This is a recent photo of my sister, Paula with her husband, Dan, and children, Jonathan and Rachael. It's pretty hard to give her grief when she and her family are looking so Stinking Adorable. But...but hey, I guess I'll always be one of her "Little Brothers" so a bit of grief now and then is still my job. In all things I have attempted to do my job well over the years.
Last week Paula, or I still call her PJ, sent a note about a contest to enter a video shot at home duplicating a scene from "A Christmas Story" which was a classic at my house before it became a popular classic. Really. Denine and I went to see it at the movies with my brother, Brian, in our hometown the weekend Paula and Dan got married. No one, I mean hardly anyone, actually saw the film debut in theaters.
Anyway, that must of been in the recesses of my mind today for I have many. For some reason I thought back to our childhood at Christmas. I remember sitting in Santa's lap and other stuff at an earlier age,but the first Christmas gift I remember actually buying was a gift for PJ. By my reckoning I would have been 9 or 10 years old. That was a few years before I launched a successful lawn care endeavor that usually kept a little cash in my pocket.
We grew up with fairly modest means, but were never lacking. We had food on the table, family game nights, and Involvement With Our Parents. All great stuff. We did not sport name brands or have tons of cash, but we enjoyed some great riches. Having set-the-table, here is a little bit of Our Christmas Story.
As I recall, when I was 9 or 10 Christmas season rolled around and my folks scheduled The Family Trip to The Department Store. Paula, Brian, and I all had goals to buy each other Christmas gifts and I am not sure about their budget, but my budget was very modest. Modest like enough money for one small gift for each person so it has better be something that counted. I think the cash came from Mom and Dad with instructions to spend it on each other.
We must have questioned each other about Christmas Wish Lists because I recollect having a specific goal for PJ. I don't even recall what I got for Brian. I hope it was spectacularly great, but I doubt it. I really hope I did not stiff him. He's a good guy and that would been mean. Brian, I hope you Loved It.
For me, at that time I was totally into Hot Wheels so I'd bet I asked for one of the Mongoose & Snake Hot Wheels Cars which were and still are The Best Hot Wheels Ever. The car body hinged up with little props to expose the drive train and car guts so you could pretend you were doing pit work between Red Hot Heats where you crushed all comers on your home course Hot Wheels track. All that joy and satisfaction for a dollar or two. Side note: Do Not Ever swat your brother with a section of Hot Wheels track. It will leave a welt and you will be proved guilty by the evidence left behind.
We entered the department store and it got a little wacky. It was like a big game of Sardines. You know Sardines, the reverse of Hide-And-Go-Seek where you try to sneak in with the person hiding without being seen. The store resembled the game in that I did not what to hover looking at any particular area for any period of time for fear a sibling would see me and be tipped off to their gift. I had to be sly. I had to sprint through the checkout line with the goods unseen. "Dear Lord, don't let the large lady with the completely full cart need a price check and let her find whatever she is attempting to excavate from the bottomless pit of her purse Now!".
I had to be in stealth mode. Denine says I am a bull in a china shop. I do not possess keen stealth skills. I claim it is because I am a forthright and straightforward kind of guy. But I had some stealth mojo working that night, my friends. I was Dr. Stealth. I was On-A-Mission for Santa.
Back to The Big Gift for PJ. At that time "Love Train" by The O'Jays was on the charts. I thought I had the Christmas wish locked in, but I did not. As I casually glanced at the 45 RPM records to avoid detection I scooped up a copy of "Peace Train" by Cat Stevens. A classic Little Brother Blunder.
Come Christmas day other than informing me that she had indicated Love Train my sister was a good sport. I'm not sure how often we listened together, but I'd like to think often, because I remember listening to Peace Train over and over again on my Dad's record player in the dining room. I always loved how the back-up singers brought the song to climax and we all wanted to embrace that peace he was talking about.
"Glide on the peace train - Oh Wah Eeh Wah Wooo Wah - Come on the peace train!"
Peace Train and Love Train both hit big in the first few years in the 1970s. The USA was in a war that it could not win in a place it should not have gone. Students had been shot at Kent State. Woodstock. Hippies. Squares. Short hair. Long hair. Free Love. No Love. A President about to be exposed. I look back and wonder how close we were to self destruction.
Peace Train was a hit for Cat Stevens, a folk singer from England. Stevens eventually went on a spiritual quest after realizing there was a lot more to life that being a recording star. He converted to Islam and changed his name to Yusuf Islam. He asked a lot of questions about society, and has done much to promote peace. After sitting out of the spotlight for over 20 years he has begun performing again, but with a different agenda and soul. His words now are really about peace and not about how a song about peace made him a lot of money.
Love Train, the hit about spreading love around the world was one of the best recordings for The O'Jays. They came from Canton, Ohio and eventually personified the "Philly Sound". Guys from places like that can make hit records or end up on the streets. There can be a thin line between Soul Train and the train station headed home.
Over the years the two songs have become interconnected due to my Christmas gaff. And I guess it strikes me that two sets of vastly different musicians communicated corresponding messages at nearly the same time. Peace and Love are partners. They are friends.
And for my sister, while I could argue that my mistaken choice may have been closer to the trajectory of her life, they both are fitting. She has been a supportive pastor's wife, raised a family, and gone back to school so she can better minister to others. While I can say many good things about her, I can't say much more significant than she loves Jesus and every day attempts to not only to embrace, but set forward his example of Peace and Love. Ultimately she has pursued both.
My sister. She has a little Cat in her. She has a little O'Jays in her. She has a lot of Jesus and bringing his kingdom here on earth in her. She was the best gift from Christmas that year.