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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Party Animal ???





Yule is almost here.  For many, it is a time of holiness, remembrance, future planning, and feasting.  Everybody like s to have a good time, but I don't know of any person who wants to be in the company of a drunken fool, a glutton, or a moron.  But let's be honest; when enough alcohol is consumed, all of us easily can put ourselves in the fore-mentioned categories   And that would be really bad form.  The Havamal is an old collection of common sense wisdom that many of the ancient northern European  cultures followed and had put to good use.  This wisdom is just as valid and useful today.  Let's take a look.

When you are invited to a person's home for a Yule celebration (or for that matter, any), you enter that person's home as his guest.  And that home is that person's castle, so remember, the host invited you or you would not be there; the invitation evokes a silent trust that puts certain responsibilities into your hands.  The host provides special food, drink, other comforts, and possibly entertainment for your pleasure.  Therefore, it is incumbent on you to do two things:  first, gift the host with something that shows your appreciation for his hospitality.  This does not need to be a thing of a costly amount; sometimes the simplest of things will do.  The second is to discipline your personal behavior.  Concerning these particular behavioral circumstances, we can take a hint or two from the Havamal.*

Verse 7 - A careful guest who comes to sumble (a certain kind of ritual, or for that matter, any kind of invitation) should listen and learn; listen close and look around you, this way you stay safe from harm.*
My take - Here is an opportunity to learn from others by keeping your mouth shut.  This way, you cannot harm yourself by showing your ignorance (or stupidity) when talking about something you know little or nothing about.

Verse 33 - A man should eat early before coming to a feast, or else, he comes and stuffs himself as if he were starving, rudely ignoring the folk around him. (Also see verses 20 and 21)*
My take - Nobody likes a glutton; the host does not have and endless supply of food and drink.  If you behave in this manner, you deprive others who have not had a taste or two.  So, it makes sense to temper your appetite with a small meal before visiting your host.  And, know when the hell it's time to go home.  Your host invited you for a few hours; tucking your host and his family into bed is just not cool, and  rarely does the invitation extend to breakfast.

Verse 12 - Regardless of what you think, too much drinking is bad for you:  the more you drink, the dumber you become.*
My take - Alcohol loosens lips that otherwise should remain closed.  Nobody likes a drunken moron.  If you behave in this manner, you disrespect your host and give him just cause for not being invited back.  All that you can hope to gain from drunken moronic behavior is ridicule from your peers and a DUI from your friendly neighborhood police department.  And really, who needs that?

* All quotes from.....Havamal - The Words of the High One, by James Hjuka Coulter, @2007 Third Edition.  Published by:  Irminen - Gesellschaft.

This is still the best rendition of the Havamal that I've ever read.  Thank you Hjuka, where ever you are.


                                                  Copyright @2012 Terry Unger





 





   

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Snows of Yule - A Different Kind of Holiday Tale

         

                           The Snows of Yule – A Different Kind of Holiday Tale   

What if the season of Christmas, for various reasons, did not exist as we know it today?   What if the season that it replaced, Yuletide, was still celebrated and enjoyed by its adherents?  Maybe something like this short story could happen.  
                                                  
                          
The snow started to fall early on that late December day.  By the noon hour, radio host Arthur Godfrey had warned his listening audience about the hazards of holiday travel in such hazardous weather.  But the kids loved it!  Everywhere the eye could see, snowmen were rising from the Earth, as if some weird invasion had taken place.  That new vacation phenomenon, skiing in the Catskills and Pocono mountains, was having a boom year.  And, this was the third snowfall in an already frigid winter.
Sam Weyland wanted no part of it; no part of the holiday season and no part of the damned snow.  For Sam, a holiday was just another day, and the snow brought back unpleasant memories to his mind.  It was in the Ardennes Forest, during late December 1944, when Sam learned to hate the white death.  Funny thing about war; it takes the farm boys and city boys, rich and poor, and mixes them together in circumstances where only survival is the paramount concern.  In pitched battle, boys are baptized men, leaving their youth scattered on every acre; war draws men close, leaving them bothers in blood.
It was in a snow like this that three of Sam’s brothers-in-arms were taken from him during the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest. It isn't fair, he thought; first my parents then my comrades.  As he shook his head in disgust, he wondered if being close to anyone was worth it.  But enough of the unpleasant memories, he thought, as he tried to dismiss them.  Sam had something to celebrate, and planned it for weeks.  He was promoted to Executive Vice President of Manufacturing for Weyland Steel and that was his reason to celebrate.  He had earned that promotion, and never asked for help from any god or man.
As he closed his desk drawer, Sam thought about his planned evening’s activities.  First, a few well-earned drinks at O’Hara’s and then off to his favorite club where he would be served his favorite meal, Prime Rib, just like his mother used to make many years ago.  He allowed his staff to leave early, thereby dispensing with the only holiday amenity that he was responsible for.  Sam left by the rear stairwell and easily avoided the holiday well wishes of those who attended Weyland Steel’s annual Yuletide party.  Once on the street, his only thoughts were that of O’Hara’s and his prime rib dinner.  Sam reasoned that the holidays served a purpose for him; he had a day off to recuperate from a hangover.  And, Sam planned on getting quite drunk.  But he was roused out of his personal bliss when a young voice called out,   “Hey Mister! Hey Mister! How ‘bout a shine Mister!” 
Sam turned and saw the person who had the nerve to bother him.  It was a boy, not much more than ten years old.  Nose running, patched pants, wet with snow and the little imp had the balls to ask him if he wanted his shoes shined - in a snowstorm!  Sam just starred down at the kid, unable to speak.
            “Hey Mister, are you deaf?  I asked you if you wanted a shine. So, how ‘bout it?”
“Are you insane boy,” Sam managed to get out, “how do you expect to shine my shoes in this weather?”  
 The youth countered with, “Hey Bud, I’ll make you a deal.  For fifteen cents, that’s my lowest price, I’ll give you a shine you won’t soon forget! Honest! My momma always says honesty and hard work always pays off! So how ‘bout that shine Mister?”  Sam had enough; he was late for his self- appointed celebration.  “Get lost boy. I’m late for an appointment!”  He turned and started to walk away; he tasted O’Hara’s on his tongue.
“Please wait Mister! You don’t understand!  All I need is fifteen cents more and I can get my momma the gift for Yule she really wants!”   The boy suddenly slipped on the snow packed sidewalk and grabbed Sam’s overcoat sleeve for support.
The sudden pull on his sleeve had pulled Sam off balance. In the process of steadying himself, Sam’s eyes met the boy’s.  Sam had never seen eyes like that!  They burned with an intense something that Sam could not put his finger on.  But he felt that it was something worthy and good. 
 “ OK kid,” Sam said, “you can shine my shoes but be quick about it! I’m already late!”
 In the shadows stood a tall, thin figure, who intently watched the exchange between Sam and the boy.
The lad then proceeded to clean off a bench and instructed Sam to sit down. The boy did his job well; Sam thought it was a great shine!  But those eyes!  “What’s your name son,” Sam asked in a relaxed tone.
“Why do yah need to know, Mister,” replied the boy with some annoyance in his voice.
“Well,” Sam said, “Why not?   I just let you shine my shoes in a blizzard.  You provided me with a service.  People who do business together should at least know each other by their first name!  So, what’s yours?”   “It’s Phillip. Phillip Mann. Now how ‘bout my fifteen cents; it’s gettin’ late.”  “Oh very well,” Sam said as he handed Phillip the required fee.  “You know young man; I have half a mind to tell your father what a smart mouth you have!”
“You’d have a gawds awful time doing that Mister.  My dad’s dead.  He died in the war fightin’ the Japanese.  Killed ten days before I was born so I don’t even know the guy.  But momma and me get along just fine.  She cleans houses for the rich people and I shine shoes.  Well I gotta go! See yah around town!”  Phillip then added, “Have a nice holiday Mister,” as he walked away.
Sam was numb.  Bad memories flooded him with raw emotion; memories of a man who came to the old family home and brought news of his father.  Bill Weyland, Sam’s father, had enlisted in the Army to fight with General “Black Jack” Pershing’s Expeditionary Force headed for WWI Europe.  Bill was idealistically imbued with the idea that once the Kaiser heard that the Americans were coming to fight in Europe, he would surrender immediately.  Fat chance, as history proved.  Sam could still see the man, dressed in a gray flannel suit, as he tried to calm his mother and explain to her that her husband Bill Weyland was indeed dead.  The rest Sam put into an intentional fog.  His father was killed in an artillery barrage and was buried somewhere in France.  Soon after the word arrived of his father’s death, Sam’s mother became sickly and passed on. Growing up, he was told that his mother had died of a broken heart.  Sam’s grandfather became the guiding force in his life, and tried to fill the void created by missing parents.  But that void lacked the nurturing essence that only a mother can give a young boy.  But, there was the money. 
The Weyland fortune was made ages ago when Franz Weyland first set foot in America and traded with the American Indians and early settlers. The Weyland family moved into land speculation, gold, imports and exports, and finally manufacturing.  But with all this money Sam felt that something was missing; his wallet was full but his heart was empty.
            Somehow with all that churning in his head, Sam managed to stumble forward and found his first stop - O’Hara’s.  He surmised that several stiff drinks would wash away those memories, if only temporarily.  But, temporary was good for now.  Sam enjoyed drinking to excess; it put him into a state of oblivion.  It took away the memories - usually.  However, on that December night, he polished off his third drink and could still see the piercing intensity of Phillip Mann’s eyes.  Sam could not understand why they stirred his brain like scrambled eggs.  He glanced at his watch; it was time to leave.  He didn’t want to be late for his dinner at the club.  At least there he could finish his alcohol bath with food.  As he pulled on his over coat and exited O’Hara’s, Sam noticed that there were three available taxis.  But for no particular reason, he chose to walk.    That same stranger, the same stranger who observed his actions with Phillip Mann, followed him at a careful distance, and watched Sam’s every move. 
           The walk from O’Hara’s to the Executive Club was only three city blocks long; not a terribly great distance but just enough to make this exclusive hideaway a respectable habitation for the Lords of Big Business.  Rumor had it, at least among the working stiffs, that the entrance requirements were deep; you needed really deep pockets.  Moreover, the eagles of big business needed a retreat from their labors and a respectable one at that.  Things like public drunkenness and other debauchery could cost a member his pass key and, peer ridicule.  That’s why the club had its “private quarters.”  If a man of means had to have a mistress, he brought her to the club, not Main Street; it was a safe place for the wealthy to be naughty.  Sam had trouble with those made-made social axioms; they smacked of hypocrisy.  Those axioms that condemned certain behavior but “winked” at the same under certain ‘peerage control,’ usually sent Sam into a rage.   He often thought that social strata determined what is right and what is wrong under the microscope of money:  what a rich man could get away with would send a working stiff to jail.  At those times when his emotions flowed, he swore that he was crazy, but an inner voice always guided him to right action.  It was that voice in his head that had told him to duck just before the machine gun spit out its death and claimed his comrades in the Ardennes.  But as usual when his grief and anger were spent, Sam figured out that he wasn't crazy, at least not yet. 
The three block walk seemed to be miles long in the heavy, blowing snow.  As Sam came closer to the intersection, he saw the stately lights of the Executive Club, as they dimly illuminated the street and the surrounding buildings.  Voices, one young and one old, came from the direction of Tom Watson’s General Store.
Watson’s store was the envy of most of the town merchants.  In Watson’s store, a man could find the finest toys, chocolates from Europe, clothing, and various other “nifty” things to place under a holiday tree.  The yelling made Sam think that Watson was being robbed.  Running as fast as he could, Sam did not find a robbery taking place, but young Phillip Mann with a tear stained face trying to persuade a flustered Tom Watson to re-open his store.  “Evening Tom,” Sam said breathlessly.  “Is everything all right?”   “Not in the least,” Tom replied with a bit of anger in his voice.  “Here it is, the last day of business before the holidays, I’m closed till New Years, and this kid wants me to re-open my place!  I’ve got a wife and son waiting for me upstairs with a fancy dinner that’s getting cold!”
           “Now Tom,” Sam said, using his most persuasive voice, “I know this young man, and he can be quite persistent.  It’s very important to him to make his purchase.  Besides going upstairs and having dinner, what’s it really gonna cost you, this weather?   Another five minutes?  Come on Tom, give the kid a break!  Your wife will keep your dinner warm.”  Tom Watson looked at Phillip.  He surmised that the boy couldn’t be much younger or older than my son Bill.  “Oh well, it is the holidays,” he said, and broke in to a huge grin that could melt Jack Frost’s heart.  Sam followed the boy and the merchant into the store.  Those eyes, again with those eyes!  Even filled with tears, they radiated an indistinguishable something that still had Sam puzzled and filled with unfamiliar feelings.
Phillip moved quickly to a counter in the rear of the store.  There, on a table marked ‘clearance,’ he found what he was looking for.  It was a small box, no bigger than four by six inches, and covered with seashells.
“Ah! A fine choice young man,” crackled Tom.
“Yeah, my momma is gonna love it!  She just said the other day she don’t have anythin’
for her hair combs but she sure does now!  Ain't that right Mister?  Hey Mister, HEY MISTER!
You go deaf on me again?”  Phillip tugged on Sam’s coat sleeve to make sure that Sam was aware of his satisfaction.  Sam heard the boy just fine; clear as a bell.  But he was in another world, a world deep within himself.  He swore that he would never, never again become emotionally involved with another person; too much pain and too many rotten memories. 
“Hey Mister, you OK?” the boy managed to blurt out as he yanked even harder on Sam’s coat sleeve.
“I’m alright Phillip.  It’s just something that my good friend O'Hara can quickly cure.”  The thought of a few more stiff drinks rapidly passed through Sam’s mind. 
            Tom Watson finished wrapping Phillip’s gift and crowned it with a bright red ribbon. Both men then watched as the boy scurried off with his prize.  As Tom pulled on his overcoat, he noticed some emotion in Sam Weyland’s face.  Was the guy capable of any emotion at all?  Well, it is Yule, Tom reasoned, and pleasant memories can be made at this time of year with the simplest of things.  Maybe Sam had a heart in his chest after all, Tom mused.  Sam led Tom out the door so the store owner could properly lock up for the holiday.
Then a strange thing occurred.  Sam Weyland, the man who found holidays utterly useless, wished Tom and his family a Happy Holiday and a prosperous Yuletide!  He even said it with feeling. Oh gawds, Sam moaned to himself.  What has that kid done to me?   He’s turned me inside out!
           Without warning, the voice, that same voice that had saved his life in the Ardennes years ago, spoke in his head and told him to find the boy; follow the tracks in the snow and your questions would be answered.  Sam’s experience in matters regarding this inner voice was simple. Go along with it and things work out just fine; like the Ardennes. Go against it and the results were not good.  Dutifully he set out on this quest, not knowing what he might find or where his search would end.  As he rounded the corner, Sam walked into a tall thin man who wore a wide brimmed hat.  The stranger seemed to point to a patched eye with one hand as he grasped his walking staff with the other.  With a gruff voice, the stranger spoke to Sam and said, “Wonderful weather for this Holy Day isn’t it?  And by the way Sam, I hope that you find what you truly want and desire this Yule.”  With a wily laugh the stranger turned the corner.  Sam turned on his heels to answer the stranger but he could not find him in the blinding snow.  Moreover, Sam knew that he must continue to follow the boy’s footprints.  The snow was furious, and the wind had picked up; those footprints would soon be covered.  Finally, he reached his destination.
            Sullivan’s Row stood out in stark contrast to the rest of the town.  The wealthy were not familiar with this part of their world; it was a part of the city that they had chosen to ignore. Streets with names like Front, Race, Wire, and Railroad held within their boundaries row houses that gave this particular neighborhood part of its name.  Sullivan, whoever he was, was lost in memory.  The row houses twisted and turned up and down their respective streets, with a banality that was only duplicated by the sameness of each house.  In all of his days, Sam Weyland had never set foot in this part of town.  He often wondered about life and conditions here.  Sam meant to visit one day and see for himself, first hand, what life was like here for the poor of his community.  A few times at the Club, he brought up his desire to visit Sullivan’s Row to his peers.  His peers chided him, and reminded him that Sullivan’s row was no place for a man of means.  But that night of questing in the snow was different.  In the snow, Phillip’s tracks ended on Race Street, in front of house number 333.
Sam was not one to sit back and wait for things to happen; he made things happen.  That was one of the reasons why he became the youngest Vice President of Manufacturing in the history of Weyland Steel.  The other, of course, was his surname, Weyland.
Sam knew that he must knock to gain the answers to the questions that he sought.  Boldly, he hammered on the plain wood door three times.  A light was lit in the front room, symbolic of the things to come.  A slight figure approached the door and slowly unlocked it, while at the same time searching the night through a small window in the door for the source of the knocks.  Finally, the door slightly opened and a strong but feminine voice asked, “Yes, who is there and what do you want?”
            Sam stepped closer to the door and said, “Good evening, Madam. I was wondering….”
           “You have some nerve mister, it’s the supper hour on a holiday night and here you are trying to sell a poor woman some worthless trash!”
           “Please Madam, I’m not a salesman but…..”
           “Don’t you have a family to be with tonight instead of bothering me?”
Sam swallowed hard; the words seemed to stick in his throat.  But, he managed to choke out a few words and said, “Please, please, let me explain.  I’m not a salesman and I didn't mean to disturb you.  I just wanted to see that your son got home safely, that’s all.  He seems to be a special boy who cares deeply for you.  I’ll go now and leave you in peace.  Oh, and to the last question, the answer is no. I don’t have a family, good night.”   Sam turned and started to walk away.
         The woman in the doorway was not without compassion.  This was a commodity she was known for in Sullivan’s Row.  Many times the poorest of the poor had found their way to her home and were warmed by her parlor stove and ate from her table.  To turn away a stranger was against her beliefs of hospitality and generosity.  To turn away a stranger who was concerned about her son’s welfare on this cold winter’s night or any night, was unthinkable to her.
“Sir, Mister, please wait! Why don’t you come inside for a while?  You must be chilled to the bone!  I’ll put on a pot of fresh coffee to warm you.”  For reasons he did not understand at that moment, Sam accepted this offer over his previous plans.  He followed the slight figure of the woman into the house and felt the warmth of a home.  The wind had picked up and was howling wildly.  “Please forgive me for being so rude.  My name is Catherine Mann.  Please, sir why don’t you sit down and relax.  I don’t believe that you mentioned your name.”
The full light of the parlor gave Sam the opportunity to see Catherine in full view for the first time.  My gawds, he thought.  Those eyes!  She has that something just like her son Phillip. Those eyes radiate, speak things, and are alive with life! The subtle light of the kitchen silhouetted her figure, a figure which any artist would gladly have used as his model. Sam was stunned and he began to mumble.
“I’m sorry sir, I didn't hear you,” she said as she passed him a tray of freshly baked cookies.  “What did you say your name was again?”
“I’m the one who should be sorry,” replied Sam.  “My name is Sam Weyland but please Mrs. Mann, call me Sam.”
“Only if you would please call me Catherine, and now the coffee’s done.  I’ll be right back!”
Another strange feeling overcame Sam.  He felt comfortable with Catherine, like he knew her so well but yet, they had just met.  He also noticed the lack of a Yule tree and log for the fireplace.  It was obvious to him that Catherine could not afford either.  How sad, he thought, for this mother and son to not have any Yule greenery.  The first cup of that black brew tasted like more and before they realized it, the pot was empty and they knew each other’s life story.  Never before had Sam been so able to open up his thoughts and feelings to another person.  In a short span of time the couple drinking coffee knew each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and desires. Sam surprised himself.  He never cared to discuss his feelings, let alone his life.  But with Catherine, everything seemed just right and natural.  Catherine, who was used to talking to people about various things, felt a strong attraction to this man, a man who she had just met.  She always saw the best in people regardless of their station in life, but this was different.  In front of her she saw a man of wealth and means in distress because of anger and grief.  But Catherine also saw a man who had goodness in his heart but had difficulty in getting it out.  As she looked at Sam she wondered why she felt so attracted to him.  Sam could bear it no longer.  It had started with the first footstep into Catherine’s home.  That feeling grew within him as if it might burst if he didn't get it out.  Finally, he interrupted Catherine by asking, “Please Catherine, hear me out.  This might seem like an odd request to you but please let me do this.  I never had a family to call my own.  I never felt the joy and blessing of Yule as an adult.  Let me go now, but I promise to return.  When I do, regardless of what is with me, or the hour, please let me into your home again.  I know it’s late, but please Catherine, grant me this small privilege.”
She saw the urgent look in his eyes and felt the energy that radiated from him.  Catherine wasn't quite sure what he was talking about, but decided that she could trust this man.  Finally, after what for Sam felt like an eternity, her steady but silent gaze broke and she said, “Yes, Sam, I’ll wait up for you. But go now, it’s getting late and the storm is getting worse.”   Sam reached out for her hand and kissed it.  For the first time that Sam could remember, he was happy. He dashed out of the house, coat, and hat in hand, knowing exactly what he wanted to do.
As he ran, the cold air filled his lungs.  Sam felt like he was purified.  Finding a taxi on a night like this would be difficult, he reasoned, but there one stood, ready and waiting.  The hack driver had the kind of face that Sam had seen so often in the streets; plain without any distinguishing characteristics except for the thick, red hair and beard.  “Hey Cabbie, how would you like to earn a fat bonus for some extra work tonight,” Sam said with some jovial persuasion.
           “Mister,” the cabbie replied, “My job is to take you where you want to go, that’s all.  Now, where do you want to go, Bud?”   Sam reached inside his pants pocket and found his wallet.  He reached inside and pulled out a hundred dollar bill.  He pressed it into the cabbies hand and said, “Here’s that bonus.  No joke!”
The cabbies face lit up like a heat lamp.  “ OK, Mister, I don’t know how with the snow and all but for this I’ll take you anywhere you want!”
“Well alright,” Sam chortled, “First things first.  Let’s find a great Evergreen tree and a Yule log!”  The cabbie earned his bonus that night.  Knowing the streets and people of the town made his task simpler.  In no time at all, the cabbie brought Sam to a street vendor’s shack where he purchased a beautiful six foot fir tree and the last Yule log.  As he got back into the taxi, Sam thought that he smelled goats.  He had no idea why; this was the city and not a barnyard.
The next step on Sam’s agenda was the Executive Club, where he easily convinced the club steward to sell him six pounds of uncooked prime rib.  Sam reveled in the simplicity of it all.  Money was like a tool; in the right hands it can bring benefits to many, but in the wrong hands, it can bring pain and suffering.  Sam was aware of the history of the latter.  In the back seat of the taxi, sandwiched between the tree, the log, and the beef, Sam was oblivious to the cabbie’s ramblings.  The sudden thought of gifts flashed across his mind.  Tom Watson’s face appeared in his consciousness like a cold wave that splashed the beach, and what luck, Sam thought as he smiled broadly.  Watson’s store was just across the street!
Everyone in town knew that Tom Watson and his family lived above his store so that he could be close to his business.  Sam realized that it was late, but he had to take the chance of disturbing Tom and his family. As he stepped out of the taxi, Sam instructed the driver to wait. As he crossed the street, he smelled the odor of goats again.  This was not the time to investigate farm animals in town, he rationalized.  He had to rouse Tom. 
Tom Watson was reading the evening newspaper when he heard three sharp knocks on his door.  Who on earth could it be at this hour, he wondered?   As he opened the door, Tom was shocked.  There stood Sam Weyland, smiling, and Sam was not one to smile, even drunk.  If any other person had asked Tom Watson to open his store for a private purchase on that snow-blind night, Tom would have laughed in his face and slammed the door.  However, this was not just any other man. Tom knew that Sam did not ask for help or look for favors.  But that was not why Tom Watson agreed to honor the request. He saw something in Sam’s eyes that he first saw that afternoon, but now, it had consumed the big man who filled his doorway.  It was as if Sam was reclaimed from hell.  There was a glow about the man, Tom recognized. Something or somebody, a miracle, reached out and touched this man. It appeared to Tom that Sam Weyland had a reason to live and to not just exist.
For Sam, that shopping spree was a new experience.  In the past, he had bought what he needed for himself, but buying for others he found perplexing.  As Tom watched Sam, he thought it was like watching a boy let loose in a penny candy store with a dollar to spend. Watson saw the playfulness and wonder of a child; something we all have, but keep it bottled up. Tom suggested a fine satin dress for Catherine. It was silky smooth with light ruffles on the sleeves and collar.  The blue material would set off the color of her eyes.  That sold Sam on the purchase.  Now for Phillip!  Two pairs of pants, a warm jacket and gloves - yes gloves so that his hands would stay warm.  And, some great flannel shirts to go with the pants.  But what was the Yuletide holiday without some toys for the kids?  Sam bought the American Flyer train set with the whistle and the talking station, and logs, Lincoln Logs, and the Erector Set.  For Catherine and Phillip, Yuletide had arrived in the person of Sam Weyland.
Price was not an issue for Sam, and Tom Watson could not wrap the gifts as fast as Sam bought them.  Finally finished, Tom helped Sam carry the gifts to the waiting taxi.  The two men bid each other a good night and another round of “Happy Holidays.”  Tom felt really good inside.  He felt like he had witnessed the birth of a new man in Sam Weyland, and he could not wait to tell the news to his wife.  Sam gave the directions to the cabbie, “333 Race Street and as fast as humanly possible please!”  The cabbie just smiled at the 'humanly possible' part of the directions.
Sam felt absolutely terrific!  For the first time in longer than he dared remember, he had deep seated feelings for another person; not just one, but two.   What startled him was that he really wanted to care; he wanted to take the chance and let people into his life.  Sam was ready to risk heartache again.  At that moment, he understood that when hearts reach out, past hurts can be put aside, and that a man needed live and love in the present; living in the past was wrong.   
The cabbie had done his job well.  In what had appeared to Sam as a blink of an eye, his driver brought him to the requested address.  He helped Sam clear off the snow from the porch steps, and together they unloaded the taxi.  Sam paid the fare and tipped the driver another fifty dollars.  The cabbie tried to refuse but Sam would hear nothing of it.  “By the way,” Sam said, “what’s your name?” 
“Folks in these parts just call me Don,” the driver replied.  “It’s short for Donnar.  You’re my last fare tonight Bud.  Now it’s time for me to go home to my wife Sibba.  I just know there’s a feast waitin’ for me this night!”  As the taxi sped away the parlor light flashed on and illuminated the porch.
Catherine came to the door and was shocked.  For about one second, the normally vocal woman was speechless.  Finally she managed to say, “Why Sam Weyland! What on this Earth have you done?”
“You promised Catherine, remember?  Now instead of asking me what I did, why don’t you help me get these things inside?  It’s getting really cold out here,” replied a now frigid Sam Weyland.  It seemed like the wind added its own two cents, as it shrieked louder.         
Still numb from all that she saw, Catherine obliged Sam, and together they carried the holiday treasures into the warm house.  Damn it!  Sam remembered that he’d forgotten ornaments for the tree, and began to run for the door.
“And where do you need to go now Sam,” came from the mouth of a very confused Catherine Mann.
“I forgot to get decorations for the tree. I’ll be right back,” Sam said, as he struggled with his overcoat. 
“Now just hold on there big man,” as she gently placed her hand on his chest.  “Come over here and help me.  There is something we need from the hall closet.”  Behind the closet door were stacked two well-worn cardboard boxes.  “This summer I made these, just in case we might get a tree this year.”  From the boxes Catherine pulled out hand crafted tree ornaments, made from paper, cloth, and wood.  How much nicer those are, Sam thought, than the store bought kind.  Those things, he knew, Catherine had made out of hope, the hope for a better day.  Sam was transfixed; he could not take his eyes off of her.  Catherine placed the Yule Log in the fireplace, and it ignited with her first matchstick. Still feeling a little giddy, she thought that she had heard a man laughing heartily outside, but immediately dismissed it as the howling wind.
That night quickly passed, and between pots of coffee and conversation, they trimmed the tree and placed the gifts carefully beneath.   As dawn broke they silently stood together, admiring their work.  Catherine broke their silent tribute by saying, “You’ve been so good to my son and me.  You brought us gifts and a hope for tomorrow.  But we have nothing to put under the tree for you.  It doesn’t seem fair Sam.”  
        Sam was deeply touched by Catherine’s remark.  Here was a poor young mother so concerned that I did not have a gift to unwrap, he thought.  After a pause Sam spoke.  “You’re wrong about that, Catherine.  My gift is seeing that my generosity can bring joy to the recipients and well as to the giver.”  Then Sam took her in his arms; she came willingly.  They shared a passionate kiss that seemed to last for an eternity, only to be interrupted by Phillip’s shrieks.
“Oh man, oh, golly! There really is a Jule Nisse!” (Jule Nisse is an ancient Northern European being who watches over children and the home.  If the children were “good” during the year, the Jule Nisse brought them sweets and gifts.  This is just one of the forms that have morphed into our present day Coca Cola Santa Claus).  But as excited as he was on that particular Yule, Phillip had not forgotten his gift to his mother.  As Catherine carefully unwrapped the box, she knew that it was not empty.  It was filled with Sam’s love.     
            Years had passed since that particular Yule.  The times changed, and so had the luck of many folks; better days had arrived.  Many people said that the person whose luck had changed the most was Sam Weyland.  And Sam, with wife Catherine by his side, had become a dynamic force for good in the community.  After he became President of Weyland Steel, Sam built a new factory that employed most of Sullivan’s Row.   Sam persuaded the city fathers, and his reluctant peers that the community needed a vocational/technical school to educate and train young men and women to enter the industrial world that had sprung up around them.  After he and his wife made a sizable contribution, that school was built, and attended by many.   
The community had grown and got stronger, but, they lacked a public library. Sam and Catherine were well aware of the need for reading.  Within a year of its inception, the community had a new public library, thanks to Sam and Catherine Weyland.
Many folks were amazed at Sam’s generosity and wondered what in the world had happened to him.  One person had the answer.  All you had to do was ask Tom Watson about his friend Sam Weyland and he’d tell you flat out without mincing words.  “Yes sir, Sam’s wife and son, Catherine and Phillip, are the ones responsible for the man he is today.  They just opened the floodgates of his heart and you can see how we all benefit, yes sir!”
This Yule, Sam sat by the fire, absorbed with things past.  Phillip’s Yule gift to his mother of many years ago, the shell encrusted box, was placed neatly on the top of the fireplace mantle.  Catherine was busy in the kitchen, preparing their dinner for Mother’s Night (the day before Winter Solstice - the twelve days of Yule).  The main feature of the night’s feast was prime rib.  Sam had finally accepted the unpleasant things of his past; he did not like what happened, but he realized that those things had helped him to surmount other obstacles, and to understand, that life was meant to be lived to the fullest.  He was happy with his life.  It seemed to him that the more he gave of his wealth, the more he and his family prospered.  The door bell rang. That must be the Watson’s, thought Sam.
Sam greeted his guests and good friends with warm welcomes and huge hugs.  The Watson’s had become as much a part of Yuletide in the Weyland home as the holiday itself.  As Sam guided his friends into the spacious living room, their idle chatter was interrupted when Phillip burst through the door with a few friends. 
“Happy Holidays,” he shouted, with a resonance that filled the entire house. “Hey Dad, I hope you don’t mind that I brought some friends with me.”
“Of course not, son. Your friends are always welcome in our home!”  Phillip was completely transfixed with his father and emulated Sam in many ways.  As a matter of fact, he even took on many of Sam’s facial features and expressions.  A stranger, not familiar with this family’s story, would never have guessed in a million years that Phillip was Sam’s adopted son. After Phillip’s friends were made comfortable, he turned and started out the door, accompanied by Bill Watson, Tom’s son.
“Where are you going now, Phillip? You just got here,” asked his father.
“Well Dad, my friends can’t be with their families this holiday so I thought it would be nice if they had a gift to unwrap!  Tom said it would be OK if Bill and I went to the store.  I just know what to get each of them!”
“Oh, alright, son. Dinner won’t be for a couple of hours.  Do you need any cash?”
“No thanks Dad.  I’m good.  We’ll be back soon!”  Sam watched as his son walked down the driveway. His thoughts flickered back to their first encounter, so many years ago.  Sam couldn't help but love his son.  Catherine overheard the verbal exchange between the two men in her life.  She stood silently and watched them with loving eyes.  Sam felt her eyes on the back of his head.  He turned to meet her and their eyes met.  Still, after all the years, those same eyes!  Silently, as they embraced, they whispered, “I love you so much!”
On the street below the Weyland home, a tall thin man passed by.  His broad brimmed hat flopped as he adjusted his eye patch.  He too smiled, and continued on his journey, his Hunt in Middle Earth.



                         Copyright @1982, 2009, 2012 Terry Unger  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Our Favorite Holiday

                                                 


 Here in Ungerland, we start thinking about Yuletide weeks before the season arrives.  We plan our special menus and the various ways that we want to celebrate.  For us, Yule is the most important holiday of the year, and at the heart of Yule, is the Winter Solstice. 

The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year and can fall on the 20th, 21st, or the 22nd of December, depending on the predilections of the Gregorian calendar cycle.  Like many moderns, my wife and I peg Yule to run from 12/20 to 12/31, with Mother’s Night, or Modraniht held the evening before the solstice.  In many ways, Modraniht introduces Yuletide. 

On this special night, we honor our Germanic Matrons, all mothers, grandmothers, our female ancestors, and the goddesses.  We fondly remember them with our words, and as we eat some of their special desserts that we humbly try to replicate.  And of course while doing this, we lift a mug or two of beer in their honor.  Modraniht cannot pass without remembrance of how these mothers protected and taught us many valuable things in our youth that we use today. 

As was previously written, Winter Solstice is at the heart of Yule.  As this Longest Night passes, it represents the re-birth of the Sun in the heavens, the beginning of new life, and the hopes of a prosperous new year.  It is on this night that we burn the Yule Log, with all its symbolism, and start it with a piece of the previous year’s log (if an actual log is not possible, green candles will do).  This night is great to begin laying out your plans for the new year, looking back on past plans to see what went wrong or what worked well, the swearing of oaths and renewing old ones, if desired.  In our home, we also honor the gods and our ancestors with our heartfelt thanks and offerings of food and drink.  For us Winter Solstice is the most important of the Tide. 

Our feast starts with a variety of nuts, especially walnuts and hazelnuts, accompanied with a tray of fresh scallions.  We have a nice piece of boneless, center cut pork, heavily seasoned and covered with bacon, then roasted to perfection.  Along with the pork we cut up red potatoes, carrots, and turnips, toss them in an oil and herb bath and roast them with the pork.  I am not done.  We pan fry bratwurst until its golden brown and toss in with some wine kraut.  Dessert is usually baked apples stuffed with raisins and covered in a heavy crème and whiskey sauce.  Are you hungry yet? This is just the start of the holiday. 

There are many days left in Yuletide and to think that the holiday is over with the passing of the solstice does not pay the proper respect that this holiday deserves (remember, Yule was happening long before Christmas was even a gleam or a glimmer).  It is wise to continue your introspection of the passing year and to meditate on the Havamal, and the Voluspa.  It’s a great idea to improve on your plans for the new year.  And by all means, gather with friends of like mind and celebrate life. 

Author's Note:  I will not debate the history of Yule, the Feast of Saturnalia, or the Feast of Sol Invictus.  Scholarship has proven that these festivals existed long before Christmas.  


                                               Copyright @2012/2016 Terry Unger       

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving




In the USA, the 4th Thursday of every November is known as Thanksgiving Day.  On that special day, family and friends gather around a wonderful meal and give thanks for all that they have.  When the meal is finished, the gathering shifts to around the television, where football is watched and some pleasant inebriation takes place.  The following day is known as Black Friday.  On this day, many of the same friends and family that gathered the day before to give thanks, will beat the hell out of others to buy some junk that they think they really need.  We truly are a consumer/producer nation.

The retailers love Black Friday because the buying frenzy increases their profits, and increased profits helps boost their stock offering on Wall Street.  The media loves Black Friday because it gets paid big bucks to advertise all the goofy stuff that the retailers have to sell to the consumer crazed public.  The media's profits also have their 'profit effects' on Wall Street.  And all of this is fueled by people buying things they really can't afford.  A step back needs to be taken.

A step back to reconsider the differences between need and want.  Need covers what is necessary to survive and to get by, with some elements of comfort tossed in as garnish (in some cases, folks in this condition have to get by without the 'garnish' ).  Want is something that goes well above need.  In some cases, want is buying something because you can, or buying something to show up the neighbors.  These simple explanations vary between person to person and family to family.  There are no cookie cutter formulas, no one size fits all solutions to pin point want and need.  But when you send your kid to a swanky private school to show up the neighbors, and have trouble making the mortgage payment, some adjustments should be made.

A thought or two along these lines before purchasing anything is not a bad idea.  Who knows, maybe saner holidays will prevail or, at the very least, you can avoid taking a hit in the head at Walmart by granny and her cane.

                                             Copyright @2012 Terry Unger

Author's Note:  This piece original posted on 11/20/2012.  In the last two weeks, the mega-retailers have announced that they will be open on Thanksgiving Day.  One of these retailers mentioned that their customers wanted them to be open on Thanksgiving Day.  Really?  I think that it has more to do with their bottom line; families be damned.  Somehow, I do not believe that Norman Rockwell would find that decent to paint.    


                       A PICTURE OF YOUR THANKSGIVING TURKEY GOES HERE





    

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Anguish Of Not Knowing



The woulda, coulda, shoulda that lives in the back of our minds, born out of regret.  Many of us stumble through life wondering about our past; what would have happened if I had done this, should I have done that, etc.  And the worst, having these thoughts on our death-beds.  Well, the past is a moot point; it's gone, over, finished.  We cannot go back and fix any perceived wrong that we think we've created.  It's done.  But, we need to know that what we have done in the past does have its effects within our present.  Understanding this gives us a leg up, and that is a big deal.  Also, it should teach us that what we do in the present weaves our future - a point that should not be forgotten.

It does not matter what we do; something or nothing has its effects in our lives.  Yes, even non-action, a pacifistic way of life (not wanting to get involved, going with the flow, let somebody else do it, living like a drone, etc.), generates its effects; think about it.  History, both global and personal are full of examples.  So, monitoring our behavior should be an important thing for us to do.  But don't stop loving, don't stop giving, don't stop living a life of virtue; don't live a life hiding in a corner waiting to die.

Just don't live a life full of regret.  If you want to climb a mountain, do it.  If you want to find your true love, go for it.  If you want to jump out of an airplane with a parachute, happy landings.  If you want to find Moby Dick, knock yourself out.  If you want to pedal your bicycle around the world, do it, just be sure to carry extra tires!

When it comes to doing things, it does not matter how old you are - make a list and work to make it happen.  When you are at the point of passing from this world into the next, do so without regret and the anguish of not knowing.  Do so with the thoughts of, yeah, I did that and so much more.


                                                  Copyright @2012 Terry Unger    



    

Sunday, November 18, 2012

When Change Has To Be.... Back To the Future



The clarion bells of reason were drown out when the bread and circus's appeared as freebies for all who wanted them.  And, the 'show' continues.  So many people want all the free stuff that they can get their hands on, but are not willing to even give a fart in return; it's mine - I am entitled to it, so give it to me!  But nothing in life is free - somebody has to pay for it.  Years ago a wrote a piece based on this previous fact , and it was in great detail (I hammered away at a lot of BS).  A young professional who had read the piece asked me what was its' purpose.  My response (and the total monograph) dealt with what I thought was the needed corrections in our social fabric.  His response was that you cannot complain about something without offering solutions.  That's true, but I had the solutions in my work and I pointed them out to him.  Rather abruptly I was told that those solutions would not work in our world today.  At that point I had to wonder if the man really read my work or just focused on the title.  To me, the solutions would work, no question.  So, I had to ask him why he thought that way.  His response was a blather of bull pucky.

My solutions involved sacrifices.  Not sacrifices that involved giving up a job or selling off property, or even cutting off an appendage (that would be really gross), or living like people did hundreds of years ago.  Nothing as drastic as that.  My solution involved a sacrifice, a change of a person's current mindset and world view; to give those up in exchange for something better.  Too much of our social fabric, I told the young man, focused on the possession and the obtaining of things.  This is the basis of the idea that .... the one who has the most toys at death wins.  That, I said, needed to change.  His response was that I was out of touch with the modern world.  My counter argument went back to my monograph.

I replied that the virtues listed in my work, courage, discipline  and truth, honor, fidelity, and self-reliance, hospitality, industriousness, and perseverance needed to be embraced by all.  It was, I told him, a positive moral and ethical solution that would correct many our our current social short comings.  He then laughed at me and not only repeated his previous comments that I was out of touch, but added that I must be mentally ill.

Well, if I am mentally ill for trying to embrace these nine virtues and make them work in my life, so be it; the other path is just not worth it.  By the way, did I mention that that young professional was a lawyer?


                                                 copyright @2012 Terry Unger



        

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What's the Price?



You may not have said, "What's the price of that," but probably like me, have said, "How much is it," or, "How much does it cost?"  All of us have asked that question in one manner or another.  And, when we heard the answer, we either liked it or not.  Depending on how deep our pockets were at the time, and how deep our desire was, we either left it on the shelf or bought it.  When it comes to material things, price fluctuates with supply and demand; remember the Cabbage Patch Dolls craze?  But, what is the price of a man?

In old northern Europe, among some of the Celtic tribes and especially among the Germanic/Norse, there was a concept known as 'wergeld,' which literally means, 'man price.'  If a man's life was taken away from him, either accidentally or intentionally, and before personal vengeance took place, the guilty party was brought before an annual council known as the 'All Thing.'  In regards to matters such as this, the aggrieved party could bring their case to All Thing for redress, in a similar way that in our time, people can file a wrongful death suit in a court of law against the accused.

At All Thing, the decedent's life was examined:  what was his standing in the community and how did he contribute to the overall welfare, was he a family man, what was his occupation, etc.  From questions like and similar to those, it appears that a determination was attempted to be made, to gauge what else the decedent could have accomplished if allowed to enjoy a full life; family was a major concern for those ancient peoples (the liability put on the defendant from the decision was known as shild).  In comparison, in our world today, we have something known as, 'to make whole.'  This is an insurance concept that can be readily seen in automobile and homeowners insurance, and if properly applied, life insurance.  In a wrongful death lawsuit, if the defendant is found guilty, the judge and jury will attempt to reach some kind of monetary award for the aggrieved party.

During the days of All Thing, sometimes a decree of death or banishment was given to the defendant.  But in many cases, the aggrieved party was awarded money, land, cattle, and horses (not necessarily in that order, all at once, or all of those four).  It's not to much of a stretch of the imagination as to what the decree could have been for the defendant if he was dirt poor.  In cases like those, an option previously not mentioned was indentured servitude; the defendant spent the remainder of his life as a virtual slave to the decedent's family.

In the present, just as in the past, people understand that you cannot replace a life that is gone.  As with our present day insurance concepts, and with our ancestor's concept of wergeld and shild, we attempt to 'make whole' for the decedent's survivors.  But, it falls short, as it should.

In all of our wars and human tragedies, brave men and women have lost their lives so that we could go on living.  On 9/11/2001, hundreds of New York City police and firemen died trying to save others, as did the passengers on flight 93.  And recently during the debacle known as Hurricane Sandy, we've heard of police, firemen and regular people risking it all to bring others to safety.  On even sadder notes, we've heard of people murdered for a damned cell phone.  In all of these cases, even the ancient ones, no amount of compensation, dollars or otherwise, can replace life lost; life is priceless.

Honoring those who have given the ultimate price with our thoughts. prayers, and a lifted glass just may be the best that we can do.

                                               Copyright @2012 Terry Unger














Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Relic



The other day I was slapped in the face with a startling revelation:  I am a pre-geezer who is out of touch with the modern world.  That slap happened when my wife and I joined a few of our younger friends for drinks.  At 9:00PM, the pub was full of people, members of the younger generation.  When we settled in, we tried not to gawk.  Everybody in the pub, with the exception of my wife and I, plus the two bartenders, had smart phones in their hands.  Those folks were either texting someone else, surfing the Internet, or taking/making a call.  The only people who talked to another person were my wife and I; we talked to each other.  And, those people with the phones were not huddled off in a corner by themselves.  They were in groups, a drink in one hand and operating a smart phone with the other.  During the time we spent in that pub, we noticed very little real social interaction between people, like speaking to another, with the required exception needed for ordering drinks.

Can anyone please tell me why people need to be so 'connected?'  Why must people check their e-mails and text messages every other minute?  What the hell is so important on the Internet that it cannot wait until tomorrow?  Do people realize that today fine dining does not include a damned phone ringing every ten minutes?  It appears to me that people spend so much time being 'connected,' that we miss out on real people to people, person to person contact.

If one day the lights went out and all the batteries were dead, what the hell would most of those 'connected' people do?  I remember life very well before all this 'connectedness.'  I remember because I was there, and could easily do it again if the need arose.  But, I guess that's what makes me a 'relic.'

                                                Copyright @2012 Terry Unger  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veteran's Day



Today is Friday, 11/08/2013.  Monday, we officially celebrate Veteran's Day.  Since 1776, men and women have sacrificed to keep us free.  Most are/were far away from their loved ones, missing birthdays and holidays.  Some gave up their limbs while others have laid down their lives so that we can speak and think as we like, and to worship as we want.  So often when a person is born into our free culture, those freedoms are taken for granted, and the thought that they cannot be lost is somewhere in their consciousness.  That is false and naive thinking.  People have died to preserve those freedoms, and more stand in line to keep it that way.  Why?  Because there are people and nations who still want to take away our way of life.  Chew on that as you spend hours playing video games and texting silly thoughts to your friends, then take a moment and thank a Vet.  

                                                 Copyright @2013 Terry Unger

Sunday, November 4, 2012

On Friends, Family, And Getting Back On A Road Less Traveled



There are those people out there who have rather quickly foisted the title of "friend" upon your shoulders.  They number among those of whom "another friend" brought with them to some sort of social gathering you had the unfortunate opportunity of hosting.  Both of these types of friends are leeches; they came for the free booze.  And, they will take from you whatever they can and will give nothing in return.  When you need a real friend, when you have hit the wall full speed, those "friends" are lost in the mists of, " I don't know you....I cannot be bothered now."  Make no mistake - these are the people who will go to your funeral, not to pay their respects, but to freely eat and drink at your wake.  We cannot choose our family but can choose our friends.  Chose wisely; it's not like quickly choosing a cold domestic beer to quench your thirst.  Rather, it's more like choosing a fine wine to accompany an awesome meal.

The days of cementing a contract on a handshake have passed through the cracks about the same time the phrase, " You want fries with that," became a part of our national lexicon.  The times we live in have taken away the trust of friendship and replaced it with the art of making the deal - at all costs.  And, this attitude has extended into the heart of the family.  It sure as hell wasn't always like this.

Back in the day when we used rotary telephones (remember those things? Throw them against a concrete wall and they still worked.  No batteries required.), telephone booths (no grasshopper, they were not just something for Superman to change in), and held a healthy respect for the other guy and our parents, it was a rare thing for someone to get shafted over a few bucks.  Yes, it happened but again, it was rare.  Out of respect for the other guy, people just did not do that kind of stuff.  Now it happens over and over again in the workplace, the neighborhood, and the family.

The Christian Right talks a lot about family values.  But in my opinion, some of those "values" appear to foster what was written about above.  Maybe because those values are man-made interpretations of what is supposedly the divine word of their God.  When put to use, a wink of an eye can twist them to bring about some bent human desires.  And when a book that contains the supposed infallible word of a deity is used as a balance scale, it's easy to load up the other side and be justified with the result.  Being the chosen people of a book must be a relief for them - no need to think on their own.  Just saying.  At least when we were using rotary phones, respecting the other guy was something that was inherently understood and not something that we needed to be reminded about, like in our times today.

It's time for us to get on the road that takes us back to mutual respect.  This does not mean that we should rid ourselves of our current technology, like some would have us do.  What I am trying to say is that we need to house-clean our minds and make some serious attitude adjustments.  Along the way, we can re-discover courage honor, and truth.  We will learn industriousness, genuine hospitality, and fidelity.  Moreover, we will be filled with self-reliance, discipline  and have the perseverance to meet and finish any of life's challenges.  Food, clothing, and shelter lets us survive; we need more.  To thrive we need the above nine virtues.  Then again, maybe, a handshake can bind a contract.     


                                                   Copyright @2012 Terry Unger









       

Our Visit to Sutton Hoo

When walking the grounds, you can feel the specialness of this place.  It is quiet, save the wind rustling through the trees.  The ages...