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Weekly Columns!

All your favorite weekly columns and letters to the editor- online!

 Editor's Notebook by Bill Blauvelt Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan Life, Beyond the Ranch, by Tonya R. Pohlman

Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt
As I was considering what to enter in this notebook column, the last one before Christmas I was thinking about the Christmas programs many area churches tried to present Sunday and the conflicts caused by school activities, particularly the Superior High School music program held Sunday afternoon. School leaders sometimes complain that parents and the churches have turned over child rearing to the schools, and in some cases that is true. But it also true the schools continue to require more and more of the students time. Once most high school age children held jobs. That is no longer true. Is it because the jobs don't exist or is that the school activities require so much of the youngsters' time that employers find other ways to meet their needs for workers.
I remember when we would have called this week's school program the Christmas Music Program. It would have been filled with religious music with a Christmas theme. That is no longer the case and we call the program a winter concert.
While I was trying to sort out my thoughts and write a column, the internet delivered a column wirtten by Greg Allen which does a good job of presenting many of my thoughts.
Allen observed "Christmas isn't about mistletoe, roasting chestnuts, or some fat guy sliding down the chimney. It's more like "Peace on earth; goodwill toward man. It's about the birth of Christ."
Yet it's not appropriate to say Merry Christmas because you might offend someone, so it's best to say "Happy Holidays." It's not kosher to display a nativity scene in public anymore. Someone may be offended, so it's best not to display one at all. And it's surely not right to mention the name Jesus because somebody might not like it.
I haven't given in. Saturday afternoon I displayed a nativity scene in downtown Superior. The next issue of The Express will be the annual Christmas Greeting issue and I've told the newspaper production department the company ad must have a religious theme.
"Is there a Santa Claus?" was the title of an editorial appearing in the Sept. 21, 1897, edition of a New York newspaper called "The Sun." The editorial, which included the famous reply, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," has become part of popular Christmas folklore.
That fall, Dr. Philip O'Hanlon was asked by his eight-year-old daughter, Virginia, if Santa Claus really existed. She began to doubt he did because her friends had told her he didn't exist. Philip suggested she write "The Sun," assuring her, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." While he may have been trying to pass the buck, the good doctor unwittingly gave Francis Pharcellus Church, one of the paper's editors, an opportunity to rise above the question and address a philosophical one. (For more than a century the piece remains the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any newspaper in the English language)
Virginia's note to the editor said:
"Dear Editor. I am eight years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, 'If you see it in The Sun it's so.' Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus? Virginia O'Hanlon - 115 West 95th Street."
In reply to Virginia's question, Francis Church wrote:
"Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."
One can't see the wind, but it's real. Yet, only small minds can conceive what's seen. How dry the world would be without childlike faith. Ah yes, Virginia, Christ exists. He lives forever more in our hearts and minds. A thousand years from now, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now. Oh Virginia, there is a Christ in Christmas. The skepticism of an age can never tarnish that.
(Greg Allen's column, Thinkin' Out Loud, is published bi-monthly. He's an author, nationally syndicated columnist and the founder of Builder of the Spirit in Jamestown, Indiana, a non-profit organization aiding the poor. He can be reached at www.builderofthespirit.org or follow him on Twitter @GregAllencolumn.")

Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Shlaefli

My friend and I attended an elementary school's winter concert. My friend's granddaughter was a member of one of the classes that performed. They were all dressed in their Sunday best and the auditorium was filled with parents, grandparents and others who had come to see them perform. In my opinion, a winter concert should be called a Christmas concert, but in these days of rules and not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, those who object to having anything religious in our public schools have gotten their way.
This concert brought back memories of school Christmas programs I was involved with. Most of my elementary school days were at Oak Creek, a one-room country school house. About a month before Christmas, our teacher would begin planning for the annual program. With children from eight grades involved, the teacher had to incorporate a variety of speaking parts, musical selections and even costumes in some of the productions. Usually, each class, as a group, either put on a play or each student in the class would memorize a poem or reading. Songs always included carols along with some well-known secular Christmas songs. If the teacher did not know how to play the old upright piano, a woman who lived in the school district was called upon to take time out of her busy day to come and practice with the students.
There was a raised area at the front of the school where the teacher's desk was. This platform became the stage for the program. Wire was stretched across the top and white sheets were hung there to serve as the stage curtains. Practice was held every day and the program was perfected.
Mother either made me and my sister new dresses for Christmas or we chose dresses out of the J.C. Penney or Sears catalog. We were proud of our new dresses and new shoes to be worn for school and church Christmas programs.
We always made our parents and siblings Christmas gifts and we drew names for a gift exchange that followed the program. Sometimes Santa appeared as if by magic following the program to see that everyone received presents.
A cedar tree was brought into the school and we would decorate it with handmade ornaments as part of our art classes.
The night of the program was as important to us as a Broadway show. We couldn't wait to have our loved ones see the program. A month of work was over in a half-hour, then it was time to enjoy the Christmas goodies and hot chocolate brought by the mothers of the students.
The day after the program brought more excitement; it was the day of the school's Christmas party. All day was devoted to playing games and making more Christmas art work to take home. The best part was knowing we would not return to school for three weeks.

A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan

I hate to even seem like I'm poking a sleeping bear, but deer ­­ as an entire species ­­ have been kinder to me in the last five years of my life as a two-lane blacktop commuter than they were in the first five. By far.
This year, for instance, I've seen them, but not in the numbers of previous years, and (this is the most important part!) not anywhere near my vehicle while it's traveling 60 miles per hour. That's the sleeping bear I'm hesitant to poke.
I don't know if you remember, but, for awhile, run-ins between deer and whatever vehicle on which I was relying to get me to work were legendary. Two vehicles were destroyed outright by deer, a car and a van. The car actually hit two large does. A full-sized pickup was dented, but not badly, by probably a yearling (they made them heavier in the 1970s). Another car grazed a doe ­­ the grill, bumper and a headlight bezel were replaced ­­ then it was totaled on a deer a year later. In a matter of only a couple of years. It's the stuff comedy is made of. It's the basis of my third feature-length script, "Deer Killer."
This year, I've seen them nibbling on harvest spillage and even a few bounding across the highway a few hundred yards away, but I've had nothing I would call a close call for several years (knock on whatever this artificial wood-grain desktop is actually made of).
A few years back, I did bust up the front end of Kathy's Tahoe a little on a pheasant, but the closest call I've had this year was with a coyote rather than a deer. He was on a dead run and paid little attention to me. I punched the brakes and let him through and he disappeared down the draw. I've seen a lot of coyotes the past few years and nearly hit that one.
And always abundant like the garnish on the salad of my daily commute are the local roadkill trifecta ­­ raccoons, skunks and possums. I've done well to avoid contact with too many of the smaller critters. I say small, but a corn-fed adult raccoon can severely damage a lot of smaller vehicles.
Last week when Kathy and I went to Peru to pick up Kateri for Christmas vacation, she mentioned the large number of dead skunks along the road. They're hard to miss, even if you don't see them. I said I thought there were more this year on my daily commute than in other years. From then on we counted them. For awhile. Then we forgot. But there were a lot.

Life, Beyond the Ranch, by Tonya R. Pohlman

This is a story about the loving bond between a little girl and her doll, and the forces that tore them apart.
This past Saturday I spoke to my mother on the telephone. After the usual niceties of "How are you? What are you doing? Uh-huh, Uh-huh," I got right to the point.
"Do you remember the doll I had when I was a little girl?" I asked my mom, and added that the doll I was referring to was named Mrs. Beasley.
"Oh sure, I remember Mrs. Beasley," my mother replied. She had no idea the interrogation was only beginning. This was no casual walk down memory lane.
"Well, did you know that Mrs. Beasley was actually from a television show back then," I asked her as the questions bubbled forth.
"Of course I knew that," Mom said. "I always liked the doll on that show and I thought you would like her too."
I learned only last week that the cherished doll I had when I was only three or four years old was a talking Mattel toy inspired by the Mrs. Beasley doll that the little girl character, Buffy, carried around with her on the television sitcom, "Family Affair," which aired from 1966 to 1971. I was born in 1970. I do not remember seeing the television show. But I loved my Mrs. Beasley doll. I have included several photos with this article as proof. Hopefully my editor will see fit to print the photos of a little girl and her doll with this publication.
"How did I get my Mrs. Beasley doll? Did you buy her for me, or was she a gift from someone? How much would she have cost back then?" I continued the barrage of questions to my mother who informed me that she purchased my Mrs. Beasley doll for me, and that she had paid probably no more than $19.99. I no longer have my Mrs. Beasley doll, but I can purchase one from that time frame which has been cleaned and restored to talk (mine had a pull string and Mrs. Beasley would speak a select set of phrases) for right around $199 on eBay.
My mother seemed impressed that I remembered my Mrs. Beasley doll. But little did she know where I was going with the conversation and how much I really did remember.
"Do you remember what happened to my Mrs. Beasley doll?" I asked my mother. There it was, the main point of my conversation coming to light.
"Well, no, I really don't remember," was my mother's unsuspecting response.
"Well, I remember," I told my mom. "One of your women friends came to visit. And she had these horrid twin girls that I didn't like. But you made me be polite and play with them and you made me share my Mrs. Beasley doll and they fought over her, one tugging from each end, and they broke her." (This is how you use the guilt trip technique on your mother when you are 44 years old and still remember the traumatic events that led to the demise of your most treasured doll 40 years earlier.)
Of course, my mother couldn't remember any of her friends back then when we lived in Montana as having twin daughters. But I remember them, and I described them to her, and then she knew. "They were two girls, long dark hair always neatly combed back with matching hair bows or barrettes and they were always dressed alike and fancy." Maybe they weren't twins, but two girls close in age and similar in appearance enough to be like twins.
"Oh!" My mother remembered. And then she told me about Classy Pat. This was a woman who visited and lived in the neighborhood. According to my mother, she tended to be flashy and liked to dress fancy, and dressed her daughters, not twins, but close in age, in a similar fashion. She wanted people to know she had things they couldn't have, and only on Sundays Classy Pat and her family would drive around in their Cadillac.
"Did you call her Classy Pat to her face?" I asked my mother, to which she said she had not, and the woman did not seem to be well liked by others. My mother seemed to feel bad for the woman, though my mother also did not seem overly fond of Classy Pat. Our idyllic Montana hamlet of my early pre-Alaskan years was more of a Peyton Place than the one of fiction ­­ except we had the demon doll ripping non-twins.
"I'm so sorry about Mrs. Beasley," my mother said in our recent conversation. I don't think I had really set out to make her feel bad, but seeing that she did, I felt oddly victorious and vindicated for the love of my Mrs. Beasley.
"Did we ever get your Mrs. Beasley doll fixed?" my mother asked. I told her that I thought Mrs. Beasley, torn limb from limb, was tossed on a mending pile in hopes of repair that never happened, and she was most likely tossed out at some point. Mrs. Beasley never made the Alaska journey with the rest of our family the summer of my fifth birthday.
I'm not sure there is really a moral to my story here, except that one should hope to never have a child such as me who can remember the strangest of details from the age of three, and then remind you of them well into the future.
According to my research, my Mrs. Beasley doll spoke 11 phrases when you pulled the string on her back. The phrases included, "Do you want to play? Gracious me, you're getting to be such a big girl! If you could have three wishes, what would you wish for?" And, "I do think you're the nicest friend I ever had!"
Mrs. Beasley, you were one of the nicest friends a little girl could have ever had! I'm sorry the demon twins tore us apart!