Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Holly Daze: Random thoughts on MY Holidays

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be
plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.
Calvin Coolidge

Happy Holly Daze!
 Tomorrow many of us will gather with family and friends to celebrate one of the oldest traditions in our country, Thanksgiving. PLEASE spend it with your family. Family is who YOU choose it to be. Today. I am GRATEFUL for my South Carolina birth family. I am grateful for the family that I acquired with my husband Daniel Sherman. I am grateful for my New York family of friends and I am grateful for my Social media family. My prayer for all that read this is that we physically reach out to each other, not only through the holiday season, but in the days, weeks, months, years ahead. Don't become so involved in your OWN little corner that you don't reach out to those you LOVE and those who LOVE YOU! Remember, you can be kind all year round.

Ready or not, here it comes! I love the holidays, but like the time calendar of Camelot, I would prefer Christmas not to start until AFTER Thanksgiving.

However, as I sit here writing these words, we are having our first snow storm of the season here in New York. 
Spoiler Alert! I'm going to sound like your parents and grandparents. YES! I've reached that point in my life. Actually, I have been here for some time. WHY are we rushing to get to Christmas? Some stores had Christmas displays up in September.

As a kid, I remember hearing the adults around me and those 
newscasters on TV talking about the commercialism of Christmas, but it was nothing then like it is now. Black Friday and Cyber Monday was not even on the horizon. When I was growing up, Christmas did not OFFICIALLY arrive until Santa Claus appeared at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade.
Macy's Parade 1979
Even the Parade has become commercialized to promote Broadway shows and those companies who sponsor the floats. God forbid, however, that a traditional Christmas song (especially a secular one) be performed. Tomorrow, count the songs that are remotely holiday classics. I'll gladly eat my words if I am wrong. 
Instead, we will get the latest pop stars. As long as they are not twerking, I can, somehow,  still watch. Not only have some Christmas displays been up since before Halloween, some cable programming (Hallmark) have completely hijacked ALL programming other than cheesy holiday movies that have been playing 24/7 since Halloween, but will continue to do so until after the first of the year. Try channel surfing right now and count how many holiday shows you see. Almost every other commercial on TV is a Christmas ad. There are houses in my neighborhood ALREADY decorated for Christmas. Can we please have Thanksgiving back!?!?!

As a child, I would wait with anticipation for the Christmas decorations (and, yes, they were referred to as CHRISTMAS decorations) to be lit up in my home town of Conway, South Carolina.
It was usually the first weekend AFTER Thanksgiving weekend. 
That was usually when the Christmas parade would come down Main Street. We would find ourselves (as a family) standing waiting to hear the first strains of the Conway High School band leading the parade. I still tear up thinking about it. It also takes me back to a happier time in our world as I think about it. We would run into family members and friends. It was also  because of running into my third grade teacher at the 1978 Christmas parade that offered me entree, in a matter of speaking, to my coming to New York. That's another blog! 
AFTER the parade, we would start our Christmas shopping, or I should say my mom would start the Christmas shopping.
After dropping her off at the Coastal Mall in Conway, our first mall in the region, by the way, my dad and I would often go to Nye's Pharmacy for a toasted pimento cheese sandwich and a coke. My dad would also give me twenty dollars to buy gifts for my sister and brothers and my parents. 
I was always frugal enough to be able to buy something for everyone! 
I would almost have a few dollars left over for myself as well! 
That night, we would go out to get our Christmas tree! It wasn't until I was about twelve that we got our first artificial tree! At the time, I was very excited because, since it was artificial, we would have it year round and we could put it up anytime we wished! What did I know?  
We would come home and decorate the tree. Normally, on that night, there would be a Christmas special on TV. 
Andy Williams
Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Perry Como, and especially, Bob Hope! Throw into that mix, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Little Drummer Boy (narrated by Greer Garson), and How The Grinch Stole Christmas! There were only three networks and we would, year after year, tune in TOGETHER as a family. 
Family was very important in the Skipper household.I come from a LARGE family. My dad was one of 10 children. My mom was/is the oldest of 16! LOTS of cousins. 
Christmas eve was always at my grandmother Skipper's. 
Because there were so many. we would draw names for gifts on Christmas. I don't know how she did it, but my Grand mama Skipper got gifts for EVERYONE! For our immediate family, it would mean that in addition to OUR Santa gifts, my mom would be buying 6 individual gifts (for each of the names she drew). THEN, she would buy a HOUSEHOLD gift for each family! That was 10 additional gifts. Each of the families did that! I guess the family that had it the hardest was probably Uncle Gilbert and Aunt Christine. They had six girls! We would show up at Grand mama's around five or six with great anticipation of our family gift exchange. We would all be running around begging the adults to hurry up and let us open our gifts. I wish that I had a picture of what the living room looked like with all the presents under the tree. It looked like something out of one of those Christmas specials I mentioned above. The smells and look of my Grandparents house was unbelievable. 
with my sister, Debbie
The holidays were all very important to my Grand mama.  She had a manger set up somewhere, an entire Christmas village set up, gum drop trees. She also spent a LOT of time baking. There were cakes and pies galore, ALL made from scratch. I think the idea of getting a cake or a pie from a bakery would have killed her!
Her birth date just passed. My Aunt Mary (my dad's sister) wrote a tribute to her on her Facebook page. With her permission, I am reprinting it here:
Happy Birthday in Heaven to the Best Mama ever! I had a fantastic mama! She gave birth to eleven children, lost a little son at 2 days old, but raised the other ten to be good people and contributing members of society. She worked so hard during her life, taking care of us, working on a farm, cooking, being a wife, etc. I could go on for pages. She had only a third grade education but could read like a scholar and reading was her favorite pastime until she lost her eyesight to macular degeneration a couple of years before she died.
This was taken in 1991
The Horry County Bookmobile made regular stops at her home so she could check out her books. She loved birthdays and family gatherings. No crowd could ever be too big. She especially loved Thanksgiving and Christmas season. Most Christmas Eves there would be upward of 75 to 80 people at mama and daddy's house at one time. So much noise but so, so much love. I think of her so often and miss her a lot, more so at this time of year. Happy Birthday, Mama. I love you!

I think of my grandparents (on both sides of my family tree), my dad, my Uncle Joe, my Uncle Vernon, Uncle Sammy, and all the relatives on my mom's side of the family who are not physically with us any more on a daily basis. They are ALWAYS with me especially around the holidays. I inherited my grandmother's love of the holidays.
I love to decorate the house. I love to be surrounded by friends this time of year. I let go of the frenzy of shopping a few years ago. I would much rather put that money towards celebrating my friends. Wouldn't it be great if we ALL adopted that. I would
Macy's Parade 1979
much rather have you over for a dinner that I prepared rather than killing myself for the PERFECT gift which the recipient does not really consider PERFECT. 

For someone who's first eighteen years were spent surrounded by family, you can well imagine what that first holiday was like without them around. On one hand, it was very hard. On the other hand, due to friends I had made in New York who included me that first year, the transition was a little less painful. 
I moved to New York on August 5th, 1979. Three weeks later, I got cast in my first show, a musical melodrama called No, No, A Million Times No.
The ONLY good thing about that show was the cast, although other than the female lead, Duane Printz, I cannot remember ANY by name. I auditioned at the now defunct Harlequin Studios. 
Harlequin rehearsal studios was directly next door to the Gaiety, on 46th Street, off of Broadway,and if you weren't paying attention to which entrance you were using, you quickly found out by the pictures on the wall as you went up the stairs!
The Harlequin reeked of cat urine and had clanging radiators and no windows that you could open. But it was SHOW BUSINESS! Perhaps I should write some time about all the great rehearsal studios that are no longer here!
As stated, I was cast in the show.  I was cast as a hillbilly named IFFY CANN - a young country boy. Type casting? I'm not making this up! Check THIS out!
It was a great cast and we had fun with rehearsals. For many of us, it was our first show in New York. Not only did we share that excitement. but we collectively forgave a lot that we put up with at the time.   
We rehearsed in good faith not even knowing when or where we were going to play!
Then one night our director came in to announce that we would be playing in Garden City in three weeks. This was just to "try it out" before playing NYC.
We all made plans to be there second weekend of November. We all arrived at the "theatre" to find out that it was an elementary school! Unbeknownst to any of us, a chorus of kids had been rehearsing for weeks to back us up on all of our songs!
Macy's Parade 1979
We were flabbergasted! Our first inclination was to bolt, but then we thought of these kids who had been rehearsing. We had two shows the next day, a Saturday, and one performance scheduled for Sunday. We all agreed to do the weekend shows and then we were finished.
The good news is that we all had bonded. As mentioned, for many, it was our first show in NY.
It also meant that many of us were also going to be without family this first Thanksgiving in New York.
Duane offered to have everyone over to her studio apartment. She was also from Virginia, so I knew it would be fairly traditional.
Since this was going to be my first Thanksgiving in New York, I HAD to go to the parade. I was living in Brooklyn at the time, but got up at 3AM and got a prime spot right in front of Macy's. Not only did I get to see the performances, I also got the chance to see many of them rehearse.
I will NEVER forget how cold it was, but I was THERE! I saw Bryant Gumble, Ed McMahon, Sandy Duncan did a number from Peter Pan, Nell Carter did a number from Ain't Misbehavin,
1979 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Photo, Erik Estrada, Rockettes, Mickey Mouse
Erik Estrada, Buddy Hackett, Armelia McQueen, Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney, Diana Ross on top of the Big Apple float (all in Green like a stem!), Anderson Cooper and his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Chuck Woolery. That's the tip of the ice berg! Wow! I was in heaven seeing LIVE all that I had only known through film and TV. After the Parade, I went to Duvall's for a Thanksgiving feast that I still remember so fondly with good friends, food, and fun.
There have been 53 Thanksgivings in my lifetime. God willing, there will be 53 more. I only hope that they are as wonderful as many that I have had to this point. There is a lot of unrest in the world. Just remember one thing, we are ALL interconnected. PLEASE remember that. Thank YOU!
Here is a blog that I found that captures the same feelings I have.

Thank to ALL mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,

Check out my site celebrating the first Fifty Years of Hello, Dolly!
Carol Channing in performance with Hello, Dolly! in 1995 Photo by Adrian Bryan-Brown


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!                
with Danny and Annie Hughes!

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Anderson Cooper and his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt on a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float circa 197
Be sure and Save The Date to see Kim Grogg on December 5th in Go Where The Love Is
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Keeping Entertainment LIVE!

Richard Skipper,
Santa Claus' arrival at the parade's finale marks the start of the Christmas season.

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