“And so this is Christmas… and what have you done?” Well, to answer John Lennon, quite a lot in 2017. Musically speaking, I released a blues album, “Goin’ To Clarksdale,” and a Christmas single, “Run Rudolph Run” b/w “Silver Bells,” all available exclusively on this website. My wife, Marion, designed the website, jonwalmsleymusic.com. We did a whole lot of traveling, from Germany to England, Los Angeles to Schuyler, Virginia, and a summer driving tour through all six New England states as well as New York state and Montreal, Canada.
We stopped at Stowe, Vermont, home of the Von Trapp family of “The Sound of Music” fame, “Hyde Park,” home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt (they weren’t home) and the “Big Pink” house in Woodstock, New York, one-time home to members of The Band,
where, in my opinion, some of the greatest music ever was created. Through it all, I managed now and then to communicate with friends and fans through this blog. Not a bad year, mostly.
Christmas is always, for me, a time of reflection. “Another year over… a new one just begun,” as Lennon put it. Reflection of course means remembering times past, and people who are no longer with us. Lennon himself was murdered by a crazed fan with a handgun on the night of December 8, 1980, just as the Christmas season was getting underway. Like many others, I heard the news from Howard Cosell, who broke the story amid doing the play-by-play on ABC Monday Night Football. For me, the news was crushing, stunning; so numbing that it was one of those times when one wonders if the sun will still come up in the morning. Well, the sun did come up, and I had to go work - on The Waltons. That particular Tuesday was a day when John Ritter, who played a recurring character, Reverend Fordwick, was scheduled. John was as big a Lennon fan as I. He’d once told me that, as a teenager, he’d had to pull over on the freeway the first time he heard “A Day In The Life” played on the radio. He’d even written a parody of “The Ballad Of John And Yoko” that he’d perform onstage in his live shows. That morning, I’d pretty much held it together, but when I saw John outside the make-up room on Warner Brothers Stage 26, we threw our arms around each other, and I couldn’t stop the tears. “Jonnie, I thought of you right away,” he said. The years have gone by, and sadly, John Ritter left us suddenly too, some years ago. Still, the good memories linger on, especially at Christmas.
When I was growing up, Christmas was just my mother, father and I. My parents never made a huge production of anything, although they pretty much knocked themselves out to fill my Christmas list. My dad was pretty practical, and easy to buy for; He liked his electric razor, and was quite happy to find a bottle of Old Spice after shave, a box of Basset’s Licorice Allsorts and a couple of clip-on neckties under the tree. God knows why he liked clip-on ties, but there it is. It must have been the thirty-seven seconds it saved him from having to tie a real tie. Mum was easy to please too - some sweets, maybe a new purse, a nice wooly cardigan or some slippers - always something she needed. Every year, we would assemble the green plastic Christmas tree. A plastic tree meant you only had to buy it once. Nothing to clean up, nothing to throw away. Over the years, it became a Christmas ritual; a cup of tea, Peek Frean Christmas biscuits from a tin, the Bing Crosby Christmas album on the Packard Bell Stereo, and my mother and I sticking plastic branches into the tree; longer ones on the bottom, shorter ones on the top. By the time we got to the tinsel and the star, we’d already made it through the “Chet Atkins Christmas Album,” (my dad’s favourite) “Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass Christmas Album, “ and last but not least, “Christmas With The Ventures.” Ah, those were the days before microwaves. My mother was quite a good cook and baker, so my dad and I could always count on a great Christmas dinner, topped off with something special, like my mother’s homemade buns filled with jam, or a yummy, hot mince pie for dessert.
In those days, there were three national television networks and an assortment of local stations, depending on where in the U.S. you lived. Variety shows were king back then, and you could always count on every weekly show producing a Christmas special, whether it was Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Glen Campbell, The Smothers Brothers, Carol Burnett, Bing Crosby (with his entire family) - the list goes on and on, and you couldn’t go wrong. In addition, there was the perennial “Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Rudolph The Red-Nose Reindeer” and “Frosty The Snowman” for the kids. Not surprisingly, I always leaned toward the music shows. My dad wasn’t much for television. “It’s a wonder you don’t have square eyes,” he say, as he wandered off with his headphones to listen to his prised LPs of Ted Heath’s big band, or Reginald Dixon, playing the great organ of the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, Lancashire.
Of course, in California, it can easily be eighty-five degrees on Christmas day. That never felt right to me, even though I had grown up there. I remember watching the Christmas films - “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol,” thinking “I want to have snow for Christmas!” Now my wife and I live in Maine, and a white Christmas is always a distinct possibility. Our first snow this year, in fact, was on December 9th. We were watching “The Holiday,” one of our favourite modern-day Christmas films. It had snowed all day and our yard looked like a winter wonderland. I happened to know that the snow in the film we were watching was sprayed with a hose onto the set. “THAT’S not real snow!” I yelled at the TV. We have REAL snow outside!”
So, here it is, December, 2017, another year flown by. I still like a small, intimate Christmas, with good things to eat and drink, one or two presents, good music, and, I promise - a real, live, honest-to-goodness, grown-in-the-woods, chopped-down by a bearded New Englander in a plaid flannel shirt and fleece hat - Christmas tree.
And what’s on my Christmas list this year? Well, what I wish for is that, no matter where we all live, where we come from, or what winter holiday we choose to celebrate, the season brings us the things that truly give us joy; above all, peace on earth, and good will to men (and women). From the Walmsley house to yours, happy holidays, one and all.
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