December 26, 2011

Writers, Are You Ready for 2012?

I'm not the sort of writer who creates a list of writing goals at the beginning of a new year. Instead, I'll move forward into 2012 eager to see what each day brings. As 2011 ends, these three quotations from famous authors sum up how I feel.

“New Year's Eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights”
Hamilton Wright Mabie (American writer, 1845-1916)

For last year's words belong to last year's language. And next year's words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.
T.S. Eliot (British/American poet, 1888-1965)

We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day.
Edith Lovejoy Pierce (English poet, 1904-1983)

What inspires you as you enter a word-filled new year? Do you find it helpful to set goals and make resolutions?

December 23, 2011

Ham Salad Sandwiches on Christmas Eve

This is a repost from Christmas 2009. Enjoy!

When I was growing up, and well into my adulthood, my mom always served ham salad sandwiches on Christmas Eve. It was a tradition and not one that I particularly liked. Whoever heard of a ham salad Christmas?

After my grandparents had all passed away and mom continued to serve the sandwiches, I finally asked her why. I never expected the special story that she shared with me on that Christmas Eve night.

Mom’s family had little money. They lived in an upper flat just a block away from the railroad tracks. Freight trains traveled that line connecting Chicago and Milwaukee, and the boxcars often carried stowaways. Bums, they were called back then. Hobos.

Around suppertime on one cold Christmas Eve, the doorbell rang at my mother’s house. My grandfather answered it and found a “hobo” standing on the front porch. The man was dirty and cold, and he asked if he could have some food. My grandmother had just made ham salad for their Christmas Eve supper. It was the best my mother’s family could afford, and Grandma made it special. She ground the ham with a hand-cranked meat grinder, added homemade mayonnaise, a little pickle relish and a good dash of pepper. She was just about to spread it on slices of homemade buttered bread when the doorbell rang. Not wanting anyone to go hungry on Christmas Eve, Grandma packed a brown paper sack with several ham salad sandwiches and gave it to Grandpa. Mother remembered that the man smiled broadly when Grandpa handed him the sack, and Grandpa tucked several one-dollar bills into the man’s pocket, too – money that my grandparents really couldn’t spare.

My mother never forgot that Christmas Eve. After she married and took charge of our family’s Christmas celebration, she served ham salad sandwiches as a simple reminder that we had food while others were hungry.

If you are reading this, you most likely have a computer, a warm house, and are anticipating a Christmas Eve supper filled with good things to eat. As you celebrate, don’t forget the ham salad sandwiches. Many people are poor or homeless this year. Will you spare some “ham salad” for them?

I wish all of my readers a peaceful Christmas filled with joy. I’ll see you back here the first week in January.

December 10, 2011

The Backstories of Several Christmas Classics

Christmas is for stories. Here is the backstory about several classic favorites.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens—A Self-Published Success
Next to the Bible’s true story of Christmas, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is probably the most well-known story of the holiday season. David Purdue gives us the backstory on his wonderful “Charles Dickens Page."

“Dickens began writing his "little carol" in October, 1843 finishing it by the end of November in time to be published for Christmas with illustrations by John Leech. Feuding with his publishers, Dickens financed the publishing of the book himself, ordering lavish binding, gilt edging, and hand-colored illustrations and then setting the price at 5 shillings so that everyone could afford it. This combination resulted in disappointingly low profits despite high sales. In the first few days of its release the book sold six thousand copies and its popularity continued to grow. The first and best of his Christmas Books, A Christmas Carol has become a Christmas tradition and easily Dickens' best known book.” (copyright © 1997-2011 David A. Perdue)

Dickens went on to write four additional Christmas stories: “The Chimes,” “The Cricket on the Hearth,” “The Battle of Life,” and “The Haunted Man.”

The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry—Penned in a Tavern
O. Henry is the pen name used by American author, William Sydney Porter. According to The Literature Network, Porter spent several years in prison after being convicted of embezzling money. While in prison, he began writing short stories. His first, “Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking,” was published in 1899, while Porter was still incarcerated. After his release, he published more than 600 short stories using the name O. Henry. “The Gift of the Magi” was published in 1905.

In his later years, Porter suffered from alcoholism. The story goes that he penned “The Gift of the Magi” in his favorite booth in Pete’s Tavern. Surprisingly, Pete’s still exists. It claims to be the oldest continuously operating tavern in New York City.

The Night Before Christmas, by—Author Unknown
The authorship of “The Night Before Christmas,” also known as “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” is clouded in ambiguity. One story is that Clement C. Moore wrote the poem on a snowy day, in a sleigh, while returning home from a shopping trip. A friend of Moore’s liked the poem and sent it anonymously to the Troy, New York, Sentinel. They published it on December 23, 1823, and it became instantly popular. Moore, a Baptist minister and professor of theology, wasn’t sure that he wanted to take credit for writing the well-liked rhyme. He thought it might be too secular. But finally, in 1844 after the poem had garnered great success, Moore included it in a book of his poems and claimed it as his own. But the backstory doesn’t end here. In 2000, Donald Foster, a Vassar College English professor and authority on literary identity, disputed Moore’s authorship. He suggested that a farmer/poet named Henry Livingston Jr. wrote the famous poem. In fact, next week, Livingston’s descendants will release a new edition of “A Visit From St. Nicholas” with Livingston credited as its author. You can read more about it here on The Boston Globe’s web page.

So, there you have it, three backstories about three famous Christmas tales. After these stories became popular in the 19th Century, many more Christmas books were written. Some have become classics and others are not so well known.

Do you have a favorite Christmas story? Have you read a recent Christmas book that you believe will stand the test of time?