Category Archives: Christmas

1000 Words: A Christmas Eve Tale

It’s not solely because I’m a curmudgeon (although I often fit that jacket) but I’m always happy when Christmas is over and done with.

See, my birth family went through a traumatic break-up in the early ’70’s. The first Christmas Eve we had with certain members missing was as big a drag as I’d ever experienced in the few short years I’d been alive to that point.

And, no, it wasn’t my parents who split up. They got married when Ma was 16 and Dad, 18. They actually had to run away to Indiana to get married because Ma (well, my future Ma) was underaged under Illinois law. M & D crossed the state line with her eldest sibling, Uncle Louie, and his wife, Aunt Vera. Louie and Vera signed for them as adults. By the way, Ma told me one time that as the four of them piled back into the car outside the Justice of the Peace’s place, Aunt Vera said to her, “You know, you can’t sleep with Joe. You haven’t been married in church yet.”

Such a different age! Ma took Vera’s words to heart and did not sleep with Dad until their union was indeed blessed by a priest a few, presumably endless, weeks later

Aunt Vera was of Polish descent, as was my Daddy-o, as was Uncle Joey’s wife Pauline, as was Aunt Theresa’s husband Dick. Uncle Tony married an Italian gal, and she was a hoot and a holler. She chain-smoked, drank gin, played cards, and had a guffaw that would reverberate through the house. Uncle Johnnie married a gal of Scandinavian extraction which, to me, was as exotic as if she’d been Maori.

The Parellos: (from left) Joey, Tony, Johnnie, Sue (Ma), Grandma Anna, and Theresa. Louie had died by this time.

Weird, though, isn’t it? That of all Grandpa Vince and Grandma Anna’s six kids, four of them married Poles. But that really wasn’t so bizarre in pre-war Chicago. Both the second generation Italians and Poles by and large left their neighborhoods just west and south of the Loop, where the first wave of immigrants from those respective countries had settled. The second generation kids wanted to get away from the tenements and narrow streets and native languages of their youth and start up new, more American, lives in brand new bungaloes on the edge of the city. So they moved to Chicago’s northwest side. The new Italian and Polish neighborhoods abutted each other and that second generation wasn’t so exclusionary as their parents so tons of them fell in love with each other.

But back to my family’s break-up. As I’ve indicated, it wasn’t Ma and Dad — Sue and Joe — who split. Hell no. They stuck together through thin and thin (no typo there). Ma was so young when she got married that plenty of people told her the marriage would never last. Ma, being one of the hardest-headed people I’ve ever known, a real testa dura, took that as a challenge, even a dare, and stuck it out with Dad.

He never said much to us kids, other than to yell at us, and his siblings were similarly icy and aloof. His side of the family, frankly, scared me. Ma’s side, on the other hand, were a bunch of laughing, crying, hugging, fun-lovers. When I went in for my tonsillectomy at the age of four, I told the nurses that my mother and I were Italian, but my father and sisters and brother were Polish. The nurses exchanged smirks, which I wasn’t able to grasp until I was in my teens.

Anyway, in 1979 when I went through my first major heartbreak, I collapsed on the front stoop in tears one night. I could hear Ma whispering, loudly, to Dad, “Joe! Go out there and help him! He needs you!” And after a few long moments Dad came out and sat near-ish me, the look on his face the same, I supposed, as if he were sitting near-ish a dog foaming at the mouth.

“Dad,” I said after an uncomfortable silence between us, “tell me how you met Ma.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said, as pained as if I’d asked him what his favorite sex position was with her.

“No, really. Tell me.”

After a little more prodding, he opened up, the first and only time he and I ever really conversed.

“I was over to Hansen Park,” he said. “The American Legion girls were playing softball. They were called the Orioles. I saw your mother playing short-centerfield. She had black, curly hair. I took one look at her and said, ‘I’m gonna marry that girl!'”

With that I fell into a loud, tear-gushing cry.

“What’s the matter?” Dad said. “Did I say somethin’ wrong?”

He hadn’t, of course. In fewer than fifty words, he’d told me a whole, wonderful story.

Ma and Dad, circa 1964.

What I came to realize since then is he was head-over heels in love with Ma and she was very eager to get away from an abusive home. Between his infatuation and her determination to prove all the nay-sayers wrong, they found ways to stay married until he died in 1995. Ma spent the rest of her life trying to tell me how heroic she was to stay married to Dad.

“Ma,” I’d say, for the thousandth time, “I don’t wanna hear it.”

But, again, she was a testa dura, and she’d go on reciting chapter and verse about how she bravely  stuck it all out with Dad.

My family’s break-up came about because my sister, already married with five kids, had taken up with another man. As if that wasn’t bad enough for Ma and Dad to swallow, the other man was…, gasp! — black.

Suddenly, Dad became an orator. He expounded at length and at the drop of a hat about the failures and weaknesses of black men. He insisted my sister be written out of his will. From the moment he learned of my sister’s dalliance, he began tumbling, for the rest of his life, into a deep, dark depression.

Me? I was depressed because my sister and her kids weren’t at that first Christmas Eve after the news broke.

It has become one of those youthful memories that won’t go away even as I’ve become an aging curmudgeon.

The Glabs, 1960: (from left) Ma, Charlotte, Franny, Dad, Me, and Joey. Franny’s marriage wouldn’t last. Neither would Charlotte’s. But Ma and Dad’s did, through thin and thin.

Hot Air

A Christmas Horror Story

The mood around Chez Big Mike is tense. The news came in this morning, via radio.

(I wish I could say I’d caught a “communique” on “short wave radio.” You all know how much I dig drama. But no, it was a little feature on NPR’s Morning Edition. And, sorry, I can’t link to it because NPR hasn’t posted the clip yet.)

Anyway, the jitter-inducing news is that the price of olive oil is about to skyrocket due to a lousy growing season in certain olive-producing areas of this mournful globe.

Olive Oil

Air, Water, Shelter, Love, And Olive Oil

Mournful, natch, because what’s the point of living if one can’t get his mitts on olive oil? I’d prefer gasoline to hit seven dollars a gallon to a shortage of olive oil. Right now, I pay anywhere from $17 to $20 for a gallon of the good stuff, depending on little vagaries like, um…, well, I don’t know. It’s hard enough to figure out why petroleum and gas prices fluctuate as they do; now I gotta decrypt the inner workings of the O.O. racket? Puh-leeaze.

As soon as I heard the news, my imagination went wild: will my gallon of olive oil now cost $30? How about forty? Is fifty too crazy to even ponder?

In any case, I know what I’m doing first thing tomorrow morning. I’munna march right down to my nearby Kroger and cop at least two gallons of the extra-virgin. That’s what one does in an emergency — lay in a supply of life’s essentials.


It’s over. We’ve finished shaking the Xmas money tree. Bucks by the bushel-ful rained down upon us at the Book Corner. Apparently, President Obama‘s failed presidency has resulted in a now-reasonably vibrant economy (even taking into account the wealth and income gaps, of course) and folks are spending money — not as drunkenly as they did in the years leading up to the dot-com bust, Bush II’s apparently wildly successful presidency (complete with his two treasury-busting wars), and the Great Recession but more liberally than they did in, say, 2009, ’10, and ’11.

At least that’s what it looks like from the vantage point of the northeast corner of Walnut and Kirkwood. Selling stuff, though, is hard work and the crew at the BC was worn to a frazzle by Wed. afternoon. In fact, any customer who dared enter the store after 1:00pm on Christmas Eve was pretty much risking death by dirty look.

Credit card- and cash-lugging patrons usually are welcomed with open arms in any retail establishment but by that hour the Book Corner corps — as well as those of pretty much every shop and store in this holy land — had had quite enough of ringing up, giving change, wrapping, smiling, answering questions, solving problems, shelving incoming inventory, and plastering the ho-ho-ho spirit on our faces even as our feet ached and our bladders bulged.


A Typical Bookstore The Day After Christmas

All I know is the last week and a half or so I’ve been collapsing on the sofa after my shifts at the store and waking up the next morning only to have to go through the same ordeal again. When I locked the Book Corner’s front door yesterday at 4:00pm, I let loose with a torrent of expletives, describing customers — and for that matter, all members of the human race — in as unflattering terms as any of the 100 greatest novelists of all time could have conjured. At that, my confreres looked at me and wondered aloud how it could be that I was still in a sunnier disposition than they were.

I got home, poured myself a medicinal dosage of Coppola Zinfandel, threw my socks at Steve the Dog, pressed play on I Was a Teenage Werewolf, and emitted a sigh forceful enough to make the pictures on the wall crooked. Next thing I knew, the light of the morning was waking the hounds up and they, in turn, were nudging me with their cold noses..

Today I plan to heal my sore soul and body. Tomorrow, we’re back at it as customers pound on our front door and demand to exchange their copies of Not That Kind of Girl for Yes Please.


Don’t Get Used To This Just Yet

[Just a reminder: The Pencil is on hiatus right now as Big Mike — me — devotes time and energy to a fabulous book project, the details of which will be forthcoming as publishers are sufficiently fawned over and contracts are signed. Stay tuned for news on that front.

Meanwhile, I’ll be putting up little tidbits on occasion, just to keep the circuitry of this communications colossus in working order. I expect to be back telling the world what it ought to do full time within weeks or a couple of months at the most. Try your best to survive without my inerrant pontifications until then, okay? Okay.]

Hot Air

Endless (Season Of) Love

Are you sick of Xmas yet? I am.

And guess what: it’s a full three weeks away. Yeesh.

Anyway, I’m reading The Eve of Destruction, a history of the year 1965 written by former Indiana University professor James T. Patterson. It’s a recount of the year historians now generally believe to be the watershed moment when this holy land began transforming itself from a somewhat benign, caring, liberal society to an aggressive, acquisitive, soulless one.

One line in the book’s intro caught my eye:

… President Lyndon B. Johnson turned on the lights of the National Christmas Tree on the evening of December 18, 1964….

Did you catch that? December 18th. A mere week before Christmas. If one is to assume the official starting date of the Christmas season is when the huge tree in front of the White House is turned on, then that season lasted a sane-sounding seven days 50 years ago.

LBJ 1964

LBJ Celebrates Christmas With Kids In 1964

Now, Christmas starts well before Thanksgiving, wrapped up with the late fall feast in something now referred to as The Holidays. And it ain’t the lighting of the National Christmas Tree that is our ritual cue to start shopping and baking. We used to wish for a White Christmas. Now we wrestle for an overnight place in line on Black Friday more than a month before the day itself.

So yeah, I’m sick of Xmas already.

This year’s National Tree Lighting ceremony? Tomorrow night.

Interstate Art

Carisa Whittall used to run the Jerseyana Gallery in Nashville and was a proud sponsor of community radio WFHB. Business was lousy in our next-door burgh, though, so Carisa moved lock, stock, and barrel to New Jersey where she now lives.


Whittall (L) At The May Re-Opening Of Jerseyana Gallery

Her operation still is called Jerseyana Gallery and, with her biz partner, she peddles  art, including local works, online. How about if we let her tell her own story:

Initially, I focused on showing Indiana artists, contemporary or non-traditional Nashville artists in an art salon environment who didn’t have space in local galleries. We sold art, and the furnishings, decor and books. But we didn’t sell much. Nashville is a tough market now unless you’re selling beer, food or inexpensive souvenirs — then it’s a great market!

We sell directly to designers, and stagers in the interior design/home remodeling business in the New Jersey and New York City area. We’ve opened our virtual store and our ebay store to sell directly to collectors and people who love beautiful, quality art, antiques and artisan goods.

We still source in Indiana — my business partner lives in Bloomington. We go back to B-town to visit family, and it’s a good excuse to get out to Brown County couple times a year too!

Internet sales are going well and we are looking forward to exhibiting art in a couple of locations in New Jersey and, hopefully, New York City in the new year.

Patricia Rhoden is our featured artist. Designers love her work and I am looking forward to a great show for her in Millburn, New Jersey.

I continue to sell a lot of Indiana artists — listed, up and coming and flat-out dead. My favorite is Joni T. Johnson. I just love her work. She is underrated and undervalued but people are buying it here; they were not in Nashville.

Too bad, huh? In any case, cop some of her goods online, just to show her we Hoosiers can appreciate a spot or two of art now and again.

Another Hero

I’ve long been a fan of a brilliant, strong, tough, determined, athletic young woman named Émilie du Châtelet. She’s been dead for 265 years now but were she alive today, she’d still be the role model girls and young women around the world would look up to. Compared to her Oprah’s a slacker, Sheryl Sandberg‘s unambitious, and Hillary Clinton’s just a backroom pol.

du Chatelet

A Real Woman

Born Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, she was one of the greatest figures of the Age of Enlightenment. A mathematician, physicist, translator, champion fencer, dancer, and harpsichordist, she was fluent in French, Latin, Greek, Italian, and German and was the first woman to have a scientific paper published by the French Académie Des Sciences.

Want more? Sure:

  • She researched the science of fire and proposed the existence of infrared radiation
  • She wrote one of the first basic, accessible physics, general science, and philosophy books
  • Through experiments and developing mathematical formulas, she helped develop the idea of kinetic energy
  • She publicly argued with philosopher John Locke in favor of the principle of universal truths as opposed to the Lockian subjective perceptions
  • She created what can be described as the first financial derivative, purchasing the future earnings of independent tax collectors
  • She argued vociferously for women’s education, especially calling for access to France’s colleges
  • She was a biblical scholar and she wrote on happiness, free will, optics, and rational linguistics
  • The crowning achievement of her life was her translation of Isaac Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica into French

Nearly two centuries after she’d developed the classical mechanics formula, E ∝ mv2, indicating the proportionality between energy, mass, and velocity, Albert Einstein acknowledged her finding as a basis for his iconic E = mc2, the foundation of his special theory of relativity.

Three plays and one opera have been written about her life.

And just to show she wasn’t all work and no play, Émilie was  a well-known gambler and card-player.

She lived with and collaborated with Voltaire for much of her adult life.

She was, in short, one of the first feminists. With the likes of Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, why is feminism such a dirty word?.

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