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December 8, 2000

What a glorious time of year we are now experiencing. The brisk autumn air puts a new zip in each step, foliage remains colorful and beautiful on Bradford pears, maples and other ornamentals, and the thrill of Advent permeates it all. Choirs sing, ministers proclaim anew the birth of Christ and our hearts fairly burst with joy and anticipation. Families prepare for holiday reunions and youngsters count the days, the hours, the minutes until Christmas Eve. Nothing quite equals the joy all this brings to a sometimes-troubled world.

Each Christmas also recalls a charming little story told years ago by Uncle Irving, my father’s brother, whose son (Frederick William Beers) lived at our house during the 1930s and thus became more big brother than cousin. Uncle Irving and his wife, Aunt Mollie, lived in Kansas City, Missouri, but they kept in touch with their son and his sister, Dorothy, who lived in Arizona, through letters. Uncle Irving was a stern looking but gentle man, very dignified and formal and his writing style reflected that. He looked something like Judge Hardy, Andy’s dad in the old movie series. It saddens me that Uncle Irving and his family have all passed away, but I have saved a copy of one of the letters he sent to his son, describing life in the latter part of the 19th century when Irving and my Dad were young men living with their parents on a farm near East Gilead, Michigan. That’s where this bit of Americana originated, and I share it with you now. Here is Uncle Irving’s account:

“As a boy I attended the Island school, about one mile and a half from home, having to walk in the winter over roads often covered with snow and ice from a foot to four or more deep in places. During the spring and summer seasons there was not a great deal of time for entertainment – but most of the outdoor sports and parties were during the winter months.

“Of course, there was ice skating and coasting and there was a real delight in skating on the lake over glaring ice, and pushing the ‘only’ girl seated on a block of ice over which was spread a woolen blanket. Some nights there were the singing schools, spelling schools, debating societies, and church entertainments, all of which were held in the schoolhouses or in the big tavern.

“In the big tavern we had such games as miller boy, needle’s eye, in and out the window, Ruth and Jacob, and sometimes even post office, but that was taboo in polite society.

“I am sure the young people of today get no more real enjoyment out of commercialized entertainment than the young of that day from the games and entertainment of their own production.”

That was written by Uncle Irving some 60 years ago and that is how he summed up the Currier and Ives picture that he described. His letter went on with details that could also have inspired several Norman Rockwell covers for the Saturday Evening Post. Reading again his recollections of a kinder, gentler age in another century makes me yearn for just a bit of that for my family and for all of us today. Happy holidays to all!