Christmases Past

This is the time of year when newspapers run lots of year-end stories.

  • They’re popular with readers.
  • They can be produced early before everyone disappears.
  • They’re easy.
  • Everybody is too busy to read the paper, so you don’t want to burn up serious stories.

So, in that spirit, I’m going to recycle some stories from past Christmases. Follow the links for the Real Deal. Click on any photo to make it larger.

This was from a photo book Wife Lila and I did on our first Christmas as a married couple.

David’s first bicycle

Getting a bike for Christmas was a Big Deal. Here’s a video of Brother David getting his and helping Dad put it together. I love the way he keeps reaching over with his bathrobe sleeve to wipe off fingerprints from the chrome.

Christmas Confusion

People were running all around to try to figure out where these photos were taken.

Could it have been Good Hope?

Nope, it turned out to have been in Jackson.


St. Mary’s 1967 Christmas Novena

Missourian caption Dec. 24, 1967: The Rev. Bosco Westrich of St. Mary’s Cathedral presides over Friday night’s observance of the Christmas Novena at the church. At the left, an altar boy departs. The Novena is a nine-part series of Christmas services which will conclude on Christmas Eve. The banners on either side of the altar were made by school children of the parish.”

Witness Protection Program Santa

This is the first and only Santa I’ve ever seen wearing a full-face mask. (He’s almost as scary as this Easter Bunny in my past.)

Hutson’s Christmas Display

Hutson’s Fine Furniture has been hosting a Christmas display window for as long as I can remember. It’s not quite as large as I remembered it, but it’s still magic for youngsters.

Hutson’s is 2011 Old Town Cape Ornament

Coincidentally, Hutson’s window display was chosen as Old Town Cape’s featured ornament this year. Here’s a list of past ornaments.

Common Pleas Courthouse Live Nativity scene

Close to 2,000 people a day stopped by the live Nativity scene on the steps leading to the Common Pleas Courthouse in 1965. The exhibit proved so popular that the run was extended past the expected Christmas Eve closing date.

North County Park

Cars line up bumper to bumper to enjoy the Christmas displays at North County Park.

Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum

The folks at the Altenburg Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum have been putting together a wonderful Christmas display for the past six years. Here are photos from this year’s exhibit (plus a shameless plug for my Tower Rock book and East Perry County Calendar. Follow this link to see the 2010 exhibit.

Water Park holiday lights

The Family Aquatic Center at Osage Center was all lit up for the holidays. Quite impressive.

Here’s wishing you all a Merry Christmas or whatever holiday you’re celebrating at this time of year. We’ll probably take it easy for a couple of days. I’ve got a Top Stories of 2011 Review in the works.

My Favorite Christmas Decoration

Mother is a decoratin’ fool. She loves nothing more than to drag out boxes of ornaments and mementos and scatter them all through the house.

Any holiday works: Easter, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas, Groundhog Day (OK, I’m not sure about that one.)

I put in a fold-down staircase a couple of decades ago so she didn’t have to perch on a step ladder to get the stuff out of the attic. Now that the house is empty, there’s plenty of closet space, so she, thankfully, doesn’t have to climb up the ladder anymore. (I wired the attic lights to the porch light and told the neighbors if they see it on for a couple of days and they don’t see her, check the attic.)

This Santa is probably almost as old as I am. (Click on any image to make it larger.)

Nativity Scene

I can remember carefully placing these figures when I was about the age of Grandson Malcolm. Based on the number of chips, my destructive younger brothers much have been less diligent. I can just see them playing Shepherds vs. Wise Guys.

A lump in my throat

The one decoration that always brings a lump in my throat wasn’t storebought, it isn’t fancy and it’s a bit worn.

It means more to me than all the others combined.

My Grandmother made this sign and had it hanging in the stairwell the first Christmas I came back from Ohio University. When I see it, I know I’m home.

I’m typing this in Cape as the last thing I do before loading the van to head home to Florida. By the time you read this, I’ll be back with Wife Lila, Sons Matt and Adam, Daughters (we don’t need that in-law business) Sarah and Carly and Grandsons Malcolm and Graham. Here’s wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a New Year with lots of new tales.

Monday night update

Well, I made it back to Florida by Monday night, but I stopped in Lake City. Wife Lila won the pool for how late I’d be getting out of Cape Sunday. I quit just north of Monteagle Pass when my eyes got heavy.

I was going to push on to Ocala tonight, but I saw something about 200 yards north of the Florida line that made me a little cautious.

About half a mile after a fire rig passed me headed south, I saw the largest collection of police and fire vehicles I’ve seen in one place in a long time. When I crawled past them, I saw at least two van/SUV type vehicles that had rolled over and down an embankment just before they reached the Florida welcome center. I don’t know if the response was so great because it happened on the state line and Georgia and Florida folks both responded or if enough vehicles and patients were involved to require that much turnout.

I suspect that one or more of the vehicles changed lanes when they spotted the welcome center sign, resulting in the crash. They didn’t make it to the welcome center OR Florida. I hope the people were damaged less than their vehicles.



Beep, Beep, Beep Mystery

Night before last I was working in the basement and thought I heard a beeping sound like my car’s panic alarm was honking the horn. Every once in awhile, if I bend over just right, other keys in my pocket will hit the key fob button to set it off. I walked upstairs to give a listen. Nope. Nothing in the immediate area, but I COULD hear a faint beeping. (Click on any photo to make it larger.)

I categorize threats into two categories:

  • Concerns Me
  • Doesn’t Concern Me

This fit into the second category and it wasn’t loud enough to keep me awake, so I ignored it.

Do you hear that beeping?

Brother Mark showed up at the house on mid-morning to celebrate Thanksgiving and asked, “Do you hear that beeping?”

I have to confess that I’m missing chunks of frequencies – mostly those that Wife Lila uses to ask me to do things – but I told him that I could hear it faintly. He went out to blow leaves. When he came back, he said he had tried to track down the sound and it appeared to be bouncing off Randy’s house, but not coming FROM the house.

1600 block of Kingsway

I need to explain how the 1600 block of Kingsway works. We were about the fifth house on the street, and one of the first built in the 1950s. The other homes were decades older.

If you look at the three ranch-style houses on the north side of Kingsway, we’re the one on the right. The Ailors moved into the one next to us, and the Garners were in the third house down the hill The little house below them was owned by an elderly couple, the McCunes. At the bottom left was the Hale farm; they owned the pasture behind our house.

Directly across from us lived the Tinkers. Down the hill from them was a two-story house owned by John and Mary Gray. For some reason, they fixed up a chicken house behind the big house and moved into there, leaving the big house as rental property occupied by folks we never bothered to learn names for. Eventually, the house was bought by Randy, a Cape firefighter. He was there long enough for it to be dubbed “Randy’s house.” He sold it and now it’s destined for demolition.

It’s always going to be Tinkers’

So, even though the Tinkers have been dead for years and Bill and Rhonda Boltens (great neighbors, by the way) have been living there for longer than I can remember, it’s probably always going to be “over at Tinkers” to us.

Anyway, now that you have the layout in your mind -or, are totally confused – let’s get back to the beeping story.

Doesn’t seem to be inside

The noise got louder the closer we got to Randy’s house, but it didn’t appear to be coming FROM the house. You couldn’t hear it from behind the house. It felt like it was bouncing OFF the house.

Let’s check the Garner house

I walked across the street to the old Garner house. I could see a dog inside, so I knocked on the door. A coworker in Florida posted an account last week about how she never opens the door for a stranger. Others chimed in with stories about how they always keep a gun at the door. They obviously spend all their time listening to The All Fear All the Time Network. With that in mind, I wondered if I’d get an answer.

After a couple of raps, and much dog barking, a young woman came to the door. I identified myself and said I was staying with Mother up the street. “I read your column,” she volunteered. That always feels good to hear.

I told her Mark and I were tracking down a mystery. “You mean the beeping? It’s not coming from here. I noticed it when I got home around lunchtime yesterday.” We told her we’d let her know what we found.

Past the old McCune place

We walked down the hill from what had been the McCune property and noticed that a lot of the homeowners in what used to be a pasture I roamed and camped in when I was 10 or 12 had done a lot of nice landscaping. Fortunately, the area behind our house and the next door neighbor has been left to go wild, proving habitat for all kinds of creatures, plus preserving the rural feel we’ve had since before we were in the city limits.

The sound didn’t get stronger, and it still seemed to be directional. If we moved off to the left or right, it got fainter. I thought at one time that the sound was stronger coming from the direction away from the house, but Mark convinced me that I was hearing things.

I felt like I was back taking my draft physical. They put a bunch of guys wearing only our underwear in a small, dark room, put headphones on our heads and handed us a box with a button on it. “When you hear a tone, press the button,” we were ordered by someone who looked at us like we were a lower form of life. I had my finger on the button waiting to hear something. Nothing. We all started looking at each other and shrugging our shoulders. Then, we all started pushing the button at random. Interestingly enough, we all passed.

Is it the fuzzy-tailed rat?

When we got back up the hill, Mark noticed that a tree in front of the house had a squirrel’s nest in it. “Maybe the fuzzy-tailed rat (Mark doesn’t like squirrels ever since they got in his attic) carried something up into his nest.” We wandered around the tree and ruled the fuzzy-tailed rat blameless. Well, at least I did. Mark still thinks one was the second shooter on the Grassy Knoll.

By this time, it was Hungry O’Clock and we had to chow down on some great slow-cooked roast beef and all the fixin’s. We had more desserts than any three people can eat in two weeks (but we’re gonna try). Then, my schedule showed it was time for a 37-minute nap (I had missed my 22-minute 11 o’clock nap, so I was due for an extension).

Smoke alarm theory

Shortly before dark, we piled in the car and cruised up all the streets in a one-mile radius trying to find some house that was in line-of-sight with Randy’s that was making a noise that could be hitting his old house and reflecting off it. Zip. Zero. Nada.

One last theory: Mark did a Google search on beeps and found a reference that “This alarm incorporates the internationally recognized horn signal for evacuation. During alarm mode, the horn produces three short beeps, followed by a two-second pause and then repeats. This pattern is somewhat different than the previous alarm sound, which continually beeped.”

We didn’t think it was a smoke alarm because it sounded like it was a lower frequency than most smoke alarms and it wasn’t sounding “beep pause beep pause beep” in a continuous series . We know power has been off in the house for quite awhile, so it’s possible that an alarm has drained its battery, particularly with temperatures dropping to freezing. If the new standard is for alarms to broadcast three beeps now, maybe that’s it.

If it’s still going off tomorrow, we’ll see if we can get into the house or listen at a window to see if it’s coming from the inside. Otherwise, I’m going to invoke Category Two and ignore it.

Thanksgiving 2011

Family was my Number One Thing to be Thankful for in 2010, and it tops the list again in 2011.

The Steinhoff Family from Florida, Missouri, Colorado and Oklahoma managed to make it back to Cape to celebrate Mother’s 90s Birthday Season. Son Matt shot this group photo. (Click on any image to make it larger.)

He had everything set up earlier in the morning to do the photo in the back yard, but the sun moved and the shadows were bad. He shuffled us over to the side yard where the light was better, but still spotty. He worked fast, mainly because so many of his subjects were young and prone to crankiness and because so many of his subjects were old and he didn’t know how many takes he’d have left.

Matt’s last perfect family portrait

He took much longer to shoot this one of the Florida branch on Easter Sunday 2009. In fact the video I recorded of him arranging everyone, running to get into the photo before the self-timer tripped, checking the camera display, yelling at various of us for minor infractions, then redoing it time and time again, runs 7:46, something that a couple of commenters have complained about. They didn’t get it: it was SUPPOSED to be long. That’s why it’s titled How to Shoot a Family Portrait (In the Real World).

Here’s where you go to see still photos of the extravaganza and / or subject yourself to a 7:46 min video.

They’re both iPad proficient

I’m thankful that my grandsons have had a change to meet and get to know their Great-Grandmother. Malcolm gets to see his great-grandmother only once or twice a year, but they’re close enough that she can kibitz his computer game. There’s not that big a gap between 90 and seven, I suppose, when you both know how to use iPads. Malcolm is Matt and Sarah’s son.

Graham – the newest addition

Mother journeyed to Florida shortly after Graham was born in February (remember our Road Trip back). Graham doesn’t know a stranger. I have a snippet of video right after this still shot was taken that shows him breaking out in a huge grin and reaching for her.

Both of my sons keep in regular contact with their grandmother by phone calls and email. Even though they didn’t grow up in Cape, they feel the same attraction to the area that I do. Graham belongs to Adam and Carly.

Missing from the photo, but not forgotten

Even though Matt wasn’t much older than this when Dad died in 1977 – and Adam hadn’t even been born yet – both boys have heard so many stories and memories that it’s almost like they grew up with him.

Dad may not be in the photograph at the top of the page, but he’s still in the picture for us.