And So This Is Christmas

I’m seventy-two, and I still believe in Santa Claus.

Yes, Virginia, I do believe in Santa Claus.

Why else would I continue to play with the toys I was given when I was 10? Why else would I continue to believe that Peace On Earth and Good Will Towards Men are achievable goals?

Why else would seeing my two-year-old grandson greet each ornament on his tree with a “Hi!” (that is more melodious than Bing, Johnny, and Nat singing their classic Christmas songs) be the greatest Christmas gift I ever received or would ever receive?

It’s Santa doing his thing is why I react this way.

So, it may not be a theorem that can be proven in a test lab, and indeed, I am in the minority when I proclaim and avow as to Santa’s continued existence and spiritual invasion of our hearts every Christmas season.

Look at the evidence in your own lives and tell me you don’t agree.

Do you exchange gifts with dear friends and family, even if those gifts are a smile and well wishes?

Do you remember the Ghosts of Christmas Past who no longer appear (at least visibly) at your Christmas gatherings?

Do you remember your best Christmas ever? Was it more recent than when you were 10?

Do you have special traditions that you repeat every Christmas, including Christmas Eve?

Of course, we have been taught that Christmas is much more than gifts, trees, or decorations.

The birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ is what Christmas is all about. Even Charlie Brown now knows this.
Santa is the spirit sent to us each year to remind us of all that Christmas is about.

After all, giving of ourselves to others and treating them as we want to be treated were part of the message brought to us by Christ.

So, whether Santa is a rolly polly man in a red suit or just someone who looked remarkably like your father or mother, Santa visited you on Christmas, and you are now continuing the work of this jolly old elf.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Peace to you and your beautiful family.

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Tree Lighting 1979

Tonight the tree in Rockefeller Center will be lit in a 90-minute ordeal.

There was a time, however, that the tree was lit shortly after five pm so that people could stop off on their way home.

I used to be one of those people when I worked in Manhattan, but in 1979, I was teaching at St. Vito School in Mamaroneck and living in New Rochelle.

So, it took a little more effort to witness the tree lighting.

Eileen and I were planning to go, and I coaxed a friend of mine, Deacon Bob, who was the Deacon at St. Vito’s. So, we all set out on a train from the Larchmont Metro North Station heading to Grand Central.

We arrived a few minutes before five PM, and Rockefeller Center was jammed with eager witnesses hoping to see the spectacular tree. At one point, I had my right foot on the curb while my left foot was floating next to it with no visible means of support.

There was a young woman with a child in a stroller, and I wondered if this was a safe place for her to be.

Bob, Eileen, and I were no more than three feet apart from one another as the countdown began.
We kidded afterward, wondering if we actually saw the moment when the tree went from dark to lit.

We stood there for five minutes before we started to leave.

It was an hour before we all got together in the same place.

The crowd was like a river with its powerful current that you had no alternative but to ride it out.

Uptown, Downton, Eastside, Westside, we were pushed and prodded in all directions.

I thought of the young woman and her child in the stroller, but I never saw them after that first time.

It was kind of scary, but we were young and had a good laugh as we made our way to the train and back to Larchmont.

Later that evening, Eileen and I watched the news.

The lead story was a horrendous account of how twelve people were crushed to death at a Who concert in Cincinnati.

Having experienced the pushing and shoving at the tree lighting and being totally out of control, I vowed never to put myself in that type of situation again.

There wasn’t a mass shooting or terrible fire, just eager fans trying to get the best seat for the concert.

I never saw the tree lighting in person after that night.

The fact that it is a ninety-minute extravaganza has as much to my missing the lighting as anything.

Still, I can still feel the angst of not knowing where Eileen was for that hour.

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It Doesn’t Take Much

My mother would always remind me not to let little things bother me. Of course, at the time, I was too young to understand the wisdom of those words as I would protest I was trying to rid myself of those “little things,” thereby getting rid of them so that they would bother me no more.

The fact is that many of us share my propensity to react to little upsetting things with the explosive fervor worthy of penitents seeking forgiveness. However, we aim to impose penance rather than forgiveness on the source of our anger.

After all, people are the root of our grief and anger.

It doesn’t take much to upset us.

It could be a comment, an opposing point of view, or a Yankee striking out at a critical time.
It doesn’t take much.

But we are compelled to remember that, It doesn’t take much.

It doesn’t take much to set off a wave of joy and happiness in our hearts and mind.

Perhaps it’s a little boy who imitates the face you make and makes it on cue when his mother says, “Make Pop’s face”?

It could be the look of frustration that a little boy has when you are not quick enough to skip ads on YouTube that makes you laugh out loud.

More likely, it’s the texts and selfies he sends to me when he grabs his mother’s phone after a FaceTime call.

It doesn’t take much.

Whatever caused me grief in the past has long since been forgotten.

It may appear that it doesn’t take much, but in reality, a transformation occurs whenever that little boy walks into a room or appears on my phone.

It Doesn’t Take Much but it is a miracle all the same.

It’s very much indeed and such a nice thing to think about on a Monday morning.

Have fun, everybody.

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Holiday Traditions

The very notion of a Holiday is the first step in creating a Holiday Tradition.

All of our holidays inspire special celebrations. Memorial Day has always been the official start of summer. Out in the Hamptons, we got our new beach pass, and although it might be chilly, we ventured down to the surf, if for only a few minutes.

July Fourth was the real beginning of summer, and hot dogs and fireworks helped us celebrate America.
Even Labor Day provided a tradition or two. Just as on Memorial Day, we made our way to the beach, so too on Labor Day. Except Labor Day served as the official end of summer. We celebrated at 5 PM on Ponquogue Beach by giving the lifeguards a rousing standing ovation as the last whistle indicated that they were going home for good. See you next year.

But two holidays, in particular, have given us the most traditions.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and you and your family will do what you have done for years and years. A turkey in the oven, stuffing that tastes like your mother just made it, and a nice wedge of pumpkin pie with a healthy helping of whipped cream to put an exclamation point on the Thanksgiving feast.

Of course, food is not the only tradition of the day.

Thanksgiving started with the Macy’s Parade when I was a kid and switched to the Laurel and Hardy movie, The March Of The Wooden Soldiers.

It always seemed that the Packers were playing the Lions which we watched a bit. But for my brother Michael and I, Thanksgiving represented the start of the train season. The Lionel Train season.
We would start looking at the new Lionel catalog, and the day after Thanksgiving, we got to work on creating our layout.

The only thing Black about this Black Friday was the steam engine that would soon be chugging around the loop of track affixed to our sheet of plywood.

The month between Thanksgiving and Christmas was the longest month of the year. Nevertheless, Christmas Holiday Traditions would commence soon after the stuffing was gone.

Listening to Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, Johnny Mathis, and Nat King Cole was always a surefire way to get you into the holiday spirit.

Making our Santa Claus wish list ( which always made my Father laugh) helped our imagineering skills prepare us for a life of disappointment.

Finally, it was time to decorate the tree.

I have previously described what happened to the last real tree we had at 1261 Leland Avenue, so I won’t bore you again. But in 1966, my mother and I decided it might be time to look for a new artificial tree.

My brother Michael and his wife Margaret were newly married and also needed a tree.
I wonder if we had supply chain issues (not sure if there were even such things as supply chains), but there was not an artificial tree to be had in the Bronx that year. Perhaps there was a shortage of green pipe cleaners?

We looked in every possible store that might have trees to sell. We even looked in the Park Florist on Metropolitan Avenue in Parkchester.

We eventually gave up.

I forget where Michael and Margaret finally got a tree, but I reported to my mother that we were out of luck.

So, she and I got to work and decorated the tree we were so quick to toss out the window.
The result was that we had the best tree we had ever had. Perfect in shape, lighting, ornament placement, and just the right amount of tinsel.

The Ghosts of Christmas Past has so many glorious tales to tell if we can only take the time to remember.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I’ll be back before Christmas.

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About this time fifty-nine years ago. I may have been daydreaming about the approaching Thanksgiving Holiday. More likely, I was daydreaming about a girl. In any event, I wasn’t paying attention to Sister Margaret. Although I always loved her stories about her time in the Bahamas, today was Friday, and the three o’clock bell was more interesting to ponder.

But dismissal was a long way away, and even lunchtime was far in the future. Well, when you’re thirteen, you have a distorted sense of time.

We had Math, then History, and eventually English, and all of a sudden, it was lunchtime. We prayed the Angelus, and then, those of us like me who avoided cafeteria food made our way home for a nice PBJ sandwich. Of course, in 1963, we didn’t refer to it as PBJ but as peanut butter and jelly.

It was Friday which meant bologna was off the menu in Catholic homes.

After lunch, I met Freddy, Mike, John, and Lou at Hoch’s corner candy store, and we made our way back to Blessed Sacrament.

That served as the last few moments of our normal life.

The America that we lived in would end in just a few short hours, but no one saw it coming.

The first announcement came around 2 PM.

“The President had been injured” was all that Sister Irene Mary, our Principal, said.

My classmates and I were perplexed and wondered why that announcement was so important as to interrupt our reading of our Catholic Messenger.

A few minutes later, our confusion was replaced by bewilderment.

“The President has died in Dallas.”


We read about that in our History textbook, not the New York Daily News!

I am not sure any of us ever fully recovered from the shock of those few moments on a previously joyous Friday afternoon.

I know America has never recovered.

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Life After Your Second Hurricane


When I finally retired and moved to Florida, I thought I would be entering the Magical Phase of my life.

Disney and Yankee Spring Training lured me south to the Sunshine State. Who knew it was also the Cat 4 State?

This past week we had another hurricane hit Florida. It was only a Cat 1, so no biggie? Wrong, it was a big biggie for those on the east coast of Florida. And, by the way, it occurred later in the year than any other hurricane that made landfall, but I wouldn’t worry about that climate change thing.

The only wave we were supposed to fear this week was that red wave sweeping through the country. Fortunately, for the remaining 49, Florida was the only state to be hit by the wave, and that’s mainly because God handpicked our governor to do His work.

But I wonder if that is really the case, as Ron’s Realm was struck by the hand of God twice in a very short time, right before the election.

A few weeks ago, I asked, “What Are You Going To Do? Where Are You Going To Go?”

Now, more urgently than before, where can I seek shelter from the storm?

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Surviving America

I feel more angst about this Election Day than any in recent memory. Even the Election of 2020 was not nearly as disturbing as 2022 is threatening to be.

The hatred and vitriol exhibited by both sides are nothing new, but after 2020 armed resistance and extremist violence are a real possibility.

We’ve seen it before

Even though there are those, who deny the occurrence of the attack on the Capitol building just as they doubt the legitimacy of the election, many of us will go to the polls to vote as if it will matter.

For me, there will be no peace coming out of this election. It will either be denied and result in more lies and, perhaps, more violence, or we will have a bloodless coup as democratic institutions fall under attack as Congress changes hands.

Regardless of what party wins, I will continue to have faith.

I surprise myself by writing that, but we are a nation of survivors.

You only have to look at the recent past (historically speaking) of our nation to understand this.

We only have to consider the following: The Great Depression; World War II; McCarthyism; the Cold War including the Cuban Missile Crisis; the assassination of President Kennedy; Viet Nam and the ensuing divisiveness it inspired; the assassination of Martin Luther King; the assassination of Bobby Kennedy; Watergate; September 11th; and the last six years of political mayhem.

America survived it all, and we will continue to survive whatever Tuesday, November 8th may deliver.

Pray God that I am right.

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The Last Freakin Friday Of October

It’s 86 degrees (feels like 91) here in Bradenton, so if it was New York, it could be the last day of July. There’s just something unnatural about having the AC on as we approach Halloween.

Nevertheless, there is a hint of Autumn’s chill in the air even here in Bradenton. We’ve already had a few days that we didn’t climb out of the sixties, but lately, it’s been back to the mid to high eighties.

I’ve learned that the sun and heat do nothing to stifle the early arrival of Christmas.

Christmas is quite evident when you go to the mall and enter the few department stores that haven’t been put out of business by Amazon. I have yet to hear Christmas music, but I haven’t been to the mall often.

Eileen and I did visit a big Christmas shop in Sarasota, and there was a line at the register on a Monday morning. I guess the people down here haven’t gotten the word that the economy is struggling. They mustn’t watch TV because every republican candidate likes to remind us that we are suffering and that the election was stolen.

It’s funny how they all seem to forget about 2000.

It was reported that home heating oil was costing more than five dollars a gallon. That is one good thing about living in Florida, but the price of oil and natural gas will affect what we pay for electricity and gas for our stove, clothes dryer, and bbq grill.

Big oil gets you no matter where you live.

But, I’ve drifted away from the last Friday of October.

There was a time when I went to Catholic grammar school and high school that a big thing was made of First Fridays.

In grammar school, we were always expected to go to mass, and we were rewarded for our faithful adherence by a late start to our school day. The notion was that we could receive the Eucharist and then go home for breakfast. You see, in those days, you couldn’t eat anything for at least three hours before you received it. So, the late opening was our payback for receiving.

Whether it was the last Friday of October or the First Friday of November, we were all into the fall.

It was football weather. The temperature was cold enough to warrant a heavy sweater or warm jacket.There was a smell that defined the season. Maybe it was the leaves decaying at our feet as we played football on Theriot Avenue.

Even as an adult living on Long Island, I loved this time of year, raking leaves and all.

It was also a great time for holidays.

There was Columbus Day. Then on October 31st, we had Halloween, which was not a day-off holiday but going to Catholic School, we got the day after, November 1st, off for All Saints Day. Then there was Election Day and then Armistice Day or Veterans Day as it was called in 1954.

The big holidays, however,  were in the bullpen, ready to start the festivities.
Thanksgiving (Can’t you still smell the turkey cooking in your mother’s kitchen?) ushered in the Christmas season. We didn’t call the day after Thanksgiving Black Friday back then, but it was a special day, notwithstanding.

You see, if you had a set of Lionel or American Flyer trains, this was the day you began to get them out of the box and begin to construct your layout. I still get goosebumps.

It’s good to remember these things. Sometimes we may forget how grand life was and continues to be. One thing I am sure of is that our parents were right. Television should be taken in small doses because I find myself getting more frustrated than entertained after a heavy  TV day.

I’m not just saying that because the Yankees were swept in the ALCS.
Happy Friday, this last Friday of October, and know that the First Friday of November is just around the corner.

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To Coin A Phrase?

I was driving home from the dentist, trying not to dribble on myself when I came to a red light.

I looked down at the center console and a bunch of coins in one of the cup holders.
There were quarters, dimes, nickels, and even a few pennies (bless their heart).

Back in the day, I would have been able to buy a cup of coffee with the change in that cup holder, but now, those coins are so much refuse, not worthy of jingling in my pocket.

I hardly ever have paper money in my wallet these days. The debit card has replaced Washington, Lincoln, and Hamilton…rarely had Benjamins in my possession. And coins? Hard metal cash? Sorry, I don’t do heavy metal when it comes to do re mi. The coins in question will probably be relegated to a jar or perhaps my sock draw with my roll of Lincoln Head pennies that I bought on eBay.

Then I thought (It was a long light) of the expression “To coin a phrase.”

Kids growing up today wouldn’t understand the verb “coin,” much less the noun coin.

Banking technology has affected our culture to the extent that it won’t be long if the keeper of Webster’s Dictionary manages to keep the word coin in its publication; no doubt, it will be described as an archaic throwback to the dark ages of the late twentieth century.

What other words or expressions are doomed to the eraser of the dictionary police?

Democracy? (Oooh, that was nasty.)

Of course, every generation has words that evolve into and out of usage, so it should be no surprise to us as we opt for plastic and shun the currency of our past.

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Words To Grow By

Words have always mattered to me.

I never bought into that “sticks and stones” thing. A lot of crap that was. Words certainly do hurt you from time to time.

However, it is not about the words that hurt that I wish to write, but rather, the words that inspire and adorn our world with all that is good.

For me, it all started with my mother.

She had several expressions or sayings that she would often regale all of her family who would listen. Of course, we all listened.

Momma always attributed these pithy words to her own mother, Mary Dowd McHugh.

To be sure, I only got to appreciate the inherent wisdom of her words as I got older. Some of them infuriated me when I was a kid.

“Don’t let little things bother you.”

The times when life got the better of me and my frustration with not getting my way often resulted in this advice from my mother.

Don’t let little things bother you.

In all my frustration, I was trying to overcome the cause of frustration which, to me, was trying not to let little things bother me. My problem is I never really understood what my mother meant.

She wasn’t telling me anything about overcoming my particular problem of the day. Instead, she was telling me to forget about this minor issue. She really meant don’t sweat the small stuff. But I was too young to understand…until yesterday, I think.

Then, of course, she would often drift into the classics.

“Too much of anything is good for nothing.”

I think this is a catchier version of “Moderation in all things.”

So, Lizzie McHugh was a Greek and Roman literature student but put her own spin on the adage.

Then, of course, she used the Bard himself to have us scurry into our bedroom when it was time for bed.

“To bed to bed, there’s a knocking at the gate.”

I really thought she made this one up. But then I read Macbeth in high school, and sure enough, it was in Act V.

My mother taught me other things, but these were her classics, so I thought I would share them.

And, of course, others in my life inspired me with their words.

“Oh yeah, I’ll tell you something. I think you’ll understand.”

That still gives me goosebumps, just like it did that first time I heard it in the fall of 1963. Of course, I Want To Hold Your Hand by the Beatles is the sort of this lyric of all lyrics.

It possesses such power as to start a revolution. A revolution inspired by the concept of holding a loved one’s hand. Years before the sexual revolution, it was as erotic as it got. Goosebumps rather than lust was its outcome, and fifty-nine years later, I still have to stop typing and calm myself down.

Transitioning from the time of teenage love and romance to the words of Christ.

Ironically, it was about the same time in 1963 that I began to take the words of Christ to heart.

The Prodigal Son and other of Christ’s parables of forgiveness illustrated that God was not mad at me or disappointed with me. Christ showed the infinite ability to love and forgive. I realized both actions cost me nothing.

It didn’t matter how many people I loved because there was always enough love for one more. Forgiveness? When would you stop forgiving someone? Is it about the same time you would no longer require forgiveness for your transgressions?

I then turned to the Our Father.

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive the trespasses of others.?

Mother of Mercy! Do you mean I have to forgive others all the time when they offend me? Yeah, Jimmy, that’s what it means. Otherwise, you will run out of forgiveness sooner rather than later.

There’s no better time to introduce the words of Bob Dylan than right after writing about Christ.

“Blowin In The Wind.”

Perhaps Dylan’s most important song poses nine questions. The answers, however, were not provided, merely suggesting that the answers are Blowin In The Wind.

Go listen to the song or at least read the lyrics.

You will realize that the answer to each and every one of the questions is simply “Too Many.”

JFK inspired us to look for help rather than ask for help.

MLK dared us to dream along with him.

We were a divided nation in 1963 and 1968, and while our hatred may have gone on hiatus for a spell, it was still percolating under the surface.

We seem to be at a loss as to which words can release us from this tailspin in which we find ourselves. I don’t think we really hate each other, but maybe we’re just afraid to grasp that hand of the other in a commitment of friendship, if not full-blown love.

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