David Bruce: Christmas Anecdotes

Mark Evanier, a blogger at newsfromme.com, ate frequently at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles. One day near Christmas, as a group of four young people were strolling around and singing carols, he noticed Mel Tormé, aka the Velvet Fog, sitting at a table eating an English muffin, drinking coffee, and reading The New York Times. Therefore, he motioned the carolers to come to him and told them that Mel Tormé was sitting at the nearby table. Because they were so young, they didn’t knew who Mel Tormé was, so he explained that Mr. Tormé was a co-writer of “The Christmas Song,” which begins with “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire ….” After hearing this, the carolers approached Mr. Tormé’s table and started to sing “The Christmas Song.” With a big smile, Mr. Tormé got up to sing a few lines near the end of the song. The head of the carolers had a worried expression on his face as he wondered whether this short, fat, elderly man could sing, but of course the Velvet Fog sang perfectly. Everyone sang the last line of the song together, and nearby auditors broke into spontaneous applause. The leader of the carolers told Mr. Tormé, “You know, you’re not a bad singer.” Of course, Mr. Tormé realized that the leader of the carolers had no idea who he was, so he said, “Well, I’ve actually made a few records in my day….” “Really,” the leader of the carolers said. “How many?” Mr. Tormé replied, “Ninety.”

Brendan, the son of Beth Quinn, a columnist for The Times Herald-Record in New York state, had a Blankie when he was little. He carried it around and slept with it for a long time, then he kept it on the floor by his bed, and finally he stored it in his closet. Occasionally, Beth would find it and say, “Oh, look what I found. Blankie.” Brendan would reply, “I know. Leave him there.” Beth did. When Brendan was eight years old, he met Josie, his half-sister, and they bonded quickly over a shared love of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the Smurfs, and their Blankies. Later, Josie moved away, and Brendan and Beth found out that older children at her bus stop were picking on her. Upset, Brendan took action. He cut out a square from Blankie and then had Beth send it and a Smurf doll to Josie along with this message: “Here is a Smurf and part of Blankie. Keep these with you at the bus stop so no one can hurt you.” Apparently, it worked, as Josie grew up to be an adult. For Christmas of 2006, Beth restored Blankie—but left the hole created when Brendan cut out the square—to make a gift for Brendan’s soon-to-be-born daughter, Devon Elizabeth.

Ralph Nader’s father, Nathra, ran a restaurant. His one day off a year was supposed to be Christmas, but each Christmas he went to his restaurant around 11 a.m. and spent approximately three hours serving lunch to elderly people who no longer had families and who ate lunch at the restaurant every day. Nathra ran his restaurant from 1925 to 1969. During that time, he fed many poor people for free, especially during the Great Depression. At that time, hungry people sometimes knocked on doors to beg for a meal. When that happened at the Nader home, Ralph’s mother always told the hungry person to go to the family restaurant, where they could get a hot meal for free. In addition, Nathra did an impressive good deed during World War II. Above the restaurant was a dentist’s office operated by Dr. Henry Garbus. When Dr. Garbus was called to do his military duty, Nathra kept the office for him, rent free, for almost three years. When Dr. Garbus returned from his military service, Nathra handed him the keys to the office.

Tori Spellling’s father was Aaron Spelling, spectacularly successful and wealthy TV magnate. Because of her family connection, Tori co-starred in Beverly Hills, 90210. Growing up in such a wealthy family led to experiences that were much different from those of lower- and middle-class kids, although for Tori they were the only experiences she knew. For example, she got a nose job as a teenager, and her mother reserved one room out of a 123-room mansion for the sole purpose of wrapping presents. In addition, when Tori was very young, her father trucked in several tons of snow so that she could enjoy a white Christmas in Los Angeles.

Like many physicians, Thomas S. Cullen occasionally had patients who could not afford urgently needed medical care. One impoverished woman was very worried about the cost of her necessary operation, so he tried to set her at ease by telling her, “I think I know what you want me to do—as much as necessary, but as little as possible.” As it turned out, what she and her husband were able to give Dr. Cullen was much appreciated, although its monetary value did not cover the cost of the operation—the woman’s very grateful husband left the good doctor a bag of hickory nuts at his door on Christmas Eve.

Cultures differ from country to country. In 1909, Italian baritone Enrico Pignataro arrived in New York just before Christmas. He was shocked to see many wreaths hanging on front doors because in his country a wreath on the door meant that someone in that house had recently died. Mr. Pignataro wrote back home: “I have arrived safely, but a plague has hit this city. People are dying like flies. There are wreaths on almost every door. Light many candles for me, and pray that I may leave this place alive.”

On December 13 in Hungary, girls write down on slips of paper the names of eligible bachelors, put them under their pillow, and draw out one name each day until Christmas, when only one name remains. According to folklore, that is the name of the boy they will marry.

© 2016, David Bruce, All Rights Reserved

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