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  • Dec 02 / 2008
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No Taxes Until July!

If the American people knew they were going to have no personal federal taxes until July 2009, how much debt could they pay down? How many mortgages would be saved? How many college tuitions could they pay? How much could they invest to rebuild their retirement accounts? — Newt Gingrich, Human Events

Sounds good to me. Give the money back to the people it came from, not to the bankers and politicians who created the crisis.

  • Dec 02 / 2008
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Crèche Course

Back in 1987 I came up with an ingenious way to remind yuletide revelers of the true meaning of Christmas: by rewriting the popular children’s verse that helped precipitate the commercialization of the holiday more than a century and a half ago.

In “A Visit from St. Nick,” better known as “The Night Before Christmas,” Clement Moore dispensed with the true story of the nativity and substituted instead a fanciful tale of a jolly fat fellow who flies from rooftop to rooftop in a reindeer-drawn sleigh and slides down chimneys with a bagful of stocking stuffers. It’s an imaginative and charming bit of nonsense, but it’s not what Christmas is all about.

In my revised version, entitled “A Visit from the Christ Child,” I offered a “crèche course” in the true meaning of Christmas, using the identical meter and rhyme scheme of Moore’s original poem to tell the story of a father who realizes that his family has succumbed to commercialization:

Twas the morning of Christmas, when all through the house
All the family was frantic, including my spouse;
For each one of them had one thing only in mind,
To examine the presents St. Nick left behind.

Gathering his family together, the father reminds them of the real significance of the occasion, recounting the details and explaining the significance of the birth of Jesus. He concludes with an exhortation to keep the true meaning of Christmas uppermost in their minds:

“Santa Claus, Christmas presents, a brightly lit pine,
Candy canes and spiced eggnog are all very fine;
Let’s have fun celebrating, but leave not a doubt
That Christ is what Christmas is really about!”

In the last 20 years, “A Visit from the Christ Child” has been frequently reprinted in magazines and church publications (even on the sides of millions of paper grocery bags, in 1992)) and widely posted on the internet. Please join our ongoing crusade to put Christ back in Christmas by circulating “A Visit from the Christ Child” widely. The poem is available online in its entirety here.

  • Dec 01 / 2008
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Your Weekly Politickle

Ah, the madness of vulgarized Christmas! Disgusting, isn’t it? Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple. It’s up to us to rescue Christmas from the merchants.

Feel free to publish, post, or pass on Your Weekly Politickle by F.R. Duplantier:

CHARGE!
At Thanksgiving we pull out the stopper
On commercialized Christmastime proper:
We’ll have six months to pay,
But stay out of the way
Of the stampeding psychotic shopper!

Archive:

$MAS
There is less than a month left, you know,
Only 21 days in a row,
Barely 500 hours
To buy yours, mine, and ours,
30,000 mere minutes to go!
(2007)

DECK THE GALS
“Merry Christmas!” she crowed, and then smiled,
Leaving less seasoned shoppers beguiled.
“Now get out of my way
‘Cause I don’t have all day
And I must have that toy for my child!”
(2005)

Last week’s limerick:

OOH LA LA!
A fried turkey injected with spice,
Shrimp-stuffed mirlitons and dirty rice,
Pecan pie, oyster dressing —
How we rush through the blessing!
Yes, a Creole Thanksgiving is nice.

  • Nov 30 / 2008
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Weather Indicated

Bob at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Mass., 1986

St. Louis had its first snowfall of the season last night — just an inch or so, enough to make the yard look nice and cover up all the leaves I never got around to raking.

My wife and I still get a big kick out of snow. Of course, we grew up in New Orleans and didn’t have a whole lot of experience with it until we moved to Boston in 1986. Evann, a graphic artist, remembers how Christmas cards never made any sense to us Southerners — what with their snowy landscapes, barren trees, and horse-drawn sleighs, smoke curling up from chimneys, and everybody bundled in strange garments and head coverings. Where were the scenes of barefoot, bareheaded kids in shorts and tee shirts playing with their Christmas presents under leaf-filled live oak trees, while parents sipped juleps on the veranda, cooled themselves with palmetto fans, and swatted mosquitoes as big as pelicans? That was Christmas for us, more or less.

It only snowed twice in New Orleans when I was a kid — once on New Year’s Day in 1961, and again in the spring of 1974. I remember exactly where I was both times: at a Sugar Bowl game in ’61 (the slushy ramps were treacherous on the way out), in a political science class at Tulane (on the Newcomb campus) in ’74.

But we had plenty of snow in Massachusetts, and way too much in Wisconsin. St. Louis is just about right.

  • Nov 29 / 2008
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Is It Wine Yet?

Clyde Bruckerhoff, Vintner Extraordinaire

When we first moved to St. Louis in 1995, we rented a small house on the edge of a pumpkin farm in the bottomlands near Creve Coeur Lake (a house that had been submerged in the “Flood of 93,” but that’s another story). It was there that we first met “Farmer Clyde,” the crazy old coot who grew the pumpkins and immediately appointed himself our guardian angel. Two years later, we were evicted to make way for a state highway expansion, and Farmer Clyde helped us move our stuff to the next house we’d rented, in Balwin, just south of Queeny Park. Two years later, we were evicted again, to make way for a developer. When we first came to look at (what would be) our next house, in Bridgeton near the airport, we peeked in the backyard and came back to the car with downcast faces to alert the kids that there was a big hole in it. “Swimming pool!” they all shouted. My kids aren’t stupid.

But we had another surprise in store for us. There were vines growing all along the chain link fence that enclosed the backyard, and by early summer we had confirmed that they were concord grapes. Being a farmer and knowing that we were New Orleanians, Farmer Clyde proposed that we make wine. The resolution passed unanimously.

We collected the grapes in September, stomped them, let them sit for a week, and then pressed them with an ancient apple press that Clyde had found in a mudhole down in St. Genevieve and extracted with his old Oliver tractor. Then we poured the juice and hot sugar water into a barrel, plugged it, and asked Clyde the question that had been haunting us: When will it be wine?

Clyde’s not the most straightforward person in the world, and he succumbs occasionally to the rural temptation to bamboozle the city slicker, so we always interpret his responses carefully. But, when he allowed as how we might be able to “taste” it around Halloween, we protested vehemently: “That’s more than a month away.” He complimented us on our mathematical prowess. “But when will be able to drink it?” we demanded. “You could tap a bottle for Thanksgiving, but it won’t really be wine ’til Christmas.”

Well, we tasted it at Halloween and it was terrific! No, Clyde said, it wasn’t wine yet. Hmm. Is he serious, or just tantalizing us? It was impossible to know for sure, so we let it sit. At Thanksgiving, it was far superior, and we realized that Clyde had been right: it wasn’t really wine yet at Halloween. Now it was wine! Right? No, he said, not yet.

Clyde has a sadistic streak, and we were beginning to think it was showing, but we held off. Then, the week of Christmas, we tried it again and wondered how we could have been so stupid. That junk we’d tasted before was just hopped-up grape juice. Nothing like wine at all. This was wine! Wasn’t it?

Clyde held a glass up to the light, admiring its color. He tilted the glass and watched the fluid coating the inside slowly recede to level. He smelled the bouquet, took a small sip, and licked his lips.

Well? Well?!!! Well?!!!!!!

At last, Clyde nodded. It was wine!

This morning we drove down to St. Genevieve for the funeral of Clyde’s dad, Willie Bruckerhoff, who died Tuesday at the age of 91. This year’s vintage — sure to be a very good one — is dedicated to him.

  • Nov 28 / 2008
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Christmas Traditions

"Clara" in Christmas Traditions 2008

The Christmas Traditions outdoor pageant opened in St. Charles, Missouri today. My eldest daughter, Maria, joined the cast five years ago as “The Flower Girl.” For the last three years, she has been the assistant director, designing the annual brochure and collectible character cards, assisting with character auditions and costume design, etc. This year, my third daughter, Isabel, is taking on the role of “Clara from the Nutcracker” (see photo above). Old St Charles, from which the Lewis & Clark expedition was launched over 200 years ago, is kind of like the French Quarter in New Orleans: lots of historic buildings now housing boutiques and restaurants. If you happen to pass through the St. Louis area between now and Christmas, make sure you cross the Missouri River, visit Main Street in St. Charles, and say hello to Clara.

  • Nov 28 / 2008
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Wise Men Bearing Gifts

At Christmas time, when our thoughts are preoccupied with the presents we plan to give and the presents we hope to receive, it would not be amiss to reflect upon, and express gratitude for, those gifts that have been bestowed upon mankind over the centuries and of which we are but the most current beneficiaries. — “Wise Men Bearing Gifts,” F.R. Duplantier, 1986

This is an abridged version of an article I wrote late in 1986, just after I got married and returned to the Church (it all happened at the same time, and so fast). I was feeling philosophical, and grateful, and decided to write an extended thank-you note for the wisdom of the ages. My wife and I spent our first Thanksgiving together (and enjoyed a belated honeymoon) at a friend’s cottage on Cape Cod. It was just the two of us, and a bunch of dead white men: Plato, Aristotle, Jesus, Augustine, Aquinas, John Locke, et al. They ate very little, respected our privacy, and helped tidy up. We had a great time together. Nevertheless, my wife made me promise: on our second honeymoon, I’ll leave the old guys at home.

  • Nov 27 / 2008
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What Are You Grateful For?

Keeping a list of the gifts we have received can be a good way to develop our sense of gratitude and to sharpen our ability to recognize the hidden benefits in things that have not come giftwrapped. — “Thanks for Everything!” F.R. Duplantier, 1987.

Bob's mailbox sign, a Bridgeton landmark, Thanksgiving 2008

My life, my wife, my family, good health, unemployment — those are the things I’m grateful for. Yes, even unemployment, which gives me extra time to appreciate the other four things, and to reflect on the most important gift of all: the promise of salvation.

  • Nov 26 / 2008
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Movie of the Week: Nothing in Common

Sometimes it takes a great shock to remind us what our priorities should be. We may take offense at the suggestion that our ambitions, our lusts, and our greed are more important to us than the health and safety and happiness of our loved ones, but how often do we find ourselves acting as though they are? — “An Adult Movie Rated PG,” F.R. Duplantier

Having worked in a couple of advertising agencies, I can vouch for the verisimilitude of the one depicted in Nothing in Common. As the product of an unhappy marriage that lasted 41 bitter years, I can also attest to the accuracy of the parental relationship therein portrayed, first as backdrop to the story, then as its main focus. As a kid, I wondered what was wrong, and why my mother and father didn’t love each other the way other kids’ parents did. As an adolescent, I found the prospect of a marriage just as bad as theirs terrifying. As a spouse, I hope I’ve learned from their mistakes and that my luck will hold.

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