicago and Atlanta. And poor Uncle Nick — well let’s just say that Aunt Tessie aggravated him into an early grave. Uncle Nick was lucky — the rest of us were stuck with Aunt Tessie every year.

Aunt Tessie was my grandfather’s sister so my Dad felt an obligation to host her and we became her surrogate family since her kids and grandkids were so far away and Aunt Tessie wouldn’t fly or travel. Each year Aunt Tessie would take her Christmas apron, put it on during Thanksgiving dinner and leave it on through the holidays.

She took over mom’s kitchen (Mom was never too happy about that) and insisted on baking god-awful cookies which she felt feel compelled to force feed to us. Flour, sugar, gingerbread man molds — all flying about the kitchen creating a mess.

Aunt Tessie also was driven to comment on me, my brother and sister. “Why is your hair so long?” “That dress makes you look frumpy.” “Oh, you’re getting heavy, but you look healthy, God Bless you.”

I think you get the picture of Aunt Tessie by now. A real pain-in-the-butt.

One thing Aunt Tessie really liked was tripe. Now you have to have a strong stomach to eat tripe. It is in essence — cow stomach. But if done right and you are able get past the rubbery texture and pungent smell, it is quite the delicacy. My Dad would stir the tripe in gravy and cook it for hours, slowly adding in spices to make it palatable.

One year I was really looking forward to having a tripe sandwich. I was home from college on break and had been working selling Christmas Trees to make a few extra bucks. It was cold and business was slow. The extra bucks would help, but now I was tired and a little frustrated.  My girlfriend and I were on the rocks. My grades were just OK. That tripe sandwich would taste good going down.

The pot was on the stove, slowly cooking and I saw Aunt Tessie sitting at the kitchen table eating a sandwich. It was a tripe sandwich. Something told me to go to the pot and check. I didn’t even take off my coat. I opened the pot lid and saw a lonely, tiny piece of tripe floating in the gravy.

“Dad. Dad.” I yelled. “Is this it for the tripe?”

My dad looked at me and pointed to Aunt Tessie and held up four fingers. “Four. She had four sandwiches!” Aunt Tessie had cleaned out virtually all the tripe.

I glared at her. “You ate four tripe sandwiches!?”

She sat there with her mouth open, the last of her fourth sandwich resting in her hands. “What are you talking about Mickey?”

She raised the last of her sandwich to her mouth to shovel it in and I lost it. Spatula in hand, red gravy flying all around, splattering the kitchen walls, I leaped at her. “Give me that tripe sandwich. Give it to me you cow!”

She shoved it in her mouth half oblivious to what I was yelling and half teasing me. I tossed the spatula at her and as she ducked. I grabbed her and started to try to pry her mouth open with my bare hands so I could reach in a grab the last of the sandwich. If I couldn’t have it, she couldn’t either.

Aunt Tessie began chewing and running around away from me. My Dad was yelling, “Mickey, what are you doing?”

My brother and sister came running down the steps. Aunt Tessie never moved so fast in her life as she stared running around our tiny row home, “He’s crazy! PAZZO!”

“Give me that tripe!” I continued to yell as I chased her around the kitchen, into the living room, her stupid apron flittering while my dad chased both of us. Thank God my mother was out at the store getting the last of the Christmas Eve dinner — no telling what she would have done.

Suddenly Aunt Tessie stopped and began waving her arms and gasping at her throat and trying to cough.

“Oh my God, she’s choking! She’s choking!” My father yelled.

I could hear Aunt Tessie gasping for air, her face getting redder and all I could think of was the old Italian curse when you’re ticked at someone and you say “You should choke on it.”

Well Aunt Tessie was choking. “Do something!” It was my Dad.

I immediately grabbed Aunt Tessie and spun her around. I grabbed her from behind and linked my arms under her diaphragm — I had seen the Heimlich enough so I knew what to do. I pumped once. Nothing. I pumped again. Nothing. Finally I pumped hard the third time.

WHOOSH! The piece of tripe came flying out of Aunt Tessie’s mouth.

THWAP! It hit my dad in the forehead, ricocheted off him.

BAM! It hit my sister in the arm and then flew toward the tree where it landed squarely on a plain silver Christmas ball.

The combination of red gravy and brownish tripe contrasted against the silver ball to give it a certain modernistic design.

Aunt Tessie was fine. She staggered to the kitchen table, took a couple of deep breaths and got a glass of water. When the excitement settled down Dad made another pot of tripe — I got first taste.

Then I had an idea. I carefully took the silver ball and put glue on the piece of tripe that landed on it to preserve it forever. Just think — for that piece of tripe to travel from Aunt Tessie’s throat to Dad’s head to my sister’s arm to the ornament — well it was really bizarre. That was one magic piece of tripe. I now have a special ornament which commemorates what I call “the single tripe theory.”

 

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Joanie’s Ornament

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Woman gives parcel in post officeRed And White Christmas Candycane Isolated on White Background.

 

By Larry G., South Philly, PA (Joanie’s story is true — but her name has been changed.)

Each Christmas when making her rounds delivering mail at the office Joanie would drop off a small candy cane to everyone she saw. It was her way of saying “thank you” for a great year. Every year I took that candy cane and hung it on the tree. It came from Joanie. It was special because it came from the heart.

Joanie had been working in a large office building in the mailroom for about 12 years. It was a job she loved. It gave her a chance to have fun with her co-workers, have regular office chit chat, and enjoy an 8-hour day. Joanie was a remarkable young woman. Overcoming a learning disability and other challenges as a person with some special needs.

She was bright, personable, competent and appreciated by everyone she came in contact with. The mailroom was her home. It was the place she worked and the place that gave her an identity. Joanie loved the mailroom.

She had challenges but none so outstanding that it stopped her from going on vacations. Or concerts. Or sporting events. Or doing her job in the mailroom.

And each year she gave everyone a candy cane.

To everyone’s surprise, one year Joanie announced she was retiring. She was still young — not quite 40 years old. And she loved her job. But her dad had passed away. She lived with him, her mother and brothers and sisters. And her dad left her an amazing amount of money. Her siblings got the same.

So Joanie decided to retire from working. That’s what most of us would probably do. She was going to take a vacation. Again, something that most of us would do.

And then you know what?

She was going to donate some of the money to a charity that helps people like her. People who need a little extra help. Or a someone to give them a break. The people who have so much to offer if only given a chance. An opportunity. They can show you what they can do. How they can achieve.

She was also going to volunteer helping people with challenges just like she has. Telling them her story and how they can succeed. That they are able. Yes, they have to try harder. Yes, they may need someone to take a chance on them. But they can achieve. They can succeed. They are just as important and inspirational as anyone else. Anywhere. Period.

Isn’t that the true meaning of Christmas. Giving yourself. Helping those who need that little extra. Here is a young woman who understands the challenges and who wants to help those in the same situation to succeed.

Joanie is an inspiration. And there are Joanie’s everywhere. God has blessed us having her touch our lives. And a simple candy cane hanging on the tree says more about the human heart and the human spirit than any other ornament.

Have you heard about Santino’s Dragons? It is the magnificent story a young boy with Autism who started drawing dragons on t-shirts. The t-shirts have caught on and for sale. And Santino has said he wants to donate a percentage of the earnings to The Center for Autism so that “they can help more kids like me.” You can support Santino’s Dragons by visting http://santinosdragon.myshopify.com

 

You can learn more about autism at www.thecenterforautism.org

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Agnes and Henry

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agnes&henry

By Monica S., Philadelphia, PA

Her arthritic hands slowly peeled the bubble wrap and paper protecting the 60 year old Christmas ball. It was gold with red holly leafs spread throughout and it had the words “First Christmas Together 1947” in red script adorning it.

Agnes gently hung it near the top of her Christmas tree. It was something she and her “Hank” had made to signify their first Christmas as husband and wife. They would unwrap it every year and place it together on the tree in the most prominent of places for all to see.

Hank and Agnes met shortly after World War II at Wagner’s dance Hall on North Broad Street in Philadelphia. Wagner’s was as famous as it got in the immediate post-war era and servicemen still fresh from the battle would attend the weekend dances mostly to get acquainted with the young ladies.

Hank was dressed in his Navy whites, the Lieutenant Commander stripes standing out on his spotless uniform. It was like something out of the movies as he looked up and saw Agnes across the dance hall. Their eyes met and Hank tipped his hat, took it off and in a sweeping motion of his arm bowed toward Agnes. He then extended his hand toward her. She was smitten and glided across the floor. She took his hand and they danced to Glenn Miller’s “In the mood.”

A year later they were married. Then came the children. And grandchildren. Their life was ordinary. Their love growing stronger each year, through each of life’s passages, the good, the bad, the expected and unexpected.

During their 50 plus years together they always managed to smile and hold on to each other. The classic case of two becoming one.

And through it all they danced. They were naturals together. Slow dances, the Cha Cha, Waltzes, jitterbugs. All dances. All the time. They were the envy of every family member at weddings, christenings, parties. You could always count on Agnes and Hank to be the first to hit the dance floor and last to leave.

Each year they hung the ornament together and said the same thing, “Can you believe another year has passed?” They would kiss using the ball as mistletoe and dance to “In the Mood.” But time moves on and it caught up to Hank first. Melancholy, but with a loving memory of Hank, Agnes would hang the ball every year and listen to “In the Mood.” It was their song. It was their ornament. And Agnes would continue to keep up the tradition for as long as she could. She missed Hank. She missed the dancing.

This year, as she hung the ball on the tree she sat down in the chair facing it. Maybe it was the angle of the sun or something else, she couldn’t tell. The ball began to glow and a soothing light surrounded the room. Then Agnes heard the music, “In the Mood.” As she squinted she saw a figure coming out of the light.

It was Hank in his Navy dress whites — just like the first time she saw him. He tipped his hat, took it off and in a sweeping motion of his arm bowed toward Agnes. He then extended his hand toward her. Agnes reached out and took it. They looked into each other eyes and began to dance to “In he Mood.” It was dance that would go on forever.

 

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Pop’s Gift

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Sad and lonely senior man with nurse

By Al L., Philadelphia, PA

“Smile for Mommy. C’mon Emma, smile for Mommy,” Maggie called to her four month old daughter. As if she understood her mother, baby Emma smiled. It was probably gas. Maggie clicked her cell phone to get the picture.

She would add it to a special ornament. It was silver ornament in the shape of a gift box, with a silver bow on top. Each side of the box had a space for a picture. On one side was the grainy black and white of her grandmother as a child. On the second side was her mother in washed-out 1960’s era Kodachrome. On the third side was her picture, a true Kodak moment as a child of 7 showing a wide smile with no front teeth. On the fourth and final side would be Baby Emma’s picture.

Four generations represented on one ornament.  The perfect gift for her grandfather. Even though it had been years since Pop’s dementia had started and his slow spiral from “sharp as a tack” to “not knowing people’s names” was complete, it was still worth it to help Pop put the ornament on the tree.

Maggie put the baby’s picture on the final side, grabbed her coat and Baby Emma and headed to her mother’s house. After her grandmother had died, Pop had moved in with her mother and father when he started to fail. He was a guest in the house, not knowing that the woman and man who lived with him and who he saw every day were his daughter and son-in-law.

He just accepted that they were there, not really knowing who they were. Never really engaging in conversation. Just sitting in his chair watching TV. Most days he just smiled at them and said nothing.

It had been several years since he called any family members by their names. But each Christmas Maggie and her mother would unwrap the ornament and point out the people and tell Pop who was on the ornament. Maggie would start the conversation, “This is Rachel, your wife, when she was a child. On this side is Mary, your daughter. And this is Maggie — that’s me. And guess what Pop? One day when I have a baby — your great grandchild, I will put her picture on the other side.”

Pop would just smile and repeat the names with Maggie, more of a rote response rather than showing an understanding. Each year Maggie would go through the same ritual and together they would hang the ornament on the tree. She would kiss Pop and hug him, holding back a tear.

Her mother opened the door for Maggie when she arrived, grabbing Baby Emma and joyously almost squeezed the life out her granddaughter. Maggie put down the diaper bag, the snap-in car seat, the bag with bottles and what seemed like a hundred accessories for the baby, not even having time to take off her coat. She went over to Pop who was sitting in the easy chair with his feet up staring at the TV. She put the ornament on the table next to Pop and lovingly kissed his head.

Sostegno e aiuto a persone anziane

“Here mom, let me bring the baby over to Pop.” Mary reluctantly let go of the baby.

“Here she is Pop. Emma. Your great granddaughter.” Maggie gently placed Emma on Pop’s lap.

“Hello beautiful baby,” he said to her. Baby Emma looked up at Pop and smiled. “Oh, what a lovely smile you’re giving me.” Pop caressed the baby’s cheeks with his well worn hands. “You most certainly are a beautiful baby.” Pop then lifted his finger to his lips, kissed it and then placed his finger on the baby’s lips.”This is for you, Emma.” The baby stared at Pop and reached up and grabbed the finger that was still on her lips. “What a beautiful baby,” Pop repeated. His face was glowing. A look that neither Mary or Maggie had seen in years.

With the Baby Emma holding his finger, Pop looked at Maggie. “Where’s the ornament Maggie? Is it time to hang it up?” he asked.

Stunned, both Maggie and Mary, wide-eyed and mouths open, exchanged excited looks. ” Think it would look good just below the angel?” Pop asked. Pop looked at his daughter and granddaughter and great granddaughter staring at him in amazement.

“Maggie. Mary. Where do you think? Where we should put the ornament?” He looked at pictures on it. “All of you, in one place. Rachel, Mary, Maggie and Emma.”

Mary took the baby from Pop’s lap while Maggie took his hand to help him out of the chair. “Let’s hang the ornament Pop,” she said. Together Maggie and Pop placed the ornament at the highest branch of the tree, right under the angel.

“That’s a great spot you thought of Pop.”

“Yep, looks good. A great place for me to see all my girls.”

Pop sat in his chair and looked at Mary holding Baby Emma.

What a beautiful baby,” he said. “Baby Emma.”

Maggie and Mary both began to cry. Pop looked at them.

“What a beautiful family,” he said.

The two women hugged and kissed him while he held Baby Emma.

Four generations.

“Oh, Pop. Pop I love you,” Maggie said.

“I  love you too, Maggie.”

Nobody said anything for several minutes.

It was Pop who broke the silence. “This is a beautiful baby. What did you say her name was?”

“Emma”

“Oh, yeah. I forgot?”

A silence crept into the room.

“Baby Emma, you say?” Pop asked.

Maggie shook her head. “And .. are you her mother?”

“Maggie, Pop. I’m Maggie.”

“Oh, OK.”

“And who is she?” he asked pointing to his daughter Mary.

“That’s your daughter Mary,” Maggie answered, holding back her tears.

“And who is this beautiful baby?”

Maggie and Mary began to cry. For one moment, one bright Christmas moment, they had their precious father and grandfather back. It was a moment they could hold on to. And every year Maggie and Baby Emma  continued the tradition and went back to the house to hang the ornament. Pop would hold the baby while Maggie would point to each picture on the ornament and tell Pop who everyone was.

And Pop would smile and say “What a beautiful baby.”

 

“A World Without Alzheimer’s Disease.”  Can we reach it in our lifetime? Find out more and see how you can help by visiting the Alzheimer’s Association website at www.alz.org.

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Just a Little Taste of Sambuca

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bike_and_sambuca

As told by Brittany, South Jersey

It really wasn’t an ornament — it was actually a tiny bottle of Sambuca — empty of course. The kind of small sampler that they sell in the State Store. (That’s a liquor store for all you non-Pennsylvanians.) Or is served on an airplane.

The ornament reminds me of my Uncle Jim. He wasn’t my “Uncle” in the traditional sense, but he was my father’s best friend and my Godfather. He called me “his pixie” and was about the best Uncle anyone ever had — giving me money, buying special gifts for every birthday and holiday – fun gifts like games and toys – not clothes.

Every Christmas Eve, after my brother and I had fallen fast asleep, Uncle Jim and my dad would spend the night putting together those special toys from  my mom and dad. Let’s say that Dad and Uncle Jim made sure that a real full-sized bottle of Sambuca was consumed as they worked through the night.

They put together doll houses. And little kitchen sets. And BIG kitchen sets. And trains for the tree. And forts for my brother.

One year they put together a bike for me. It’s all I wanted that year. Yep. They put it together. Aided by a lot of Sambuca. Then Christmas morning I woke up and screamed a joyous scream as only an 8- year old can scream. It was my bike! The bike I had wanted!

Who cared about all the other gifts. My bike was here! I jumped on it and began to ride around the house. You know how tight it is in a South Philly rowhome? Not much room to zoom around a 14-foot wide house where we had also crammed in a large Christmas tree, mechanized figures of Santa’s elves and a dozens of gifts waiting for the rest of the family to open – but I was loving every bike riding minute of it.

Forget the other gifts that Santa had left. They didn’t matter this year. This year I had the bike! Dad took out the big movie camera with the bank of lights lighting up the whole house so they could capture every excited look on my face showing off my bike and gap-toothed smile.

And then they caught something else on film. My complete shock when the training wheels fell off my bike causing me to crash to the ground. I felt myself falling… tumbling … crashing. I reached for anything to break my fall. That’s when I grabbed the first thing I could reach…..

…the first thing…

…that would be the Christmas tree. And it didn’t help keep me up on the bike. Or stop my fall.

The beautifully decorated tree — garland, tinsel, ornaments, lights —  followed me to the ground as I fell, hitting with a loud thud and crash. I screamed. My mom screamed. My baby brother screamed. I got up crying, “Look at my bike! Look at my bike!”

Ornaments broken. Garland unraveled. The bike half on me, half off.

My mom rushed to see if I was OK. Dad — well Dad dropped the camera and was on the phone in seconds to Uncle Jim who only lived a few blocks away. “Jim, we need you at the house — the bike is broke and the tree fell down!”

Uncle Jim came over in a flash with only his PJs and a weather-beaten robe. He took a quick look at the situation.

“Looks like we can fix this up,” he said. And then his perfect follow up, “But first — do you have any Sambuca?”

That was just the thing to get Mom and Dad smiling. The bike was fixed. The tree was put up — the holiday was saved. And as a special remembrance of that Christmas Uncle Jim had an ornament made of an empty Sambuca bottle.

We don’t get to see Uncle Jim that often anymore. He moved to Nevada away from the chilly Philly winters. He said he wanted to be near his money which was lost in the sports betting parlors in Las Vegas. But we do toast the Christmas holiday with Sambuca every year.

Now that I have a family and a tree of my own, my parents passed that Sambuca ornament to me. I hang it on the tree every year and remember Uncle Jim and the crazy Christmas when the bike broke and the tree came down.

Each year the U.S. Marine Corp does a fantastic job with its Toys For Tots effort — collecting and delivering toys for those children who may not otherwise receive anything for Christmas. See how you can help by visiting www.toysfortots.org

 

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Beethoven’s 9th

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Vintage room with black piano, Christmas tree, candles, gifts  or presents and decoration

By Bernie S., Upper Darby, PA

A baby grand piano ornament — black and shiny — reminds me of my love for Beethoven. I play in my local community orchestra. One year we decided to do Beethoven’s 9th symphony. One of the greatest pieces of music ever written.

We practiced almost every night wanting to get it right for the spring concert at the community center. The practice times were tough as I needed to work around my schedule as a pharmacist at our local super drug store. You know them — they have taken over every community and have everything from marshmallows to fishing rods.

The piano was my sideline. My parents paid for lessons and I faithfully took them, never really embracing the piano. I tinkered. I dabbled. I enjoyed playing for friends much of the popular music and also Christmas carols for the family.

Classical music was not my interest either. That was not until I saw my first Electric Light Orchestra concert. As the band opened and I saw the first lasers hit the cello and explode in bright colors and designs I was hooked. Mixing rock and classical music. I began migrating from exclusively going to rock concerts at the Spectrum to the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Academy of Music.

 

music_notes

I bounced from ELO to Verdi. From Pink Floyd to Wagner. From Jethro Tull to Tchaikovsky. From Yes to Vivaldi. But I never fully respected the piano or music until I went to see the Philadelphia Orchestra when it played Beethoven’s ninth symphony.

Wow. The tempo. The changes in mood. The lively strings. The constancy of the piano. Everything was perfect. As perfect a piece of music as I had heard. I went home that night and began playing on the piano. Digging through  my music. Tossing aside dozens of other pieces. Mozart — love him, but not now. Schubert. Classy. Not now. Brahms. Please — make me fall asleep. I needed to find Beethoven.

I knew I had it. I needed to find it while I was still inspired. Finally tossing aside composer after composer. Popular music. Big band music. Broadway show scores.

I was starting to get frantic — I knew I had it — somewhere.

I found it! An almost brand new copy of the music — Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. I tore at the book. Sat at the upright, old piano in my house and began playing. And playing. And playing. Oh man was it great. I could feel each note. Hear each nuance. Understand what Beethoven was trying to communicate.

From that moment I dedicated  myself to knowing the music. Playing it with my heart and soul. Our local community orchestra was going to perform the symphony. I auditioned and earned the right to play the piano. I invited family, friends, co-workers to see me.

It was a great night. Packed house. The hours of practice would be worth it. The orchestra was perfect that night. Every note.  Every movement. Every fortissimo and pianissimo was right on. Each point and counterpoint executed to perfection.

Our conductor had a local grade school choir sing “Joyful. Joyful,” forgoing the traditional “Ode to Joy” — it absolutely brought the house down. I can say that I was filling up as the kids sang and me and my fellow musicians brought the symphony to its close.

Joyful, joyful, we adore You,

God of glory, Lord of love;

Hearts unfold like flow’rs before You,

Op’ning to the sun above.

Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;

Drive the dark of doubt away;

Giver of immortal gladness,

Fill us with the light of day!

 

All Your works with joy surround You,

Earth and heav’n reflect Your rays,

Stars and angels sing around You,

Center of unbroken praise;

Field and forest, vale and mountain,

Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,

Chanting bird and flowing fountain

Praising You eternally!

 

Always giving and forgiving,

Ever blessing, ever blest,

Well-spring of the joy of living,

Ocean-depth of happy rest!

Loving Father, Christ our Brother,

Let Your light upon us shine;

Teach us how to love each other,

Lift us to the joy divine.

 

Mortals, join the mighty chorus,

Which the morning stars began;

God’s own love is reigning o’er us,

Joining people hand in hand.

Ever singing, march we onward,

Victors in the midst of strife;

Joyful music leads us sunward

In the triumph song of life.

The crowd loved it. I loved it. The other members of the orchestra loved it. The kids loved it.

That night I WAS Beethoven! Someday I will get that baby grand piano to play. But until then I will have my black, shiny baby grand piano ornament to remind me of the night I played Beethoven’s Ninth symphony.

 

Music is one of the most wonderful aspects of the holiday season — and in any season. Settlement Music School’s mission is to provide the highest quality instruction in music and the related arts to children and adults, regardless of age, background, ability or economic circumstances. Settlement’s broad range of programs, taught by highly credentialed and dedicated faculty, help students achieve artistic, educational and social goals.

Learn more about Settlement Music School at www.smsmusic.org

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