Here we go again. It’s the same old time of year again. An old year ending. A new year beginning. Time passing.

As far as I can tell, that is the only real significance of the event. Time marches on! However it has become a huge media storm. Like it’s this new idea that is going to change life as we know it. So what’s new with these people?

One thing I can say, however, the New Year seems to provoke – I wonder if evoke would have been a better choice – a measure of introspection and that is always a good thing. Anything that causes us to pause and think about life can’t be all bad. Of course this can be done at any time during the normal life span of a calendar year. I guess we humans just love special days and parties.

New Years is a little different from other “special days” in one significant way: It’s meaning is cumulative. That means the number gets bigger, for all you whose system has not yet purged itself of the mind mushing effects of too much sugar. Bigger and bigger.

If you are under say, 40, this probably does not mean too much but if you are of a more advanced age, it becomes a headliner in the daily news. I live with a woman who is a hospice nurse. She works with people most of whom are actively dying. That’s right, you can be dying inactively as well. She can talk about that like most guys talk about bullets and fly rods. Sometimes I’d rather talk about bullets and fly rods.

My point is I will begin my ninth decade next year! Do you know what the actuarial tables say about that? Every little ache and pain becomes a harbinger of something worse. My primary doctor looks at me and tells me I am a lucky man. All I can think of is that luck has to hold out to be worth shit.

One of my oldest friends is a woman who is a 1st cousin of mine by marriage. We went to high school together. Her husband died a number of years ago. She has been “rushed” by a couple of old boys along the way but now one of them has done something right, apparently. He gave her an engagement ring! She’s wearing it! She is a year or two older than I am! They are getting married and are having a honeymoon! Have you noticed the exclamation points? Looks like luck can indeed hold out. She would put a more spiritual twist on that and that’s just fine.

But that’s my point. If there is life to live – live it. Live it big. Live it joyfully. Accept the growing number of years in humility and gratitude. If you can still count them, you are very lucky.

HAPPY NEW YEAR jerry henderson

It’s-a blowing and clinging and drifting and piling up. I’m enjoying the view from the warm side of the windows. Enjoy. GBH

I have attended a couple of Christmas Eve midnight masses in my churchly experience.  One was in Beaumont, Texas, and the other one was in Bangor, Maine.  If you experience some pain trying to put those two places together in one life, don’t worry, it gives me pause as well.

I was with my second wife in Beaumont, and I suppose you could say she was with her second husband, and we were casting about for something to do on Christmas Eve and as she was a sort-of Catholic, we decided to attend the service at this church everyone was talking about.  

This was a prominently located and appropriately gothical Catholic church on one of the main drags in town.  I had quite deliberately drifted away from formal religion but was aware of the entertainment value of attending such a gathering on Christmas eve.  I was able, with some effort, to stir up a coat and tie and we went to church.

The first thing I noticed upon entering the sanctuary was that it was a noisy but friendly crowd.  It faintly smelled of a distillery.  I was surprised that I could tell since I had fortified myself with a touch of the sour mash prior to the occasion.  It made me feel as though I was among friends, even though I didn’t know a soul in the place.  

When the organ began it’s prelude a hush fell over the room and what followed was indeed entertaining, full of symbolism and priceless people watching.  Not being a communicant, I suppose it could be said that I was not fully engaged, but I was paying attention.  There was a lot to see.

The second time I did this was in Bangor.  I went with a woman I was seeing at the time, who placed great store in making a show at appropriate times, especially when that “show” was likely to be seen by someone who might recognize her.  It was the church she attended and occasionally mentioned.  (Here, I must note that things are not always as stated.  In the time I knew her I never knew her to “attend”.  Perhaps points were rewarded for “mentioning”).

This was a high Episcopalian gathering.  I had to smile as I entered the sanctuary and took in a whiff of that saintly air and noticed once again the presence of spirits not of the heavenly kind.  I couldn’t help myself from thinking of that time worn line that anywhere you find four Episcopalians you are bound to find a fifth.  It comes off better verbally than in print.

The music was good and was in itself worth the visit.  But that was it.  It was colder in Bangor than it was in Beaumont.  

What I will say is that in both cases the effort was genuinely made to connect the Christmas holiday with the birth of Jesus Christ.  That is not a small thing in this age, when all the Wal-Marts, K-Marts, Targets, LLBeans and every thing in between are trying to make a buck on the holiday energy while avoiding in extremis any suggestion of a religious connection.  And they have a sight more money than the religious side to invest in “wow” and “glitter”.  Heaven can just get in line and wait.  

What we know – and we do know this – is that Christmas, or if you prefer, The Holiday Season, is one of the best ready-made times to let “otherness” creep into our lives.  There is much about it all that I can hardly abide.  But, by pealing off all the layers of noise, tinsel, sleigh bells and myth you’ll find a great opportunity for love.   You’ll find the touch of your soul, friends and family, comfort and joy, and hopefully something really good to eat.

I’m Jerry Henderson, wishing for you the best.
There are mornings when I easily drink the whole pot.

Not quickly, but usually in a couple of hours.  I do some letter writing, journaling, blogging and communicating with friends and family. OK, I might waste some time with a solitaire game or two.  I know when I am about done with these activities when the coffee runs out.  I never make a second pot.  Well, I shouldn’t say “never”, as I remember one snowy morning when it seemed that we’d never get out again, I ran through two pots before noon.  By way of clarification, I do not drink cool coffee.  It makes me gag.  I throw that away to make room for the hot stuff.

We are talking about a 4 – 5 cup pot.  There was a day, many years ago when native tolerance seemed to be greater, that I could drink the stuff all day.  That finally caught up with me.  I went for several years without drinking at all but then moved to New Orleans, where coffee is king (actually alcohol is king, but for the purpose of this little piece we will go with coffee) and I didn’t think I could leave my beloved Maine and do without darkroast at the same time – so I didn’t.  I was there two years and I only had one cup of bad coffee at a nice little restaurant on St. Charles Avenue, where the trolly runs.  Of course, we never went back.  I’d had worse, but that was in a Methodist church basement in Illinois.  You wouldn’t expect anything but the worst in such a place.

Since then, I have managed to temper my intake so that at some point in the morning I cut the caffeine off entirely for the day.  I have this little pot that allows me to set the time it will be ready.  I know that is fairly standard for most people but I never had a pot like that until a year or so back.  It  took me a week to figure out how to predictably set the damned thing.  I love getting out of bed and stumbling in to the kitchen and pouring a hot cup of darkroast.  it seems so civilized.  I mean, cave men can’t do this.

I remember when coffee was hand made by pouring boiling water by the spoonful over an open basket until the pot was made.  The pot itself sat in simmering water over a low fire.  No electricity was needed.  I still have this little pot.  It’s a small affair holding 2 – 3 full cups,  tops.  I remember buying this very pot in a drug store at the corner of Willow Ave. and Plank Road in North Baton Rouge.  It had to be 50 years ago.  Had to be.  

In those days you made a pot and drank it fresh.  It took on a very un-fresh taste if left to simmer in that little pan.  Often I made several pots in succession if there were more than just me drinking.  There were large versions of this pot but they were not often used, except in large groups where the contents would be drunk quickly.

Some of my fondest memories of coffee drinking were as a child.  I would be given a cup of this same dark coffee laced with cream and sugar while sitting on my grandfather’s back porch next door.  I can remember spooning out the unmelted sugar in the bottom of the cup after the syrupy solution was gone.  Yum!  My guess is that if they had enough cream and sugar in the stuff it wouldn’t hurt me.  I’m not even sure anyone thought of coffee as something that could be bad for you back then anyway.

At my grandmother’s home in Jackson on Sunday afternoons there would be coffee and cake in the afternoon on the verandah.  It was a real verandah with swings at both ends and rocking chairs in between.  It’s funny, a lot of memorable things went on during those weekend visits, but that coffee and cake on the verandah holds an honored place in my mind.

There are two other cups that stick in memory.  The first is the first time we drove down to New Orleans and parked at the old Cafe du Monde.  There was curb service then.  The coffee was half and half hot milk and uncut strong French Chicory.  And Beignets too.  I can smell and taste it now.

The second was the one with that king sized, unfiltered Chesterfield.  All I’ll say is that I remember it being wonderful and that I had the last experience of that 58 years ago.   Funny, how the coffee began to taste better after the nicotine.  Before that I needed the coffee to make the nicotine taste better.

Well, I have about half a cup left.  If you’ll excuse me – you know, before it cools off .  . .   .

JH

I figured out why Christmas comes in the dark of winter. It’s the effort of a giant lobbying effort by a consortium of light bulb makers, candle makers and the electric companies – and of course the Santa Claus people. I mean where would that clown be without snow in the dark of winter?

It’s a no brainer: Christmas would be much safer, accessible and yes, tolerable if it were say in August. Not much goes on in August anyway. And the old folks could sit around and watch baseball as an extra benefit. Think of it: coffee and cake on the verandah! And instead of the kids yelling and tearing through the house they could be hosed down in the yard!

It’s an arbitrary date anyway. Nobody knows exactly for sure – anyway. Why not August? Or you pick the time that suits you, but definitely in the summer. I can think of all kinds of side benefits of such a wonderfully arbitrary move. Unemployed song writers would have to get busy with a new sheaf of Christmas songs. I can hear it now: “I’m dreaming of a beach party Christmas…” Well . . . we’ll have to work on that some.

Multiplied thousands of image makers would have things to do that do not include holly, elves, snow, sleigh rides and fire places. And a new more tropical weight suit for Santa, should he make the cut.

Not since WWII would the nation be so mobilized in a creative effort to meet such a challenge. And if traveling were the only consideration, that alone would be justification for the move. Think of it: no more canceled flights in snow storms, or freezing your buns off slipping and sliding on icy roads trying to get to Grandma’s house somewhere off the grid.

Oh – I almost forgot, we could consign to the rubbish bin that tired old red nosed reindeer and that idiotic movie WHITE CHRISTMAS, that should have been lost in a Hollywood fire long ago. 

I do, however, wish for each of you a safe and happy season for whatever you celebrate. As of this date, the big day still comes only 4 days after the shortest day of the year. It will be dark and likely cold and slick. Be careful. Take your time. Don’t drink and drive and for God’s sake don’t drink and dress. What is it about all that funky Christmas costuming that goes on behind the wreath on the door? Ahhh, there I go again.

Now – here’s the thing: don’t forget the hugs, and kisses and the real human warmth that goes along with the season. Soak it up. Extend it as long as possible. Love each other, and “study war no more”.

Jerry Henderson

I see where Lance Armstrong is selling beer now. Money talks. I mean is that worse than selling sheets and pillow cases? I suppose that if you see beer as an evil, say like slavery, then it would be a problem. But what about the money? I am sure it was a comforting amount. I doubt it was sufficient to retire on but it probably was cause for a smile when the amount appeared in his bank statement.

So – does it mean that anything is for sale? What would you do for money? Or maybe what wouldn’t you do for money?

It gets real complicated from here on. Let’s talk about how much. One million? Two million? More? You think Lance got a million for the beer commercial? I don’t have a clue what those things go for.

If we were talking about any old journeyman actor we would not even be talking. Lance was the world’s best at something. He is a cancer survivor. He rides a bicycle for Christ’s sake. How pure can you get?

It’s the beer, isn’t it? But what if he were hawking deep sea drilling for oil? Or maybe a swifter delivery system for a new multi warhead missile that would take out dozens of radical Muslim terrorists in one fell swoop? Or Wonder Bread? I vote for the beer if those are the only choices.

I like beer. I’m not partial to that watery stuff he is selling, but I have friends who like it. I remember one time when I was running a lot, I ran in the Cajun Ten Miler down in Louisiana. Frank Shorter, the gold medalist in the 1972 Olympic Marathon, was running against me. (Where’s a laugh track when you need one?) I ran the distance in 80.7 minutes. For me, that was fan-tastic! When I crossed the finish line, Shorter was standing there sucking down his third watery beer! Maybe he was getting paid too.

I don’t know what any of this means, but I do know I have a deep dislike for celebrity endorsements. I mean, who cares. If you are good at something, that’s great. We can all respect that. But it doesn’t mean you know Jack about anything else.

I think I need a beer right now. No! I’m not going to say what kind. It will taste like something, however. I mean, this is not an endorsement.

Living in the past is not the same as being there, or here, for that matter. That’s more like an illness, and there are treatments for it. We all do it. Temporary escape rendezvous to a more pleasant time. More pleasant than now. Remember when….? The need is so strong that entire industries have been invented to drag up past ideas and situations. It’s called nostalgia. The past can be instructive, but it is not a way of life.

I don’t remember life being easy back then. You could say I had it easy, but I know I didn’t make it easy. Some of the more gut wrenching moments in my life took place in my twenties. Starting out without a road map other than that blind hormonal surge was, on the one hand, blithely optimistic, but on the other hand reality was tough and the way forward seemed endless. Moments of temporal pleasure and brief respites from the constant pressures of young adulthood were meat on the table.

I remember – It was a warm late afternoon in central Louisiana where I was in college. Our two children barely out of the toddler stage were running around the low hillocks bordering a small lake while we sat making coffee over a portable stove we brought along for that purpose. That was over 50 years ago and it stands out like a cup of cool water in the desert.

What that scene doesn’t say is that there was no money. Years of the same kind of struggling lay ahead. Nothing about our child care arrangement was satisfactory. I had never planned on college and there I was feeling inadequate to the task and terrified among people 5 to 7 years younger than I, and much smarter. And we both felt like we couldn’t breath with all that on top of us. But, for those few moments at the lake, we could create a snippet of control – a moment of joy – an experiment in “normalcy”. And it was nourishing.

It took me a long time to figure it out: you know, that life is rather complete at any stage with all its raw edges giving contrast to the moments of joy we create for ourselves. In other words, life is what it is, not what it’s not. Take a moment – any moment. That’s life. Sometimes it isn’t much. Sometimes it’s everything. Sometimes a trip to the lake is just the thing.