Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Memories...

I love this time of year. It takes me back to my childhood in the fifties and those wonderful Christmas mornings with my parents and my two little sisters. It didn't all begin on Christmas day, however. There were preparations that had to be taken care of before that.

At some point in December, my family usually hopped in the car and took a drive to pick out the most special Christmas tree we could find. This adventure usually occurred at night (I'm not sure why). After we got home my father would go out into the garage and get the tree stand. My mother would retrieve the lights and the ornaments. I remember one year we bought a strand of those really neat "bubble lights." I think it was the same year we got the Lava Lamp.

The aroma of pine began filling the house as we decorated the tree. After the lights and the ornaments were arranged, the final exercise was stringing the "icicles" on the tree. If you're not familiar with those, they were thin strips that resembled very thin, and shiny, aluminum foil. There were millions of them hanging on the tree when we finished.

Then the waiting began. But the winter days passed, and Christmas morning finally arrived. And what a wonderland of beautifully wrapped gifts we discovered during those wee hours of the morning as we crept down the hall and into the living room in our pajamas to see if Santa had come yet. And he had!

I'm embarrassed to say that the tears are welling up as I write this. I'm kind of a sentimental old guy. It's just such a beautiful memory of when we were all together and shared a very special time in our lives. My mother loved Christmas so much. I remember her face as we opened our presents on Christmas morning. I can still see her sweet smile as she watched her children's joy. And shared it.

When I began writing this, my intention was to include all the great Christmas presents I received over the years. But I've changed my mind. They weren't that expensive anyway, since we didn't' have a lot of extra money to spend. But they were enough to make us happy. In fact, I wouldn't trade my memories of one Christmas at 111 Peck Drive for all the money in the world. After all, Christmas isn't about the amount of money in your pocket. It's about the love in your heart.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Get Your Kicks

The subject of today’s post could easily span many decades. But since it was quite popular during the fifties, it seems appropriate to talk a little about the Mother Road. I’m referring to Route 66. It’s been around for many years, although a lot of the original alignment has been replaced by newer Interstate highways.

From its starting point near the shore of Lake Michigan, Route 66 weaves its way through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and ends in Santa Monica, California. There’s a monument near Santa Monica Pier indicating it’s ending (or beginning) point.

My friend, Wes Holden, and I drove from Independence, Missouri, to San Diego, California, way back in 1968. We were only 18 years old, fresh out of high school, and it was an adventure neither of us are likely to forget. Imagine, if you will, two city boys with very limited knowledge of the big world outside their hometown. We were young and green, and the open road was beckoning us like the Sirens of Lesbos called to Jason.

In those days, Route 66 was a bit different than highways are today. You had to pay attention because, when you arrived in one of the many towns along the way — and there were many in that 1,500 mile journey — the highway went right through it. It usually made several turns so you could get a tour of the downtown area before reaching the city limits and returning to a straighter alignment as it continued across the countryside and headed toward the next town.

And there was a reason for that meandering pattern. The Mother Road was an artery of commerce for countless small businesses in those days. Tourist shops, restaurants, motels, and Trading Posts dotted the roadside like sprinkles on a cupcake. An unending flow of traffic provided a steady supply of income to those businesses, and it continued to do so until the Interstate Highway System realigned a large portion of Route 66, thereby putting the majority of those businesses off the beaten path and, in most cases, out of business.

But the summer Wes and I traveled the Mother Road those businesses were still thriving. It was summer, and it was hot in the states of the Great Southwest. From Independence, we drove straight through for 19 hours until we arrived at Flagstaff, Arizona. This is an oasis in the desert with cool breezes flowing through the tall pine trees. After a few hours sleep we were back on the road again.

Eventually, the tan, desert cactus was replaced by the tall, green Royal Palms of southern California, and we saw the beautiful blue of the Pacific stretching ahead of us to the horizon. We had made it. At 18 years old, it felt like an accomplishment of monumental proportion.

If you’ve ever wanted to take a trip down Route 66, there are many parts of the original alignment still being used. But if you do make the trip, there are two items you simply must have. In fact, I purchased both of them from Amazon earlier this summer, thinking we would make the trip this year. That didn’t work out, but I still have them, and I’m ready to go next summer.

One is a book is called The Route 66 Adventure Guide by Drew Knowles. The other is a set of 8 state maps called Here It Is that show the actual alignment of the old highway and what areas are still in use. It has great instructions on weaving through all those little towns and staying on the Mother Road. Both are great products for someone planning on taking a trip down Route 66.

There's so much more to tell, but you need to see it for yourself. So, get your kicks on Route 66.
It's a trip in your own Wayback Machine.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Guess Who's Birthday I share!

First of all, anyone who knows me, or anyone who's read this ongoing blog for a few years, either knows or perhaps has a hint that Humphrey Bogart has forever been my favorite actor. And that's the way it is.

I've watched Casablanca so many times I could almost recite the lines from the script. The same is true with The Maltese Falcon. Those are probably my two favorites. Of course, The African Queen (with Katherine Hepburn, a lifelong friend) and To Have and Have Not (with Lauren Bacall who became his fourth wife) are right up there, too. And there are many more movies that he made while at Warner Bros and afterwards, at his own movie company, Santana, that I would watch again any time the opportunity presented itself.

Bogart's career was a very bumpy ride to stardom. He hated pretense and false praise, and he didn't like phonies. He told people what he thought, and some believe that honesty was what doomed him to small roles for a large part of his career. In fact, most of his early films were "B" movies. Bogart was aware of this. He once said:

"I can't get in a mild discussion without turning it into an argument. There must be something in my tone of voice, or this arrogant face—something that antagonizes everybody. Nobody likes me on sight. I suppose that's why I'm cast as the heavy."

But after making Casablanca, he became the highest paid actor in Hollywood at a salary of $460,000 a year. And since I mentioned Lauren Bacall earlier, here's a bit of trivia that a lot of people aren't aware of. Her quotable line from To Have and Have Not, "You do know how to whistle, don't you?" was cause for Bogie to buy her a gold whistle during the making of that movie. When Bogie died, Lauren placed the gold whistle in his casket.

Now, here comes the whole point of this post. I watched a Bogart film last night that I had never seen. It was entitled The Black Legion. It was a 1937 film with Bogart playing a family man who gets mixed up with the wrong group and ends up in trouble. After the movie was over, I did a little research and learned, to my total surprise, that he and Lauren Bacall had a son named Stephen Humphrey Bogart.

Now that in itself isn't anything astonishing. However, the amazing part is that Stephen just happened to be born on January 6, 1949. I couldn't believe it! My favorite actor's son and I were not only born in the same year, we were born in the same month on exactly the same day—maybe even at the same time! Wow. How cool is that?

So now you know that Bogart's son and I are the same age, exactly, to the day. If you know Stephen Humphrey Bogart, or have his email address, send him a link to this blog and tell him I'd love it if he would take the time to leave a comment.

As Bogie said in the last line of The Maltese Falcon, "It's the stuff that dreams are made of."