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Remembering Carol Channing and My Parents

 

Remembering Carol Channing and My Parents

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

Yesterday (January 15, 2019), when I heard of the passing of Ms. Carol Channing at age 97, I knew I wanted to dedicate this WORDWALK blog post to her.  What a Broadway legacy she leaves in the spotlights!

 

Throughout the television run of The Merv Griffin Show (October, 1962-July, 1981), Ms. Channing was a relatively frequent guest of Merv Griffin; and I enjoyed hearing her unique and extraordinarily expressive voice.  Watching her on television, I never realized that she was six-feet tall.  Additionally, in those earlier decades, I never imagined that I would someday see Ms. Channing perform Hello, Dolly! in a theatre.

 

In 1964, shortly before Hello, Dolly! began its run on Broadway, Louis Armstrong recorded the title song which quickly became a hit.  At that time, in our dining room’s southeast corner and to the right of the east window was our “record player.”  I recall that one of the rare 33-1/3 RPM albums which my mother purchased was the Hello, Dolly! album by Louis Armstrong.  In an album case, this record is one of the ones which I have saved.

 

1964 was a shining year for Broadway.  Along with the debut of Hello, Dolly! were Funny Girl, Fiddler on the Roof, and Sweet Charity.  During this amazing year of musicals, Ms. Channing won the Tony Award for best actress in a musical–not Barbra Streisand, in Funny Girl.

 

At age 74, besides receiving a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement, Ms. Channing embarked on a worldwide tour in Hello, Dolly!  One of the stops on her world tour was Uihlein Hall in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, which, in Milwaukee, is a short walk down the hill from where I live.  So, during one of Ms. Channing’s performances from June 20-25, 1995, my first Leader Dog Keller, the beautiful Golden Retriever, and I took my dad and mother to the spectacular production of Hello, Dolly!  For each of us in the audience, watching and listening to Ms. Channing and the entire company on stage was a truly special and memorable treat.  This gift to my parents is memorable to me also because unbeknownst to us at the time, Hello, Dolly! with Carol Channing was the last major theatrical performance we would attend together before the passing of my dad.  Both of my parents always enjoyed musical theatre, and I followed in their footsteps–since March of 1990, with one of my four Leader Dogs lying at my feet in the audience.

 

At the end of the show and after all of the bows, applause, and standing ovation–Ms. Channing most graciously spoke directly to her audience in Uihlein Hall.  Endearing herself to all who sat before her, Ms. Channing told us that she had always heard how wonderful audiences were in Milwaukee, that she had to come and see for herself, and that indeed Milwaukee audiences were wonderful.  In a most personable manner, as if she were talking to just a few of us, instead of a soldout crowd, Ms. Channing continued expressively talking for five minutes or more–interrupted by some laughter and more applause.  Of all the live theatrical productions which I have attended in my 68 years, I have never witnessed any other performer speak to an audience as Carol Channing did.  She left an indelible final impression.  Most certainly, this matinee performance of Hello, Dolly! with Carol Channing is the highest rated of all my theatrical experiences.  I am especially grateful to have had this opportunity to be in such an audience with Keller and my parents.

 

BOOK NOTE:  Coincidentally, on the day of Carol Channing’s passing, I was reading the 1964 section of the book Showstoppers:  The Surprising Backstage Stories of Broadway’s Most Remarkable Songs.  If you also are a big fan of Broadway musicals, you will enjoy this 384-page book by Gerald Nachman, copyright 2017.  [For patrons of a Talking Book and Braille Library of the National Library Service (NLS), the order number for this book is DB 87898; the reading time of the audio book is nineteen hours and fifteen minutes.]

 

With applause and gratitude for Ms. Channing,

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

January 16, 2019, Wednesday

 

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How Many Snow Years Are You?

 

How Many Snow Years Are You?

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

When we are determining the age of a dog, we speak of “Dog Years.”  Have you ever thought of age in respect of “Snow Years”?  At what age did snow become something not wished for, not dreamed of?  When did snow become more of a burden, no longer a beautiful blessing?

 

Certainly, one must age in Snow Years when “snow days” off from school are no longer in the realm of possibility.  Perhaps, “The Middle Snow Years” are those decades when one is concerned about the snow hindering one’s being able to arrive at work on time or return home at a reasonable hour.  Then, the moment arises at a later stage in life when one suddenly becomes worried about falling in the slippery snow or ice–“The Senior Snow Years.”

 

When I was in grade school in west-central Indiana, snow and ice were certainly not a match for winters in Wisconsin; however, when my friends and I found a patch of ice, we were delighted.  I even recall that once on a school playground, we tried to cover and hide the ice patch so that we could enjoy sliding on the patch the next day.  What a different viewpoint of ice and snow!

 

One snow day without school in session, while my sister and I were still in “The Early Snow Years,” we were looking out the bathroom window because it had the best and easiest view of the field and road to the west and north west of our home.  Suddenly, in that rare blizzard, Mary and I realized that my mother, coming home from the post office, was trudging through the snow alongside the snowdrifted road because she had to abandon her car.  Due to our being in “The Early Snow Years,” my sister and I found this snow scene in which our mother was the only human being to be quite amusing:  we had never seen our mother in such circumstances which we perceived as a winter wonderland of a playground.  By the time Mother arrived home, the black-and-gray wool coat, the triangular winter scarf over her head and tied under her chin, the once warm gloves, and heavy boots were covered with snow.  What looked like fun to us had absolutely not been fun to our mother.  I think our laughing and enjoying her trek through the snow upset her even more.  Actually, I cannot remember another time when Mother was more upset with her two daughters.  Her being able to drive to and from the third-class Blanford Post Office where she was postmaster was of utmost importance to her:  Mother’s regular work day was from eight to five and, for many years, even a half day on Saturdays.  Well, that day, I think my sister and I gained a better appreciation for “The Middle Snow Years.”

 

I do imagine that people who ski down snowy slopes are exceptions to my “Snow Age” theory.

 

Fortunately, despite the four-degree wind chill that persisted throughout this January day, we have had little snow this winter in Milwaukee–thus far.  Although I am snug into “The Senior Snow Years,” I, with my Leader Dog Willow, still enjoy a brisk walk through the fresh snow–before the too heavy application of that four-letter-word substance–S-A-L-T–ruins the pristine snow!

 

No matter where you are in the timeline of “Snow Years,” may you and yours be blessed with  a safe and happy 2019!

 

Happy January!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

January 9, 2019, Wednesday

 

The Puppies of New Year’s Eve (fiction)

 

NOTE:  Since the beginning of this new year of 2019 will be busier than usual for me, I am sharing with you on this New Year’s Eve one of my favorite short stories, which I wrote in January of 2014, and which is one of the stories in my collection The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season, available from Amazon.  (The story is approximately 2220 words.)

 

 

The Puppies of New Year’s Eve

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, Clare Ann had the heater of her red Ford Taurus turned to high as she was in the midst of her 70-mile journey to the farmhouse where she would pick up her new puppies.  Earlier in December, Clare Ann had decided that she did not want one puppy to be lonely, so she chose two puppies.  Fortunately, Glenn, the breeder of the Cavalier King Charles spaniels, agreed to keep the puppies until December 31.  Finally, on the last day of the year, Clare’s adult children and all had flown back to their homes—a thousand or more miles away.  Their visits in July and December were bookends that left too much space and time to fill—especially since the passing of their father, the passing so suddenly two and a half years ago.

 

As Clare Ann drove safely at the speed limit on the road which had once been one lane of bricks and one lane of gravel, she reminisced about her late husband; then, through tear-filled eyes, she tried to re-focus on her driving, on the gray landscape and barren fields.  Ever since Mac’s death, she had tried to fill the days; but she felt as if her life were a sieve.  Since all her volunteer work had not been sufficiently effective to fill seven days of each week, her new plan was to fill more hours of each day with the new puppies.

 

On Route 1, a mist from Mother Nature further challenged Clare’s teary eyes; then, by the time she neared the pet cemetery of the veterinary clinic, a steady rain washed the salt off her red car.  She pulled into the parking lot of the veterinary clinic, made a U-turn, and stopped for a few minutes across from the grave sites of her former pet dogs who were lying at rest there.  The cemetery was always kept up so nicely—frequently better than the cemetery where some of her relatives were buried.  For a few minutes, Clare allowed herself to think of the happy times that those dogs had brought to her family and to herself.  Surely, the new puppies would bring her some happier times.

 

When Clare pulled away from the clinic, she noticed that the outdoor temperature was 37 degrees.  She was grateful that snow and freezing rain were not worries.  As she continued through the county seat of Edgar County—through Paris, Illinois—Clare dwelled on the thought of how de-peopled her life had become.  Of the couples with whom she and Mac had socialized for decades, she was the first to lose a spouse.  Clare Ann hated the word “lose”:  she had not lost Mac.  In one way or another, she knew that he would always be with her; but she had lost close connections with all those couples and her teacher friends.  What concerned her even more was that she was losing close ties with her children—due, she thought, to all those miles between their homes and their Hoosier home.  Did those miles between allow them to grieve so differently, so separately?  Of course, she could have visited her children more often; but Clare Ann hated to fly.  She hated airports and all the bother and anxiousness of airline travel.  Alternatively, driving alone all those miles to their homes was just too much for her at age 64.  Basically, she knew and readily admitted that she was not a good traveler.  Seventy miles to the farmhouse to pick up the puppies was doable:  she was glad to be on her way to the breeder’s house, where she had visited the puppies twice previously.  The puppies would be another good excuse to avoid long trips, and she had always loved and bonded so quickly with dogs.

 

After traveling a little more than fifty miles, Clare Ann noticed the sound of sleet hitting the windshield.  Her calmness disappeared, and her foot let up on the accelerator.  Clare’s increasing nervousness about the changing weather and road conditions made her feel a bit too warm, so she turned down the heater.  She tried to concentrate more on her driving.  As Clare went around the next bend in the road, the sleet subsided in intensity.  Since there was no radio report to be of help for this area, Clare turned off the radio and turned on the low beams.  The next ten miles passed by too slowly.  Although a couple of semis sped by, few other vehicles were on this highway.  The houses were few and far between:  the landscape seemed as de-peopled as her life.  In the middle of the day, without any holiday lights to add a peaceful glow, everything was gray, too gray.

 

When Clare Ann spotted the iron bridge, she knew that she had less than ten miles to her destination.  Suddenly, she realized that this area was coated with ice; she took her foot off the accelerator.  The freezing rain was adding to the thickness of the ice on the road and on her car.  She said a prayer and wished for snow–not ice.  With no other vehicle in sight, Clare was not concerned about going too slowly.  To pass the painstakingly slow miles of her icy route, she whispered the rosary.

 

When Clare Ann glanced at the odometer, she realized that she had to watch for the turn-off on the county road.  She sang, “Oh, the weather outside is frightful ….”  Then, the sign for the county road welcomed her to a moment of relief:  one right turn and then the farmhouse should be within sight.  To make the right turn, Clare decreased her speed; but her turning glided all to swiftly into a spin which landed her Ford in a ditch along the county road.  Realizing that she was fine and her car could not be too damaged, Clare gave a brief prayer of thanks.  Then, she tried to drive the car out of the ditch.  No luck.  Making a second attempt would have been ridiculous, so she left the car and stepped alongside the road to avoid the more slippery surface.  Facing the wind, Clare pulled her hood over her knitted beret and very cautiously walked toward the lights of the farmhouse.

 

By the time Clare Ann reached the wrap-around porch of the farmhouse, she was wet and shivering.

 

“Come in, come in, “ Glenn insisted.  “You look frozen.  I thought you would not come today because of the icy weather.”

 

As Glenn took his visitor’s coat, hat, scarf, and gloves, Clare began to explain her journey and incident.  Besides Glenn, she was warmly welcomed by her two puppies and two other Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.  After Glenn encouraged Clare to sit on the sofa, near the fireplace, he handed her a heavy granny-square afghan to cover herself.  The four dogs gathered at her feet; she petted two at a time.  In the warm house, stroking the puppies and dogs, Clare spoke softly to her new canine friends and felt calm again.  Glenn folded a fleece blanket into fourths and handed it to Clare.  “Place this on your lap, over the afghan; and I will hand you your puppies.”  With the darling puppies on her lap, Clare Ann smiled broadly; the face that had felt frozen just a few minutes earlier suddenly glowed with delight.  “Stay right there; I’ll grab my phone and take a picture for you.  I can e-mail the photo to you so that you can share it with your children.”  Although Clare would have normally been embarrassed to have her photo taken, she just continued to smile and talk to her puppies.  After taking a few photos, Glenn sighed with relief:  he was so pleased that these two special pups would have a good home.  After noticing that Clare Ann had stopped shivering, Glenn smiled at the New Year’s Eve puppies and visitor.

 

“Would you like hot cocoa, hot apple cider, or a hot toddy?”

 

While the puppies napped on their new owner’s lap, the cider—spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg—soothed Clare’s senses even more.  From Clare’s previous visits, she remembered that the older dog’s name was Freckles and that Patches was the mother of the puppies.  One Cavalier was white with red spots while the younger dog was white with cinnamon-colored spots.  Clare knew that her puppies would not show the colors of their spots until they were about 14 weeks old.  As soon as Glenn sat in the recliner across from Clare, the older dogs gathered at his feet.  With one hand on Patches, Glenn lifted his mug of cider in the air and toasted, “Happy New Year!”  Clare repeated his toast with a gentle smile.

 

“When I completed all the paperwork to adopt the puppies, you learned so much about me.  Now, I think you need to tell me a little about yourself.”

 

“yes, I do like to know a lot about the people who adopt my pups.  I want these little guys to have a good and forever home.  I had grown up with larger-breed dogs, but my wife—my former wife—introduced me to this breed.  I fell in love with these Cavaliers—and fell out of love with my wife.  Actually, I guess we just grew apart in our sixties.  When I retired from the newspaper, I was ready to stay here and enjoy the farm; Kate wanted to travel and especially cruise.  In my younger days, I had traveled a fair amount.  The military took me to Viet Nam; but I also traveled in a few European countries, Mexico, Canada, and 48 states.  Kate talked me into one cruise to Alaska.  Well, that was fine.  Once was enough for me, but not for Kate.  Finally, I told her to go on a cruise without me.  She did.  She met Giorgio.  Kate and I divorced; they married.  Now, instead of book-of-the-month club or wine-of-the-month club, Kate and Giorgio belong to cruise-of-the-month club.  To remind me of her vow of cruise-ship living, Kate sends me a postcard from every port.  I have quite a collection.  I suppose I am saying too much.  Last December, they went on a Christmas cruise; this year, they are on a Santa cruise.  So, I had all the children and grandchildren here for Christmas.  With all the company, the puppies had an exciting holiday season.  Have you ever been on a Santa cruise?”

 

“I have never been on a cruise.  I try to avoid cruise ships and airplanes.  If I were away from home too much, I would not have passed your test to receive the puppies.”

 

“You are right.  I was supposed to go to a friend’s house for New Year’s Eve, but I need to call and cancel—too much ice.  Then, I’ll call the sheriff’s office to let Sheriff Bodner and his deputies know about your car.  They will be pleased to know that you are here and safe.  Did you have lunch?”

 

“yes, an early lunch, thank you.  Thanks for calling the sheriff.”

 

While Glenn made the calls, Clare Ann freshened up in the bathroom.  When they met in the spacious kitchen, Glenn asked if she would like chili and cornbread for supper.  He added that the sheriff said that she and everyone else in the county would make his life easier if everyone would stay put for the night due to the ice storm.  Glenn explained that when a county salt truck slides off the icy road, the sheriff thinks we all just need to wait for Mother Nature to melt the ice.  Although Clare Ann was a bit uncomfortable, she knew that she did not have a choice.  The farmhouse had to be her refuge for the night.

 

The totally remodeled kitchen intrigued Clare Ann and took her mind off the circumstances.  In front of one bay window was a large round table; in front of the second bay window were two bentwood rocking chairs.  Glenn’s roll-top desk bridged the gap between the two windows.  Realizing that Clare Ann was taken with the view of the farmland and woods, Glenn encouraged her to sit on one of the bentwood rockers.  The freezing rain was changing to snow; the branches, fence rows, and a gazebo glistened with Mother Nature’s dangerously fine touch.

 

Talking and laughing, playing with the puppies, taking all four dogs outside a few times, working together in the kitchen to make the chili and cornbread, having supper beside the bay window, playing a game of Scrabble, becoming more and more acquainted and comfortable with each other, Clare Ann and Glenn passed the next several hours until minutes before midnight.  Right after turning on the television so that they could watch the festivities in New York City, Glenn popped open the bottle of champagne which he had planned to take to his friends’ party.  Observing that the four dogs who were curled up together paid no attention to the popping of the champagne bottle, Glenn and Clare Ann shared a smile with one another.  “Shall we toast your new puppies?  Why haven’t I asked you this before?  What are you naming the pups?  Icy and Frosty?”

 

“No, Glenn, I decided that these puppies of New Year’s Eve should be called Champagne and Bubbles.”

 

* * *

 

To all of my WORDWALK readers,

best wishes for a sparkling new year!

May each month of 2019 bring you peace, good health, creativity, and joy!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

December 31, 2018, Monday

 

 

Yuletide Letter of Thanks for Santa

 

NOTE:  If you have been too busy to visit WORDWALK during the past couple of days, please check out the two previous posts.  One is about “Silent Night” and includes a link to a harp rendition of the 200-year-old carol.  The earlier post contains a link for viewing a photo of my Leader Dog Willow with Santa.  For my typical Wednesday night post on this 26th of December, I am sharing the following holiday letter with you.

 

Yuletide Letter of Thanks for Santa

 

from Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

Dear Santa,

 

Yes, I know that what I asked for was a bit unusual.  However, you delivered!  Many thanks!  The Milwaukee Streetcars not screeching while making turns was a BIG request, but you performed a Christmas Miracle because at each turning point of the trolley’s 2.2-mile loop–NO screeching on Christmas Day nor today (December 26, 2018)!  Santa, thank you for this “Peace on our little part of the Earth.”  Not hearing the screeching when Willow and I are at or near an intersection where the trolley turns and not hearing the screeching inside my townhouse from very early morning until very late at night have been enormously appreciated, wonderful gifts!

 

While engineers, allegedly, are trying to determine what makes the trolley screech most of the time and not on other rare days, I am postulating that the reason for “Peace on our little part of the Earth” was due to the very light dusting of magical snowflakes which you micro-managed in order to bring forth my requested gift precisely on Christmas morning.

 

Santa, when you delivered all the splendid gifts to all of the good children in Milwaukee, I certainly hope that you did not catch “streetcar-itis” nor “trolley-itis.”  With your sleigh and famous team of reindeer, you are the “king of quiet.”  I highly recommend that you maintain your devotion to what has worked for you for centuries.  Forget the streetcar!  Santa, stick with your magical sleigh!  No one has ever heard your sleigh screeching.  Actually, we have never even heard one little screech from those flying reindeer–not even a chomping sound when they eat some carrots or cookies.  Indeed, you all did earn your “Silent Night” seal-of-approval.

 

Santa, I knew you could do it–and you did!  Now, could you manage to continue this trend of non-screeching trolleys throughout the new year?

 

With special thanks for “peace on our little part of the Earth,”

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

December 26, 2018, Wednesday

 

Two Hundred Years of ‘Silent Night’

 

 

200 Years of ‘Silent Night’

 

Memories and Music from Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

On this amazing night of Christmas Eve, 2018, how amazing to think that the beloved and beautiful carol “Silent Night” was written and first performed in Oberndorf, Austria, two hundred years ago.  How has this remarkable carol touched your life and enriched your celebration of Christmas?

 

As a child, I loved a music book which had a festive cover in full-color.  The background was bright red.  Four children dressed in angel costumes were the focus of the cover.  Inside the music book were gray-tone, full-page drawings that accompanied each song.  I memorized all the lyrics of almost all the carols.  The end pages of the book provided some history for each carol, including “Silent Night.”  During those middle and later years of the 1950s, I never thought of listening to “Silent Night” in this year of its 200th anniversary.  In my piano bench, I still have this music book.

 

In the late 1950s or very early 1960s, the Royal Neighbor Juveniles of Blanford, Indiana, were in the midst of a Christmas party in Perona’s Hall, a dance hall above the grocery store.  The Step sisters, Joyce and Janie, were leading a sing-along of Christmas songs.  After they led us in a number of lesser known songs from the music booklets provided by the Royal Neighbors of America, my dad, who was usually not so bold, spoke up and suggested:  “Why don’t we sing something we all know, like ‘Silent Night’?”  After a moment of silence, the Step sisters announced that by request, we all would sing “Silent Night.”  As usual, I was proud of my dad.  I was proud to stand beside him and listen to his melodious voice sing his favorite carol.  That was a fine holiday evening in our little town of Blanford.

 

In 1975, on December 27, at the wedding of Mary (my sister) and Ric, at the snow-covered Beck Chapel on the campus of Indiana University, “Silent Night” was sung in German by a music teacher/friend of my sister.

 

Much more recently, I was touched by hearing in the news that Irish Tenor Ronan Tynan sang “Silent Night” to President George H. W. Bush, shortly before his passing on November 30, 2018.

 

Throughout this day of Christmas Eve, as I have listened to a few different radio stations, various versions of “Silent Night” have been playing and calling me to write these few notes for this December 24 blog post on WORDWALK.  Whenever I hear this carol on the radio, from a CD, or from one of my Christmas clocks or music boxes, I think of my beloved and greatly missed dad.

 

With peaceful and warm wishes to you on this Christmas Eve, I share with you a harp version of “Silent Night” by the Harp Twins–Camille and Kennerly.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcUF1wUrNdk

 

Merry Christmas to all!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

December 24, 2018, Monday

 

Santa with Leader Dog Willow

 

Santa with Leader Dog Willow

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

If you are a regular reader of WORDWALK, you are familiar with my fourth Leader Dog, Willow, who came into my life on June 7, 2016.  If you would like to see a photo of Willow with Santa, please visit the following link:

 

http://www.facebook.com/newsreelmag

 

Since 1985, I have subscribed to Newsreel–a unique, wonderful, informative, and entertaining audio magazine for individuals who are blind or visually impaired.  Throughout 2018, Newsreel has been celebrating its 60th anniversary;  I am very pleased to serve on the board of trustees for this nonprofit organization.  For 33 years, I have especially enjoyed listening to the special December issue of Newsreel.  For additional information about the monthly magazine Newsreel, please visit:

 

http://www.newsreelmag.org

 

To all my WORDWALK readers and your families,

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas Eve!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow (who thanks you for checking out her photo with Santa)

 

December 23, 2018, Sunday

 

 

Mission Mistletoe

 

NOTE:  In the following acrostic poem, the initial letters of the nine poetic lines spell the word “mistletoe.”  After last week’s lengthy post, this December 19, 2018 post is quite short; but I hope you enjoy reading this holiday poem.

 

 

Mission Mistletoe

 

(a fictional, acrostic, story poem in nine lines)

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

Magical moments, come my way!

Icicles, ice storms–be gone!

Snowflakes come slowly, settle softly,

tenderly transform

landscape in the December moonlight

elegantly keeping clear the path–

trail of holiday hope and love.

Once-upon-a-wish becomes reality:

Enlisted, Sergeant, First Class, comes home for Christmas.

 

* * *

 

Thinking of our military families during this holiday season, and

sending best wishes to all–

Peaceful and Merry Christmas!

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

December 19, 2018, Wednesday

 

POST-SCRIPT:  Throughout Christmas week, WORDWALK may be serving some special holiday “word treats” for your yuletide reading pleasure. So, please return to WORDWALK when you have time in these remaining days of 2018 and on Wednesdays in the new year.  Thanks!