Saturday, January 25, 2014

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 1/27/1964 to 2/2/1964

Today, we give little thought to polio, but it was still a significant health issue in 1964, with "Stop Polio" Sundays scheduled to offer mass immunizations for Rome and Floyd County residents. Dr. C.J. Wyatt, president of the Floyd County Medical Society, urged parents to ensure that their children received the Sabin oral vaccine; to make it easy, the mass vaccinations were scheduled on Sundays in February, March, and April, with vaccination clinics set up in schools (including West Rome High School).

Did you know that Battey State Hospital once had its own thousand-acre farm to raise crops and livestock to feed patients at the facility? After almost two decades, Battey announced in 1964 that it was closing down the farm (located on the Oostanaula River north of Rome) and the related pasteurization plant; the farm employed more than a dozen farmers, who lived with their families in housing provided on the facility. "We believe it will be more economical for the state to purchase the milk, beef, and pork for the hospital than to continue production on the farm," Battey Hospital superintendent Dr. Raymond Corpe said. He said the primary reason for the closing was the reduced patient load at Battey's tuberculosis treatment center, which had been steadily dropping since the 1940s.

Rome shoppers found bargains galore during Rome's Jubilee Days, held on  January 31st and February 1st. The program was so successful that parking spaces were hard to come by in downtown Rome because of the influx of shoppers from as far away as Huntsville, Alabama.

We weren't big enough for the Harlem Globetrotters, apparently--instead, Rome got the Harlem Magicians (starring former Globetrotter Marques Haynes) taking on the New York Olympians in an exhibition game at the Memorial Gym on Friday, January 31st. For $2 (or only $1 for students), you could watch the sort of basketball skill and silliness for which the Magicians (and their inspiration, the Globetrotters) were famous.

West Rome's basketball team defeated Calhoun on January 31st in a 65-40 rout. Alas, Rockmart ended the Chieftains' winning streak, defeating West Rome 45-40 February 1st.

Piggly Wiggly had fresh whole fryers for 23¢ a pound, Stokely's canned corn for 17¢ a can, and tall cans of pink salmon for 50¢ each (and at that price, I now understand why pan-fried salmon patties were a regular menu item at our house!). Kroger had sirloin steaks for 89¢ a pound, fresh tomatoes for 25¢ a pound, and a large box of Tide detergent for 25¢. A&P had Jane Parker white bread for 20¢ a loaf, center cut pork chops for 59¢, and Armour's chili with beans for a quarter a can. Big Apple had a 6-bottle carton of 10 ounce Pepsi Cola for 19¢, Cudahy Bar S bacon for 57¢ a pound, and lamb shoulder roast for 39¢ a pound. Couch's had ground beef for 39¢ a pound, ice milk for 33¢ a half-gallon, and Maxwell House coffee for 49¢ a pound.

We're so spoiled by cable television and Netflix that we forget how few movie choices we had a half-century ago! If you wanted to catch a film during the first half of the week, your Rome theater choices were limited to McLintock! (with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara) at the DeSoto or I Could Go On Singing (a year-old film with Judy Garland and Dirk Bogarde) at the First Avenue. The weekend brought The Running Man (with Laurence Harvey and Lee Remick--and no, it's not connected to the Stephen King film, since it would a couple of decades before King would write that novel under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman) to the First Avenue and Charade (with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn) to the DeSoto, while the West Rome Drive-In continued its weekends-only showings with two relatively unknown films, Term of Trial and Island of Love.

"I Want to Hold Your Hand" by the Beatles held on to first place in the musical Top Ten for a second week--but that was only one of two Beatles songs in the top ten this week in 1964, as "She Loves You" rocketed to #7 on the charts. Other top ten hits included "You Don't Own Me" by Lesley Gore (#2); "Out of Limits" by the Marketts (#3); "Hey Little Cobra" by the Rip Chords (#4); "Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um" by Major Lance (#5); "Surfin' Bird" by the Trashmen (#6); "For You" by Rick Nelson (#8); "Anyone Who Had a Heart" by Dionne Warwick (#9); and "There! I've Said It Again" by Bobby Vinton (#10).

And on Sunday night, February 2nd, Ed Sullivan reminded viewers that the Beatles would make their US performing debut on his show the next Sunday, February 9th, to the delight of most kids and teenagers (and the consternation of our parents, I imagine).

Thursday, January 23, 2014

You Got Lovecraft in My Shadow!...

Apparently I'm the target audience for this comic. Pulp heroes. Lovecraftean horror. Ron Marz.  Two great concepts brought together by a veteran writer who has proven he knows how to construct a story.  Count me in!

(The great thing about Cthulhu Mythos stuff is that it was a sort of "open source fiction" before its time. Lovecraft was generous in allowing fellow writers to contribute tales and concepts to his horror concept; in the decades since his death, scores of other writers have continued to expand the Mythos--and while the stories aren't always great, I'm always interested in the experiment.)

From Dynamite Entertainment in April:

 The Shadow series gets a special one-shot in April of 2014. The Shadow Over Innsmouth is written by Ron Marz (Green Lantern) and artist Matthew Dow Smith. Crafting a Shadow story like no other and placing the pulp avenger in H.P. Lovecraft's famous setting for a truly inspired one-shot, this oversized issue will be available in April from Dynamite Entertainment via both comic stores and digital platforms.

In The Shadow Over Innsmouth, the fog-shrouded town of Innsmouth holds deep secrets. There are legends of inhuman creatures raised from the depths, of supernatural rites and elder gods from beyond. When Lamont Cranston and Margo Lane find themselves trapped in Innsmouth, terrible truths will surface... truths only the Shadow can know.

"Certainly the title alone made this a natural story to tell, but more than that, both the Shadow and Lovecraft's mythos are products of the same era," says writer Ron Marz. "They both have pulp roots, so despite the Shadow's crime orientation and Lovecraft's overt horror, there's a similarity in mood. I tried to put together the Shadow and the Innsmouth legend in a way that remains true to both of them. And obviously I couldn't ask for a better artist collaborator that my buddy Matthew Dow Smith. If anybody in comics knows shadows, it's Matthew."

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 1/20/1964 to 1/26/1964

Owen Blanton (well known by all Chieftains for his many years as an educator, a coach, and a guidance counselor) visited the West End PTA on Tuesday, January 21st, where he delivered the keynote speech to commemorate "Lights On For Education." The program, which emphasized community support of and involvement in local education, was quite a success, with almost 50% of the West End parents attending.

Rumors that Battey State Hospital might be closed were emphatically denied by Governor Carl Sanders, who assured Romans that "as long as I am governor, Battey will not be moved from Floyd County," in spite of a Georgia Department of Public Health recommendation that the Rome facility be closed and the hospital relocated to a site near Emory in Atlanta.

Rome still held on to hope that the Coosa River might become a major waterway when President Lyndon Johnson approved more than $14 million to upgrade various locks and dams so that large barges could traverse unimpeded from Mobile to Rome. Alas, these plans were never fully implemented--but in 1964, it looked quite promising, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Coosa-Alabama River Improvement Association, which counted many prominent Rome businessmen among its members.

Coosa Valley Vocational Technical School added a number of business classes to its offerings for the quarter beginning January 29th, including accounting, shorthand, typing, business math, business law, and office machine technology. Back in 1964, there was no tuition cost at all to attend Coosa Valley Tech either full-time or part-time, although students had to pay a registration and supply fee of $11 per quarter and were required to buy books, which could cost up to $4 each.  (And it doesn't matter how you adjust  for inflation, that was an amazing educational bargain compared to today's prices!) The school, which began operation in 1962, was proving quite popular indeed, with more than 3000 people touring the facility during its January 26th open house, and more than 800 students filling every available classroom spot.

West Rome's Chieftains faced off against Chattooga on Friday, January 24th, and defeated them handily 67-34. The next night, they won against Dalton 41-32, forcing all of Northwest Georgia to admit that the underrated West Rome basketball team was a real contender!

It might not have been fine dining, but it was sure to be good food: Murphy's added a fried fillet of haddock dinner to its Friday and Saturday offerings; for 59¢ you got fish, french fries, cole slaw, rolls, and tartar sauce. This inspired The Shrimp Boat to cut the price on their fried fish dinner to 50¢ on Friday and Saturday as Rome's winter fried fish war was on!

Piggly Wiggly had five pounds of sugar for 19¢, turkey breasts for 69¢ a pound, and your choice of celery, radishes, carrots, or green onions for 12¢ a bunch--and they also announced that they were expanding their hours and staying open until 9pm every Friday night for shopping convenience. Kroger had fresh fryers for a quarter a pound, Spotlight coffee for 49¢ a pound, and navel oranges for a nickel each. A&P had sirloin tip roast for 89¢ a pound, Oscar Mayer bacon for 59¢, and Foremost ice cream for 79¢ a half-gallon. Big Apple had pork roast for 43¢ a pound, canned pineapple for 49¢ per flat can, and your choice of a dozen different American Beauty brand canned vegetables for a dime each. Couch's had fully cooked hams for 49¢ each, tomatoes for 15¢ a pound, and Bama apple jelly (in the ever-popular jelly-jar that could be used as a drinking glass when all the jelly was gone) for 19¢.

For the first part of the week, moviegoers could choose from Move Over Darling (with Doris Day and James Garner) at the DeSoto or Kings of the Sun (with Yul Brynner & George Chakiris) at the First Avenue. The weekend brought McLintock! (with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara) to the DeSoto and The Vampire & the Ballerina (with nobody anyone has ever heard of) and Tower of London (with Vincent Price) to the First Avenue. The West Rome Drive-In continued its weekends-only winter schedule with a forgettable double feature of Cairo and Seven Seas to Calais.

The Beatles had their first #1 record in the US this week in 1964 when "I Want to Hold Your Hand" took the primo position. Other top ten hits included "You Don't Own Me" by Lesley Gore (#2); "Out of Limits" by the Marketts (#3); "Surfin' Bird" by the Trashmen (#4); "Hey Little Cobra" by the Rip Chords (#5); "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen (#6); "There! I've Said It Again" by Bobby Vinton (#7); "Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um" by Major Lance (#8); "Anyone Who Had a Heart" by Dionne Warwick (#9); and "For You" by Rick Nelson (#10).

And on January 20th, one of the best-selling albums in US history hit stores when Capitol Records officially released Meet the Beatles in both mono and stereo. (Back then, stereo albums cost a dollar more, so many of us ended up with the mono version instead. My mono copy--which I still have, albeit in very worn condition--was purchased at Redford 5 & 10¢ store at Westdale shopping center--close enough to my house that I was able to walk there and buy it once I had saved enough allowance money!)

Friday, January 17, 2014

Tune In: Lewisohn Makes His Mark

Tonight I finished my comparative reading of the long two-volume version of Mark Lewisohn's unprecedented Beatles biography part one, Tune In, which follows the Beatles through the end of 1962. The one-volume edition is a remarkable biographical work in itself, but the massive two volume set (currently published in the UK only, so you'll  have to get it through an import source) is even more packed--longer interviews, more detailed quotes, etc. It's an eye-opening biography, the first of its kind as far as the Beatles are concerned: no one has gone to such effort to actually research the "facts" that Beatles fans have known for years, and as a result Lewisohn is able to disprove some points about Beatles history, setting the record straight and clarifying things. (For instance, the old saw that Pete Best was a great drummer who was dropped because Paul was jealous of the attention he got: time and again, people point out that Best was a workmanlike drummer who had basically one unvarying pattern, and producer George Martin was particularly unimpressed by his skills. Ringo was a much better drummer, and he fit in much better with the group. Or the myth that Stu Sutcliffe was such a bad bassist that he turned his back to the audience to hide the fact that he wasn't really playing at all; Sutcliffe wasn't great as a bassist, but he was an adequate player who improved rapidly, as did every member of the group. Or the tale that John Lennon watched his mother run down in front of him; in reality, she was hit by a car after a visit with John's Aunt Mimi, and John didn't find out about her death until later that day. Or the old saw that Brian Epstein ordered hundreds or thousands of copies of Beatles singles to boost their chart position; in reality, record charts in the UK at this time were ranked by the top 30 sellers reported in each store, so it wouldn't matter how many copies Epstein ordered, the record store he owned would still be just one store reporting their sales figures and would not have any influence over national sales rankings.)

Where Lewisohn really shines, though, is his ability to bring the Beatles to life as people; you get to know them as teenagers and early-twenty-something musicians who have to overcome setbacks before they achieve success. You see them progress from struggling local musicians to the polished professionals we know them to be. You get a full picture of their unpleasant experiences in Germany, and you can appreciate the Star Club recordings in perspective.

The longer version is positively massive (1728 pages compared to the 800 pages of the standard edition), offering much more of the supporting documentation; I find it fascinating, although the standard version may be all the biography that most will want. And remember, this is just a biography through 1962--the Beatles were on the cusp of fame as the book ends, leaving us eagerly awaiting the second volume of his biographical series.

After reading so much in here about the sessions that produced "Love Me Do," "PS I Love You," "Ask Me Why," and "Please Please Me," I decided that I wanted to hear those again, so I pulled out no my complete Beatles vinyl sets, but a less well known collection: The Beatles--From Liverpool, an eight-album boxed set overview of their career. It's a must-have for collectors, even if you have the most recently remastered Stereo boxed set, because it includes a lot of versions of Beatles songs not found on the standard releases ("All My Loving" with the five-tap "hi-hat" cymbal intro, "And I Love Her" with the six bar acoustic guitar fadeout, "Love Me Do (Version 1)" with Ringo on drums, just to name a few). It's also the most comprehensive chronological "best of" that there is, featuring 124 Beatles tracks from their first release "Love Me Do" to "Her Majesty," the final song on the final album the Beatles recorded, Abbey Road (Let It Be was released after Abbey Road, but recorded earlier... don't worry, half of the Let It Be album makes it onto this set as well). The vinyl quality is superb, the production values are excellent... I'm surprised this set hasn't been reissued, to be honest!

I put on the first disc, cued everything up, and rediscovered the joy of those first four songs, heard with a new appreciation of what the Beatles went through to get them recorded. For a brief moment, I could imagine what it was like for them to hear these songs on a tape playback or an acetate for the first time...

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 1/13/1964 to 1/19/1964

Rome began this week in 1964 with a hard freeze as temperatures hit degrees on January 13th, with snow falling across parts of Rome and Floyd County; the weather was not enough to close schools in Rome, but several counties around us did close school or send students home early. After rising on Tuesday and Wednesday, temperatures fell into the teens and twenties again on Thursday night, but once again snow and sleet missed Rome (other than a few flurries). Of course, that meant that students (and teachers) hoping for a snow day were disappointed not once but twice in the same week!

One of Rome's oldest funeral homes, Stevens-Davenport  at 7 East 6th Avenue, was damaged by a fire in the early morning hours of January 13th. Stevens-Davenport, while not located in West Rome, served many West Rome families in their hours of need. Thankfully, most of the damage was confined to the upper floor; Leon Stevens said that the business would continue to operate while cleanup and repairs took place.

Chieftains with plans to attend Berry College had to dig a little deeper into their pockets: the school announced a tuition increase, with full charges (which included room, board, laundry, medical, activity, and tuition costs) increased to $475 per quarter, while day student charges (which included tuition and activity fees only) increased to $212 per quarter. (Yes, it sounds pretty cheap--but don't forget that inflation multiplier of approximately 7.5 to figure out what that equates today in 2014 dollars!)

The Chieftains defeated Lafayette's basketball team 55-40 on January 17th, extending their winning season. Maybe that's why it wasn't too much of a surprise that the Atlanta Journal tapped West Rome as number four in Georgia's Top 10 AA basketball teams--one of two Rome/Floyd County teams on the list from any region, and the only AA team from Rome/Floyd County.

West Rome's wrestlers ventured to Marietta to take on Sprayberry on Tuesday, January 14th, winning seven matches to five. (That was a long drive back in the 1960s, before I-75 was opened; the Chieftains bus had to travel all the way down US 41 to the intersection of 41 and Allgood Road--where the Walker School in Marietta is located today--because that's where Sprayberry was located in 1964.)

Piggly Wiggly had sirloin steaks for 89¢ a pound, bananas for a dime a pound, and Swift's bacon for 29¢ a pound. A&P had chuck roast for 35¢ a pound, apples for 49¢ per ten-pound bag, and fruit cocktail for 23¢ a can. Kroger had pork steaks for 49¢ a pound, Kroger brand pork and beans for a dime a can, and carrots for 15¢ a bunch. Big Apple had smoked picnic ham for 29¢ a pound, Bailey's Supreme Coffee for 49¢ per one-pound bag, and fresh beef liver for 19¢ a pound (and that probably explains why liver and onions was a regular menu item at my house!). Couch's had first cut pork chops for 39¢ a pound, peach halves for 29¢ a can, and Blue Plate Peanut Butter for 29¢ per 12-ounce jar.

If you wanted to catch a movie during the first half of the week, your choices were Wall of Noise (with Suzanne Pleshette & Ty Hardin) at the First Avenue and Move Over Darling (with Doris Day & James Garner) at the DeSoto. The last half of the week brought Kings of the Sun (with Yul Brynner & George Chakiris) to the First Avenue, while Move Over Darling continued at the Desoto (new movie day in Rome was Wednesday back in the 1960s, not Friday). The West Rome Drive-In's weekend-only offerings included The Far County with James Stewart & Ruth Roman (a ten-year old movie that originally screened in 1954… obviously the drive-in's management realized that no one was going to drive-in to watch a movie!) and The Great Imposter with Tony Curtis & Edmond O'Brien (a three-year-old film that premiered in 1961).

The number one song this week in 1964 was "There! I've Said It Again" by Bobby Vinton. Other top ten hits included "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen (#2); "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by the Beatles, who made their premiere top ten appearance in the US this week in 1964 all the way at #3; "Surfin' Bird" by the Trashmen (#4); "Popsicles & Icicles" by the Murmaids (#5); "Out of Limits" by the Marketts (#6); "Hey Little Cobra" by the Rip Chords (#7); "Forget Him" by Bobby Rydell (#8); "Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um" by Major Lance (#9); and "As Usual" by Brenda Lee (#10).

Albums I Should Have Listened To Earlier: Bee Gees 1st (1967)

Tonight's album that I discovered almost a half-century after its first release: The Bee Gees 1st, from 1967. I picked up the CD version of this a couple of years ago, and just found a fine condition vinyl copy today. 
I regret that I never listened to the Bee Gees when I was younger. Because I didn't know much of their earlier music, I had mentally miscategorized them based on their 1970s disco hits, and had totally overlooked their brilliant earlier albums. Great harmonies, musical experimentation, strong songwriting... it's all here.
The big hits like "To Love Somebody" (one of my favorite Bee Gees song, right after "Lonely Days"), "New York Mining Disaster 1941," and "Holiday" are here, but it's the quirky gems like "Turn of the Century," "Red Chair Fade Away," and "Craise Finton Cook Royal Academy of Arts" that really pique my interest. Even from the beginning, the Brothers Gibb were striving to be more than just a pop band.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 1/6/1964 to 1/12/1964

After a lengthy Christmas break, school resumed on Monday, January 6th--a little bit later than originally planned, as it turned out! Students were supposed to go back to school on Thursday, January 2nd, but the New Year's Eve/New Year's Day snow and ice forced school officials to postpone the resumption of classes for another few days. (So much for that nostalgic belief that, back in the "old days," school started after Labor Day, ended before Memorial Day, and had two weeks off for Christmas, a week for Thanksgiving, and a week for Easter!…)

City school superintendent M.S. McDonald expressed concern when the city approved a school system budget of $745,000 for 1964--a figure that was $59,000 less than McDonald had requested. McDonald said that unless the budget was restored, the city school system would have to cut National Defense Education funds for East Rome and West Rome; these funds were part of a federal plan whereby local funding for language, science, and math technology was matched by an equal amount of federal funding. Of course, as McDonald pointed out, both schools had been fully stocked with state-of-the-art equipment (well, state of the art for the early 1960s) in the few years prior, so there wasn't really that much equipment needed… but it had been budgeted in just in case.

Coach Kennedy revealed that Cedartown was considering dropping its annual football face-off with the Chieftains since the two schools were no longer in the same region. "After having beaten us six times, you'd think that Cedartown would want to keep playing us," Coach Kennedy told the Rome News-Tribune's Don Biggers (hi, dad!).

The Chieftains faced off against Calhoun on January 10th, winning handily 47-27. The next night, they played against Berry, trouncing them 60-39. West Rome may have been a football school, but we had a pretty doggone impressive basketball program, too!

Right-of-way funding was completed for the East Rome Interchange of US 411/US 27--and State Highway Director Jim Gillis pointed out that the planned multi-level interchange was the only one of its kind in Georgia. Of course, he felt the ambitious plan was necessary since the state intended to complete a direct connection via US 411 to I-75 in the next few years.  (Alas, the Rollins family had other plans, putting their wants ahead of Rome's progress for a half-century and counting!…)

The Rome City Auditorium hosted the Hollywood Hillbilly Stage Show on January 8th, which included such stars as Col. Tim McCoy, Harry Head, Bouncing Bobo, Scotty Lee, Johnny Guns, and TV's original Masked Rider. (No, I've never heard of any of them, either.)

Apparently luxury means different things today than it did in 1964: Marshall Jackson Motor Company ran an ad touting their luxury Dodge 330 car for $2674.80, which was $410.80 more than the base model of the same car. What did four grand and change get you? A heater, a radio, automatic transmission, whitewall tires, and wheel covers… (Was a heater really a luxury addition in 1964?)

The city of Rome confirmed that the growth everyone was talking about in 1963 was quite real: the city issued 350 building permits in 1963 for a total of $2.5 million in new construction and/or renovation--an increase of almost 30% over 1962 construction levels.

Belk-Rhodes advertised their new shipment of Froshield Magnetic Window Covers to keep snow, ice, and sleet off your car's windshield. For only $2, you got a sheet of plastic with eight magnets in it. I actually remember us having a couple of those back in the 1960s, in fact—and they worked pretty well for those of us who didn't have a garage!

Four West Rome juveniles were arrested on January 6th in conjunction with a series of robberies, many in West Rome. Frank Camp reported that his roller rink on Hanks Street was broken into twice and several vending machines were ransacked; Southern Dairies was broken into twice; several convenience stores were victims of snatch-and-grab crimes committed by the four boys; and two homes were broken into. The crime spree came to an end when Detectives George Lemming and Bill Kinney arrested all four; since they were juveniles, their names were withheld.

Kroger and stew beef for 19¢ a pound, pecans for a quarter a pound (unshelled, of course!), and Kroger brand biscuits for a nickel a can. Piggly Wiggly had a dozen eggs for 47¢, Allen lime beans or Lay's potato sticks for a dime a can, and Sunset Gold potato chips for 39¢ a bag. A&P had Dexola cooking oil for 39¢ a quart, Super-Right sliced bologna for 27¢ a package, and cubed steak for 79¢ a pound. Big Apple had four pound of pure lard for 39¢, sea bass fillets for 49¢ a pound, and fruit cocktail for 23¢ a can. Couch's had Carnation Milk for 17¢ a can, Fleetwood coffee for 59¢ a pound, and pork roast for 39¢ a pound.

If you wanted to catch a movie in the first half of the week, your choices were Take Her, She's Mine (with James Stewart & Sandra Dee) at the DeSoto or In the French Style ("Recommended for Adults Only!") at the First Avenue. The weekend brought The Wheeler Dealers (with Lee Remick & James Garner) to the Desoto and The Haunting (an eerie classic starring  Julie Harris & Claire Bloom) to the First Avenue, while the West Rome Drive-In continued its weekends-only schedule with a double feature of Swordsman of Siena and Drums of Africa--a pair of films that you would skip over in the $1.99 DVD bin at your local discount store today.

Captain America made his official return this week in 1964, leaping towards the reader from comic book spinner racks as he graced the cover of Avengers #4. And on the same day, the X-Men confronted Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in X-Men #4, while the Hulk and the Thing were slugging it out in Fantastic Four #25. For those of us who read comics, 1964 demonstrated from the very beginning that the Marvel Age of Comics was here!

The number one song this week in 1964 was "There! I've Said It Again" by Bobby Vinton. Other top ten hits included "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen (#2); "Popsicles & Icicles" by the Murmaids (#3); "Forget Him" by Bobby Rydell (#4); "Surfin' Bird" by the Trashmen (#5); "Dominique" by the Singing Nun (#6); "Hey Little Cobra" by the Rip Chords (#7); "The Nitty Gritty" by Shirley Ellis (#8); "Out of Limits" by the Marketts (#9); and "Drag City" by Jan & Dean (#10).

Showing that he was a much better musician than he was a prognosticator, John Lennon said on January 9th, 1964, that the steady climb of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" in the US Charts was "mere sympathy for the British people," and he really didn't expect it to be a hit in the US…

And on January 10th, American listeners had their first chance to enjoy a Beatles album. No, it wasn't Meet the Beatles; that wouldn't be released until the 20th. Instead, it was the Vee Jay album Introducing the Beatles, which many of us played over and over again, from its side one beginning track "I Saw Her Standing There" to its final rocker on side two, "Twist and Shout." (This sneak release from another label was a real treat for all of us when Beatlemania hit after their February Ed Sullivan Show appearance, since it meant that we had two albums' worth of Beatles music to enjoy!)

Holiday Six-Oh

Today I marked the official end to our holiday season by taking down the Christmas tree. Susan and I have always left the tree up through New Year's Day, turning on the lights ever night. If we don't take it down on January 1st, we quit turning on the lights at that time--sort of the Christmas version of unplugging the tree from holiday-life-support (of course, it's an artificial tree, so there's really not any life to support, but you get the point).

For me, a Christmas tree is a tangible collection of wonderful memories. Every year we add at least one new ornament to the tree--a tradition that we didn't actually begin in the year of our marriage, unfortunately, but was something we began doing in the early 1980s. However, our tree has more than just our memories on it; there are several ornaments that date back to my parents' tree and my own childhood. Placing those ornaments on the tree each year establishes a solid link to all those Christmases past.

I used to think that it would be great to just leave the Christmas tree up year 'round... and at one point, we did indeed leave one small tree up in a corner of the house, decorated with rustic ornaments.  After a few years, though, I thought better of it and took it down. I finally realized that Christmas is so strong in our hearts because it is a combination of wonderful memories of the past and hopeful dreams of the future. It is something that must remain a highlight of the year; it simply can't be an everyday thing. We'd like to believe that extending Christmas year round--even if just by keeping one tree on display throughout the year--would extend the wonders of the Christmas season across the calendar, but it doesn't. Instead, it removes the uniqueness--rather than uplifting the rest of the year, it serves to diminish Christmas by making commonplace one of its most distinctive trappings. We don't elevate the rest of the year, we merely draw Christmas down closer to their level.

So the tree must come down. It must be done in a specific order. First, the dozens of Christmas-red double-candles connected by an uncut wick come off the tree; then the glass icicles; then the elongated Santa and snowman icicle-surrogates; then the Santa ornaments; then the "Here Comes Santa" series that Susan gave me every year for the duration of its run; then the softer fabric ornaments; then the rustic ornaments; and finally, at the very end, the cherished ornaments of my childhood.

For years, I packed them in cardboard boxes with lids, each layers separated by crumpled tissue paper or plastic bags. Then, a few years ago, I bought a multi-layered egg-carton sort of box at Target with separate compartments for each ornament, and I tried that for a couple of years. It seemed sterile, however, and uncaring; finally, I abandoned the box and returned to the method we used flawlessly for years.

As I finished with the tree, sweeping up the space it had until recently occupied prior to moving the chair back into place (each year, the green mission-style chair must abandon its place in the corner of the sun room to make room for the Christmas tree), I realized that this year I had not embraced Christmas to the degree that I would have liked. I think that might be one of the detrimental effects of being a retailer: while my heart yearns to enjoy the holidays fully, to cherish each minute of the season, to devote myself to finding just the right gifts for all who are close to me, I find myself pulled away by the ever-increasing demands of retailing. The store demands more time, the customers deserve more help, and the constant pattern of sell-verify-reorder-restock-and-repeat transform the holiday into an unrelenting whirlwind of activity.

I miss those childhood years when school let out for Christmas and all my waking time was dominated by the holiday--the foods, the music, the programs, the family, the laughter, the lights, the excitement of it all. I miss the college years when Susan and I were newlyweds, when classes at Berry ended at Thanksgiving, and when our jobs had no demands on our time or our minds from the moment we left work each day, leaving us free to reinvent the joys of Christmas as a young couple. I miss the days when Mom and Dad made Christmas an event for all of us, bringing us all together at their house for a joyous two-day recognition of the holiday.

And today, as I was talking to my friend Charles, I shared with him a realization that has come to me gradually: the bulk of my Christmases are behind me. I have been given sixty Christmases so far--some wondrous, many memorable, and a few rushed and not wholly appreciated. I don't have sixty more Christmases ahead of me; I would like not to squander those that remain...