Up Front – Vol. 14, #26
“And there were, in the same country, shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour (sic), which is Christ, the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.’ That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,” said Linus to his Peanuts pals, referencing the New Testament’s Luke, Chapter 2, Verses 8 to 14.
That, Linus, and Christmas cards, say I. Christmas cards, which, inexplicably, seem – for me – like a heavier lift than an Immaculate Conception. Boosted by Thanksgiving’s momentum, I silently vow to take the task on early, well in advance of the actual holiday itself.
It’s starts with an idea. This year – I’ll make a sketch. Getting young women (my daughters) to agree on a photograph of themselves that they both like…forget it. I’ll draw something. The basic idea: Our three faces, interpretative rather than realistic (it’s what people who can’t draw – like me – pass off as art) and some sort of distant star above and beyond us, a reference sufficiently ambiguous to suit the viewer’s imagination, but with obvious significance to us.
A few days pass before I summon the courage to put pencil to pad. Staring at a photo on my desk – one that I love but my girls ironically vetoed for a previous year’s card – I sketch. I am surprised with the precision coming from my hand. A near-exact re-creation of my older daughter’s head shape, hair, cheek definition, eye contours – it’s her, for sure. Then, the nose…things are starting to go awry. The mouth – my version is monster-like, cartoonish, the evil mouth of a villainous man.
Perhaps forcing persistence, that very evening, the night of the aborted first draft, I announce my plan to the girls by phone. “I’m drawing us. And above us is a star. It’s like a reference to the divine and also a metaphor for Mom.”
Cringing a little, I await their predictably annoyed and virtually singular response. To my amazement, neither balks. Rather the opposite: They both seem to like where I’m going with this card thing.
Except I’m hopeless. Writer’s block is a form of fear. Sketcher’s block marries that same fear to ineptitude. Face it: There’s no way I’m custom-crafting homemade cards.
“If you can’t get it done, we can take a picture outside of the coffee shop in Cutters Point aprons,” my ever-increasingly entrepreneurial elder offspring suggests, “and send it to people for New Year’s.” While I like the premise, a New Year’s card seems like a cardboard reminder that I’ve been embarrassingly lazy or thoughtless (You sent us a card but we left you off our list) or both. So it’s now or never, and never is not an option I’m willing to entertain…at least not quite yet.
It’s 2017. I’ve got an IPhone. One that holds 1,779 digital images, as of last count. Among those 1,779, surely I’ll find a pic of the three of us – one that captures their conspicuous loveliness and, at the same time, doesn’t make me look too old. The odds favor success. Reality does not. It’s been years since I’ve coerced them to join me in a single shot.
I have lots of images of me with Gabby – she loves the camera as much as it loves her. I have precious few with Sofia, my camera-shy firstborn. So many of the pictures in my digital library are composed of places or food. Most of the people portraits are action shots. If I go with them does it look like I’m saying, “Look at my awesome, exotic, active life. I hope you get to do something cool in the next 12 months, too?”
We’re three now, four if you count the cat. But we’re not four/five. How did we confirm through our card that we both miss Her terribly and yet we’re hopeful and doing okay? How does a photo or a saying or a drawing demonstrate that we hold fast to our history at the same time we choose to live in the moment to honor it today? What is too morbid? What is too cavalier?
It’s agony, the card decision. Never mind the act of writing, addressing and sending a stack that is likely to reach a dozen dozens or more. Like so much of the season, we replace its true spirit with overwhelming dread. So I come back to Linus and his scripture recitation and subsequent parting shot to his down-in-the-dumps friend, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
As it will continue to be until the end of time, with or without the help of my card.
Up Front – Vol. 14, #25
This might be the least entertaining but most substantive version of my column this year. I don’t anticipate much opportunity for pithy phrasing or clever metaphors. It’s likely to be a very vanilla recitation of facts. Please consider staying with me to the closing signature anyway.
Black Friday came and went, along with the requisite TV footage featuring crowds rushing Wal-Mart’s doors, elbows flying, X-Box bargains in their turkey-and-Budweiser-blurred sites. With less noise or drama but arguably as much or more societal import, Giving Tuesday followed on November 29. Giving Tuesday is a five-year-old initiative, designed to connect diverse groups of individuals, communities and organizations around the world for a common purpose – to celebrate and encourage charitable giving. Last year, 700,000 individuals made more than 1 million online gifts to philanthropically-focused organizations in 71 countries. With an average gift in excess of $100, the initiative launched from the 92nd Street Y on New York’s Upper East Side has, in half a decade, grown into a global giving bonanza that raises more than $100 million in a single day.
Positioning Giving Tuesday a few days after Thanksgiving, our national day of gratitude, is genius. We celebrate the gifts we enjoy and begin a season of anticipation and renewal with the coming of Christmas. Plus, end-of-the-year tax planning provides a pragmatic push. Perhaps you received email solicitations from local groups that perform public good. Maybe you clicked on the associated “donate now” tabs in response. As communities go, the residents of Skidaway Island are as generous as they come.
A week has passed since Giving Tuesday, but our collective generosity and the institutional needs of the organizations that do so much good in our community remain. To that end, indulge me as I highlight one such group in which I am personally involved.
Horizons Savannah is a local affiliate of a national organization (more than 50 such “chapters”) that provides low-income students with invaluable summer learning experiences. Programs are designed to maintain and advance the learning that kids do during the regular school year, while providing a safe, constructive, nurturing and fun environment for study, play and social development. Five days a week over a span of six weeks, students engage in a variety of activities, including project-based learning and traditional academics, college tours, cultural exploration, swimming lessons, art, music and weekly field trips. Young people, Pre-K through 12th grade, participate free of charge. Horizons Savannah currently serves more than 200 children. Evidence proves that the Horizons experience improves a young person’s chance for academic success during the subsequent school year, leading to a more productive and rewarding life down the road.
My job with Horizons is easy. I serve on the organization’s board. But I have a window to the quality of the real heavy-lifting behind the curtain. Christy Edwards, Horizons Savannah’s executive director, is a supremely committed and talented educator, honored for her impact on local youth. The unsung heroes are the teachers and volunteers – many of the latter local students themselves – who make the extensive menu of programming run smoothly and well. Trust me – I know how exceptional and exceptionally dedicated these people are. At night, tired from running around and ignoring the effects of one treatment or another, my wife sat in her office and studied advanced math so she could earn the privilege – in her 50s – of teaching young kids. The couple of years she enjoyed as a Horizons teacher were among the best and most fulfilling in her too-short life. Following their mother’s example, both of my children worked as program counselors during their summer breaks. As simple as it is profound, more than once I’ve heard the words in my house, “I love those (Horizons) kids.”
Horizons works. For all of us. For the kids, who get a learning leg-up. For the volunteers, who receive the gifts that come with performing noble service. For society, which benefits as together we work to help people extract themselves from the grips of poverty and despair. If you want to know more, help out, donate, whatever…check out horizonssavannah.org. Or email me – email@example.com.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for your generous spirit. Have a special holiday season.
Up Front – Vol. 14, #24
We lost a member of The Skinnie family, and a familiar face to many Skidaway residents, last week. Don Jeffrey McElveen passed away on November 15. Don was 76 at the time of his death.
You might know Don as the dapper man who helped you find the perfect tie to go with the sport coat you just bought. For 55 years, he manned the shop at John B. Rourke, dressed impeccably and accessorized with an unwavering smile. Don’s commitment to customer service was legendary, so much so that, with Don, you never felt like a customer, rather one of his many friends.
When we started this magazine without any previous media experience and nothing more than an idea to sell, Don was the first advertiser to sign with us. Since our debut issue in September of 2003, Don’s distinctive John B. Rourke ads have held a prominent place near the front of our book, detailing the best in local men’s wear, more than 300 times. Because folks like Don showed faith in our fledgling team, we have been able to deliver you this magazine, free of charge to you, for more than 13 years running, fortnight after fortnight, without fail.
Don was born in Savannah, and active and recognizable in the community, nurturing a variety of interests and countless precious relationships over the years. Not many years ago, he married Landings resident and leading local philanthropist, Carolyn Luck, and they lived happily together in our community as Don transitioned into retirement, albeit an active one.
Personally, I am forever grateful to Don for the loyalty and kindness he has shown me, characteristics I hope to emulate in my own life with a fraction of Don’s aplomb. Every two weeks, my parents drive around town, dropping copies of our newly-printed issue at advertisers’ doors. Typically, my dad chauffeurs and my mother runs in an out of stores and offices, carrying a bundle of Skinnies under her arm. Almost every two weeks, while Don was working at his haberdashery, my mother reported back some version of the same story: “Those men are SO nice.” She often relayed some generous compliment that Don offered about me or my family or my work. And, invariably, she confirmed that Don was grinning, laughing and generally lighting up the room. He had a natural gift for making people feel welcomed, whenever he was around.
We appreciate Don’s support, friendship and counsel over the years. We’ll miss him. But we won’t forget his contagious smile.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.