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Growing up in Louisa – Christmas Special !

 Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

It was during the late forties and the fifties when growth of the television industry made it possible for us all to see the faces of people who would, in their own way, become family friends. I’m not talking about those neighbors that had a habit of popping in, but instead the celebrities that visited by means of their weekly TV shows and those perennial Christmas Specials. Stars, each with their own personalities, and their talented ‘side-kicks’ and guests, broadcasted those wonderful shows that pulled us into their magic world and built lasting memories.

I remember that our family enjoyed watching Sid Caesar and Imogen Cocca and some of their crazy skits. We would laugh until our sides hurt and our faces were wet with tears. We also watched Amos and Andy, with Kingfish always trying to pull a ‘fast one,’ but Sapphire always stepped in to Rockettes Rockettes keep him in line. Entertainment wasn’t just about comedy shows, but also variety and musical programs. I remember when Perry Como sang to us with his laid back and relaxed style. It was totally believable that he had been a barber in his former life, since he displayed no stress whatsoever. I remember when Dinah Shore sang about driving her ‘Chevrolet through the USA,’ between vignettes played by her famous guests.

In that day, Doris Day sang her songs while maintaining a pure, girl-next-door, wholesome image. Then, as if to portray contrast, Dean Martin either pretended to be drunk, or managed to get laughs in spite of being intoxicated. I never was sure. With Hollywood being as it was, there was room to wonder. I remember that it was common on his show for a ‘secret guest’ to simply walk in shocking Dean and the audience both. I remember once when a doorbell rang and Dean opened it to find John Wayne standing there. The words, “Watch it, Pilgrim,” was unexpected and made everyone go wild with laughter.

Many of my friends faithfully watched the Hit Parade. They had talented singers performing the ten biggest hits of the week. I liked dry humor, so a favorite of mine was the Jack Benny Show. Jack played himself as a straight-faced tightwad, who continued to drive an old Maxwell convertible (too cheap to buy a newer car). He had an employee named Rochester, who called him ‘boss,’ and showed his exasperation with Jack’s frugality.

GrinchGrinch As the years rolled by other shows including, Carol Burnette, with Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, and others were added to our circle of friends. They, too, put on their specials. I remember that some stars brought their own children onto the show. Everyone would gather on stage next to the Christmas tree and sing carols along with their famous guest stars. It was also the season to see favorite Christmas presentations such as ‘It’s a Wonder Life,’ and ‘White Christmas.’ Other perennial special were ‘The Grinch,’ ‘Charley Brown,’ ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, ‘Amahl & the Night Visitors,’ ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks,’ ‘Judy Garland,’  ‘Kenny Rogers,’  ‘Kate Smith,’  ‘Marie Osmond’s Merry Christmas,’ ‘Ozzie & Harriet,’ ‘Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes,’ ‘Red Skelton Christmas, Ed Sullivan Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, and Tennessee Ernie Ford Christmas Special.

Marketing folks understood very well that these specials needed to be staged early in December to give the sponsors time to reap the benefits of the ads broadcast to a growing national audience. Productions were improved by taping the action ahead of time instead of trying to push out live events. While live TV sometimes had wild results when the unpredictable occurred, control of time and content improved by taping and editing the shows. Other technical improvements such as better photography and color (1965), made the programs absolutely spectacular.

Bob HopeBob Hope The champion of all Christmas Specials was the annual Bob Hope Christmas Specials that he filmed on location, for our military troops in the field. They were broadcast nearly every year I can remember. The audiences ate them up. Bob Hope’s shows were held in various venues around the world and were a major event in our household. After all, our military troops were often displaced in far-away regions and usually were in harm’s way, protecting our freedoms. The men in those days were often starved for even the sight of a pretty girl or the sounds of popular music from ‘back home.’ Their ‘day-to-day’ away from their families and friends, made any contact with folks from back home so important. Bob and his guests provided first-hand, professional presentations from some of the most highly revered celebrities, not only from the movies, but TV and other walks of life. It was clear that everyone went out of their way to bring joy to our troops. Some of these specials were so close to the battlefields that it was said that gunfire could be heard.

Guests over the years included ‘everyone who was anyone’ so to speak. They were the ‘Who’s who’ of American life and included many famous people such as: Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Raquel Welch, Phil Cosby, John Wayne, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez, George Burns, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Dolly Parton, Ethel Merman, Jayne Mansfield, the Beach Boys, Fred MacMurray, Willie Nelson, Andy Williams, Peggy Lee, Roy Rogers, Tom Jones, Neil Sedaka, David Niven, Donnie & Marie Osmond, the Carpenters, Ray Charles, Charlie Pride, the Jackson Five, Connie Stevens, Jimmy Stewart, Barbra Streisand, Milton Berle, Don Rickles, Joan Collins, Joey Heatherton, Olivia Newton-John, Jill St. John, Janet Leigh, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Sonny James, Fabian, Steve Lawrence, Roy Clark, Pat Boone, Rosemary Clooney, Pearl Bailey, Shirley McClaine, Smoky Robinson, Angie Dickinson, Elke Summer, Kim Novak, Gina Lollabrigeta, Brooke Shields, John Denver, Dorothy Lamore, Les Brown, Jerry Colonna, Francis Langford, Ethel Merman, Ann-Margret, Lindsey Wagner, Jimmy Durante, Lou Rawls, Dionne Warwick, Dianna Ross, Tony Bennett, Loni Anderson, Robert Cummings, Sammy Davis, Jr., Glen Campbell, David Cassidy, Vic Damon, Julie Andrews, Steve McQueen, Johnny Cash, Alan Shepard, Phil Cosby, Debby Reynolds, Annette Funicello, and Joan Crawford.

While these names were pulled from different sources on the web, they are from different eras. My research makes my best guess as to those who supported these specials over the years. I may have left some out and may have even named someone who really didn’t make one of the annual events. I mean no harm to any of these famous and wonderful, giving people. Even reading through the list was a treat for me because I was reminded of friends I had not seen in a while. They were the people in the industry who were highly successful, well-known, and that had a desire to give back to their fans.    

A Wonderful LifeA Wonderful Life A favorite channel that Suzy and I enjoy today is the Hallmark Channel. They have run several weeks of Christmas movies leading up to the season. These are ‘family safe’ and as in many movies of old, have a moral to take away from the stories. As a habit, I save those on our DVR so I can play them back as time allows. That’s often one per evening. I doubt we will be able to exhaust the supply of movies until well into January or February. In any case, we enjoy that time together each evening. They are fun and uplifting, restoring faith in humanity and giving us hope that our life may end as happily.   

Many of these shows are still ‘out there,’ and available to see on the web. It might be good to take a tour of some of these shows if you have a minute to live in the past. Meanwhile, there are shows still being produced to help put you in the spirit of the season. Christmas is a season well worth getting into, and it is a time to share with those we love.

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Growing Up In Louisa - Stanley Brown!

 Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

Stanley Brown was one of boys that befriended me during my high school years. He was a couple of classes ahead. I’m not sure when I first got to know him. Maybe it happened when I joined the band and was assigned to play one of two school-owned baritone horns. My family couldn’t have afforded an instrument so I guess the band director, Mr. Dick Wilson, had to figure out a place to assign me since I had shown interest in music. As it happened, Stanley held the first chair for baritones and was the soloist when it was the baritone’s time to shine.

I was number two, once I got trained enough to make the high school band. Stanley immediately took me under his wing and worked with me on how to count and sight-read music. It helped me stay up with the band and taught me how to enter on time. To non-musicians this may seem a given, or something natural, but it is far from that. Counting and not messing up the whole thing was a challenge for me, especially in the beginning. I remember that Stanley had a world of patience and on occasion dragged me to his home for private lessons. I might well have been the weakest link in the band without Stanley’s help. When he graduated a couple of years ahead of me, I took first over his first chair position. I also inherited the newest baritone horn, a Conn Constellation with four valves. Stanley had loved that horn like a baby. I knew it would be a challenge to perform half as well as my mentor.

I met Stanley’s parents at some point and enjoyed knowing them. He had an older brother, George, who was not at home by the time I was over there visiting, but I have met him since. He also had a younger sister, Carol Lou, who was maybe three or four years younger than me, but I remember she was still very cute. Stanley’s father was well-known around our area as an outstanding baseball pitcher who had a nearly unhittable knuckle-ball. He told me once that even catchers had trouble handling the pitch. During the earliest years, I played ‘catch’ with him a few times, but I remember that as he grew older he suffered with illness.   

Stanley’s mom once commissioned me to do a painting for her after hearing I had interest in art. It was to be a copy of a print she had of a flower-garden. A favorite picture, it had grown faded and dull. I remember it as what is commonly called an ‘English Garden.’ The original had a lot of color and a number of brightly colored roses and hollyhocks. I worked hard on it, but I doubt I did the picture justice. Nonetheless, she was pleased and bragged on it. She paid me. I guess I became a professional painter right then and there! Well, maybe not. . .

Once when I was visiting Stanley at his home we walked into the kitchen. There sat his little sister and one of her friends. No matter what age, girls are fun to tease, so Stanley picked up a raw egg from an egg basket left on the kitchen counter. The eggs were apparently fresh from the farm, having only just been delivered. Making a big show to the two girls, he broke the egg and let it go into his mouth and slide down his throat. As might be expected, it had the desired effect. The girls squealed, shuttered and uttered out a loud “Ewe...” Stanley, meaning for me to repeat the action handed me an egg. Without making a face or letting anyone know this was new to me, I took the hint and followed suit. Once again, the girls expressed their displeasure as they screamed and shrank away in mock horror. I liked their response, so I took yet another egg, cracked it to let it into my mouth. There’s nothing like overdoing something, eh? You see this was before the days of using candles, or light to see if the egg was perhaps fertilized, or gone bad. As it turned out, the egg had a horrible taste and had some smallish developing feathers! Ugh! I ran for the sink, spit out the remnants and put my head under the faucet to wash out my mouth. When I looked up the girls had totally fled. Stanley was there holding his sides with uncontrolled laughter.

On some Sundays, Stanley would borrow his dad’s car and drive some of us boys out into the country. We would usually find some dirt roads that needed exploring, but in some cases, the roads were rudimentary, more like a cow path. Once we found a suitable location, Stanley had me take the wheel while the rest of the gang climbed on the hood and trunk. This is how I learned to drive. I had to keep the car out of the ruts and at the same time negotiate some very steep slopes. I remember I was nervous because I could see the tops of trees. This told me that there was a steep drop-off just feet away. I could not allow the car to get too close to the edge. Some of the riders could fall, or worse yet we might all tumble down the mountain. I knew the car could always slide. If so, we’d soon all be air-born and fall into a place where we’d never be found. Those steep hills were more than a little bit scary. On these trips we discovered all kinds of places where people lived far back in the woods. To make matters worse, we discovered that we weren’t always welcome. We saw more than one shot-gun pointing our way in those days. In a few cases, even turning around under the watchful eye of an armed man, was a challenge, too, as turnaround space was scarce on those mountains.

Stanley and I played on the same baseball team that was coached by Eddie Boggs, the father of my best friend, Johnny Bill Boggs. I remember that Jim Ray Rose pitched a lot of the time, but Billy Elkins would also take over as a southpaw. (Left-handed pitcher). Otherwise Billy played first base, which is traditional for lefties. Stanley was shorter than me, but was very fast and didn’t mind taking chances. He’d steal bases, and stretch singles into extra bases when he could.

I remember once when Stanley was competing for a certain girl’s attention, a pitcher from the Fallsburg team had eyes for the same damsel. That fellow didn’t like the idea of Stanley horning in. The two of them had words several times and there was absolutely no love lost between them. At a game between our team and the Fallsburg team, held up on bear creek, Stanley had to face his nemesis. I remember watching when Stanley stepped into the batter’s box. We all knew that the picture had it in for him. As was surmised, the first pitch was a fastball thrown right at him. With Stanley expecting it he was able to get out of the way. The ball missed, but it did cause Stanley to end up in the dirt. He got up, brushed himself off and glared at the pitcher. The next three throws were also right at him. With ball four he took first base, I guess having the last laugh. I was up next and frankly was worried because I wasn’t at all fast. I also knew the pitcher knew I was Stanley’s friend so I reasoned he’d likely throw at me, too. I froze at the first pitch, but it went right down the middle of the plate. I was surprised and relieved. I told the catcher to have him do that again. He did and I hit that one deep into right field. Stanley scored from first. I was standing on third and might have made it home, but Coach Eddie held me up. Regardless, I had a good day at bat, but I think Stanley had to dodge inside pitches all day.

Stanley had Bascomb Boyd for math and was good in his studies, just as he was in anything he tried. He went off to college, but it was years later that I found out that he had become an aeronautical engineer. He spent his working life designing fighter planes for a large aircraft manufacturer that supplied the Air Force. As an Air Force veteran, I was familiar with the planes he had helped design. I’m sure that it was his attention to detail and his intelligence that supported his long career and his high level of success. He was always ready to take chances and try new things, and was analytical enough to know when he’d succeed. That attitude, often missing with engineers, undoubtedly served him well. I had lost touch soon after I graduated, but I’ve seen him at every reunion I’ve attended since and I hope to see him at many more in the future.   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



Growing up in Louisa – Thankful for Sure!    

 Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

Life just keeps getting to be more fun, doesn’t it? Our old bones may ache, and many things that we must do are harder, if not impossible. Things we once took for granted suddenly require our focused attention and some deliberate planning. Maybe a helping hand from someone else is required. Allowing or inviting someone can be a two-way blessing. Learning to receive is a lesson that blesses the giver and helps us validate our humanity. I’m thinking that rather than bemoaning these circumstances, it gives us even more reason to be grateful for what we can still do as well as those things we have accumulated. Our blessings, whether material goods, good health, friends, or a continually growing family, should be remembered as a gift that we are lucky to have. ‘Turkey Day’ is an opportune time to celebrate life and those things that matter most to us.

These days, it’s possible that some of us consider Thanksgiving as a day off from work, or maybe just the day before ‘black Friday.’ To others I know it means ‘football,’ but to me it is the reminder of former times when life was different. The good old days weren’t necessarily better, at least in terms of where we now find our place in life. Thanksgiving is the time for me to show thanks for those things for which I am most grateful.

When I was growing up, we celebrated this holiday by having the family gather around the dinner table for what was an unusually diverse feast, with turkey, dressing, all the trimmings, as well as a selection of pies and other desserts. I remember some families that took turns to allow each person an opportunity to mention the ‘good things’ that had come their way during the last year. Even the kids had things for which they were grateful. Even so, most things remained unspoken, perhaps because they seem minor, or maybe they simply just don’t rise to the level worthy of mention. Maybe because we wanted to get to the meal.

When I think of responding to the call for me to list my blessings, I struggled to come up with unusual, obvious, or dramatic, things that had life-changing meaning to me. I know I remembered many more things afterward, when the pressure was off. I wished I had said this or that, but in truth it isn’t what we say as much as what we feel in our hearts.   

 During this last year our family has added several new members through marriages and births. Our most recent gift has only just been born (11/17). Asher, a male child of one of my sons and his beautiful wife, became our fifteenth grandchild. Suzy and I are so blessed by the bunches of children that run through our home chasing each other with delightful, if earth-shattering, screams. I must admit that sometimes it nearly causes my heart to burst with joy, but at other times they drive me that short distance to reach my whit’s end. Suzy and I both crave the noises, but at the same time, we enjoy an occasional season of quiet, whenever it can be had. Such is life. In our way of thinking, holidays are meant to be noisy times.

When it comes to families, it’s natural that what is a blessing to one of us may be a curse to another. That even applies to the same things when either in the proper context, or when ill-timed. Even within those times when we find life stressful and draining, we know inside that we are still very blessed. I’m reminded of those times when we are left alone in our empty home. After a while we are keen to hear a child’s soft voice or pitter-patter of running baby feet.

Certainly, considering that no family is perfect, life is much like soap operas. No doubt, families, no matter how they are perceived by outsiders, all have private problems. After all, they are made up of people and ALL people have flaws. The greatest blessing is to be forgiven and to forgive.

If we are to list those things for which we are most grateful, we most likely would need some time to meditate and cogitate on the matter. When that time of reckoning comes, should we have a prepared list, or say whatever we might at impulse? Are we grateful for a new toy? Or maybe a new home, another baby, a better paying job? Maybe the ‘easy chair’ is enough. That chair allows a three-year to climb onto my lap. What can be better than that? How many times this year have we frantically prayed for this situation or that? I know several of us visited the hospital for one reason or another, but we finally came home after paying homage to schedules set by others.

As for me, I continue to work full-time, not because I must, thank goodness, but because I was asked to help. Adding value even after my initial retirement, affirms my value and self-worth. For a man, that’s a big deal. I am blessed.

My wife is a lady very much in demand by the family, and by an even larger circle of friends who look to her for wisdom. I am proud of her. Whether she’s sewing, quilting, finding a bargain, cooking a dish, giving advice on medical challenges, finding solutions to problems, or just being there in time to change another diaper, she is so important to the family. Both she and the family are blessed.

To get back to the list, this old man is grateful when electronic gadgets work, the car starts, and we have plenty of milk. I’m grateful no none is hollering at me for this or that, and I’m grateful when someone understands and laughs at my jokes. I’m grateful when a two-year old thinks it is okay to say to me, “You’re silly.” They are right, of course, sometimes I am silly. I’m silly for them. It blesses me when they laugh and tease me back.

I am grateful for my reasonably good health as well as that of my family. Sadly, as in many families, we have a couple of members that are suffering in different ways. It hurts me when others hurt, but we are blessed with knowing it could be worse. In this time of my life I find that a portion of my old friends have passed. I am grateful for their memories, including the laughs, the hugs, and how they greeted me with a smile. They made me think I was important. The smile of a friend when they spot you coming can be so very uplifting. I’ll cherish those times and continue to share them when I can.

I’m reminded that life isn’t so much about our accomplishments, per se, but about the journey and the good times we’ve enjoyed. It’s the people that have helped us and those we’ve somehow helped. A blessing may be a hard lesson learned, but even those give us the credentials to reach out and help others. I’m also grateful for those who brought us meals when we had illnesses, or those who visited and brought positive attitudes that distracted us from despair when life seemed hard. One who stands with you during tough times is a true friend.

I’m grateful for the note of appreciation found on my dresser, and a text with the three magic words ‘I love you.’ So, too, is the writer of that short message of encouragement. It is nice to get a compliment, but nicer still to see when a compliment given, it is appreciated. I’m grateful for the beauty of God’s country, where we can take rides and see the leaves changing, the rain falling, and the waves crashing. I’m grateful for the military and first responders who watch over us twenty-four, seven. I’m grateful for the inventiveness of man and the improvements I’ve seen in my day. I was thinking this morning about how much Tom Jefferson might have appreciated having a side-by-side refrigerator with ice maker and water. His friend, Ben Franklin, hadn’t harnessed electricity yet, so it wouldn’t have worked. In fact, in those days they didn’t even have kitchens in the main house. As our nation’s founders, they had none of the ‘things’ we take for granted, today. We have good reason to be grateful.

I’m also grateful for friends, some of which I have known nearly all my life. I’m grateful for the little town that allowed me to grow up in an innocent and safe environment. I’m grateful for preachers who taught me the Gospel and told me how God loves me in spite of my many flaws, and that He forgives. I need that, for sure.

I am also grateful that I’m being allowed to write this without fear someone may be offended, or that the government may object, or edit my remarks. I’m even more grateful when I discover someone has read something I’ve written. I see more clearly every day that our constitutional freedoms have more value than we fully understand. I’m thankful for them and the wisdom of our forefathers.

Looking backwards over my life, which seems both long and short, there has been so very much to celebrate. Whether we know it or not, we all are blessed. We have lived and had the opportunity to do well, or to fail. In doing so we have made our own mistakes, but we have tried and tried again. Maybe we still fell short of the mark, but we have learned from our mistakes and maintain the hope that we can do better.

I’m not saying it’s okay to burn the turkey. But if it happens, it’s better to show grace and enjoy your peanut-butter and jelly sandwich. I wish for each of you and your families a huge pile of blessings that cannot be easily fathomed. Give it a try anyway. It is good for all of us to remember and give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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