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   Vol. 22 No. 45
Wednesday December 20, 2023


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The Arends

     Tradition is a funny thing. As individuals, we perform daily Habits that help who we are, and give structure to our lives. Our Habits shape our personalities and inform others of what to expect when dealing with us. But Habits don’t unite. Habit is a hermit, sometimes finicky, always specific, often rigid and terribly stubborn. Tradition is the older, regal cousin of Habit—definitely wiser, deeper, fluid, highly communal and full of ceremony. When you gather individuals together around commonalities, such as family, Tradition becomes the improvised dance we do to move through time together. If Habits are life viewed through a magnifying glass, then Tradition is life seen from a plane.
     The Arend clan is steeped in Tradition, and Christmas is no exception. It starts very early in the season, too. Over the years I have heard complaints from my siblings regarding some of our Traditions—and I have certainly not been exempt from griping—but I regard the whining the same way one might regard a creaky door; it happens with time and repetition, but you’re going to continue opening the door. For example, it is usually Emily or Geoff’s job to string the lights on the Christmas tree, although they have both bemoaned it at some point or another. Ralph or Emily is in charge of setting up the trains that have run around our tree for over 30 years. The Christmas tree decorations are always carefully wrapped in paper towels, sealed with scotch tape and stored in Ziploc bags, a task my Mother undertakes every year. My Mother is also a real Mrs. Klaus: she wraps every gift herself, handwrites our names on all our gifts along with printed photos of our faces to identify the gifts among us.
     Christmas morning is always the same. I relish it, although it has tortured me in the past. It’s tortured us all. You see, in our house, everyone must be awake and fed before a single gift can be opened. We come downstairs and the living room—the gift room—looms into view. There is one big red chair, one blue chair, a black rocking chair and a long couch, and they belong, respectively, to Geoffrey, myself, Ralph and Emily. There is nothing quite like going down our stairs on Christmas morning. A fireplace is the centerpiece, and it is always crackling, the tree in the corner is brightly lit and decorated, and the four seats are filled to the brim with gifts. It has always been this way. I can’t imagine a time when I won’t descend the stairs on Christmas morning to that sight. I don’t even want to think about it. No one else I’ve ever spoken to does Christmas the way we do. It’s strictly Arend Tradition.
     On Christmas morning, we torture ourselves waiting for breakfast before we can start unwrapping, although breakfast is a gift unto itself. The Tradition of Christmas Breakfast is an important one. Dad only takes out the Sears Pancake mix on Christmas morning. He makes us the thinnest, most delicious silver dollar pancakes in the world. The mix comes from an old pancake house in San Francisco that opened in 1938, and we always have a few bags in the freezer for Christmas. He also takes fresh sausage meat and forms little sausage patties, my mother makes scrambled eggs and orange juice, and there’s even a little butter cake with sugar on top. We sit down as our parents cook, anxiously awaiting our food so we can anxiously open our gifts, and each child gets their plate one at a time as the pancakes are always made fresh to order. Because there are four of us, it often happens that by the time Child One has finished his pancakes, Child Four is just beginning, and Dad is already making another round for Child One. The rotation continues until we’ve had so many pancakes that the Sears mix can safely take its year-long sabbatical, then my Mother gets into the shower and we anxiously sit, bellies full, waiting for her to be done. I think that’s one of my Mother’s favorite Christmas gifts—the nice, hot shower after all her Mrs. Klaus duties are done, save for the Christmas dinner.
     The madness of presents then ensues, and here is where the Habits come to play: Ralph always, always rips all of his presents open as fast as he can, and in the past, when he was younger, he would get upset to see that he was done so quickly. Especially since I have the Habit of opening one present, and then not opening another for at least an hour. I often have presents for a day or two after Christmas, because I am highly skilled in the art of Making it Last Forever. Emily opens somewhat slowly, although sometimes she counts how many gifts she gets versus everyone else—this is the Habit of a December Baby, who always feels gift-slighted by virtue of having a birthday in December. Geoff wants to open everything at once as well, although he has less of a Habit when it comes to presents, save this one: once he finds a video game, he can safely stop opening and retire to the TV Room, where all video game systems are set up and ready to receive the newest adventure. When that happens, we all follow and sit around the television set to watch him and Ralph play. Video game playing is a Habit for my brothers; on Christmas, it is a Tradition in which we all engage. Someone always bring a system home so we can play, and if it weren’t there, it wouldn’t be Christmas.
     What follows after is a Christmas Breakfast/Gift stupor that lasts into the evening. Thank goodness for the delicious Christmas dinners my Mother makes, which are always multiple courses, incredibly gourmet and unrivaled. I would put any of my Mother’s meals up against any other meal in the world, and my Mother would win. There’s no use arguing with me on that one. She spends hours cooking, and frankly we don’t deserve it, but I’m forever thankful that she does.
     The day after Christmas we give her a break and go out to eat at my Father’s favorite German restaurant. We drink warm gluhwein under a red-nosed Christmas moose, whose head hangs on the wall and has hung there for as long as I can remember. Ralph eats goulash soup and Emily has her herring salad and splits steak tartar with me, and we all eat red cabbage and fried onions and creamed spinach. Then we pile into my Father’s Volkswagen van and slowly wheel up and down the streets in search of the best, most brightly lit house—we call it Christmas peeping. Some houses are so good we get out of the van to look at them, but god bless the Volkswagen van for its panoramic views when it’s too cold.
Lulu Arend     I’m thirty-one years old, and I have been doing these things every year for Christmas for thirty-one years. We’re all getting older, and the griping over Traditions has grown more frequent, more insistent—no one has the time, or can’t comprehend the importance. It’s become so familiar, we’ve forgotten what is at stake. These things we do, it’s as if we’ve gone round and round in circles over the same path, and suddenly we think we’re in a rut, that we’ve actually made this impression that we can’t get out of—we’re stuck. But it’s the opposite. We’ve gone round and round so that we know where we’re going. We’ve pounded this path that is strictly Our Path, and no one else’s. It was our feet, our bodies, that made it—it is ours. All of us share it, and in sharing it we’ve created something that didn’t exist before and wouldn’t exist had one of us not participated. And that is something that can be passed down, because it has taken form.
Flossie Arend     The circle has widened; new members have joined us in the merrymaking. Another mouth for pancakes, another set of eyes for peeping, a different take on how best to unwrap your gifts. With them, the path changes slightly, grows fuller, deeper, but round and round we'll always go, together. They are is a new note in the Arend harmony—the song is growing richer. This is Tradition. If it were just Habit, you would take it to your grave. These things pass on, are shared, live beyond us. If we let it all go—the peeping, the presents, the pancakes for breakfast—how would we find each other in the dark? How would we know each other? We are the Arend Clan, and these are our stories. This is our shared life.
     Dear readers, I hope you have a story; I hope you belong to people.
     From our Clan to yours, Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy New Year.
Flossie Arend

This story appeared originally in 2012. As you can see from the photograph above, we have new members in the family but the traditions continue.

chuckles for December 20, 2023

Christmas Playlist

White Christmas & John Scott Trotter

     I remember when I learned John Scott Trotter wrote all of Bing Crosby’s arrangements, and his orchestra played on Crosby’s immortal album “White Christmas.”
John Scott Trotter, Ethel Merman, Bing Crosby
John Scott Trotter (left), Ethel Merman, and Bing Crosby ready a radio show. John Scott arranged Bing’s rendition of Irving Berlin’s song “White Christmas,” which in 2023 is still the bestselling musical recording in history.

     I had already known Scott as the man who played piano with a school band (for which he wrote many of the arrangements) that was formed at the University of North Carolina. In the 1930s they became famous almost overnight, playing aboard big, scheduled passenger ships crossing the Atlantic between New York and Southampton, well before the airlines took over during the mid 1950s.
     The band, called The Hal Kemp Orchestra, was aboard ship one summer and was invited to play for Prince George—he was throwing a big party as the future King of England (later becoming the Duke of Windsor after he renounced his throne “for the woman I love”) as he traveled from New York back across the Atlantic.
     At one point, the Prince, who fancied himself something of a musician (drums) joined the band—that simple gesture made headlines, and Hal Kemp became famous.
     Later John Scott wrote arrangements for many of the Kemp tunes. Some 700 were recorded, all at 78 rpm, before Hal’s untimely death in 1940, after which The Hal Kemp Orchestra was no more.
     But John Scott kept on working, and after he created the arrangement for “White Christmas” in 1942 (still number one single in recording sales), Bing wouldn’t work without him. Up until the mid-1950s, Bing rarely allowed anyone else to arrange his music, but John Scott must have convinced him otherwise.
     The string of hit songs the duo created has never been matched.
     During our early days at Air Cargo News, I had the great pleasure to create a 22-hour musical history of Hal Kemp & his Orchestra for Public Radio in New York City.
     John Scott’s early work for Kemp was full of wonderful musical discoveries brought to America for the first time, like the French song “Boom” and many others.
     John Scott invented the staccato triplets played by the horn section to create a unique sound for the Kemp band on many recordings, “Got a Date With An Angel” and others, and the sound became the band’s trademark—it even caused the great songwriter Johnny Mercer to remark with some admiration, describing Kemp’s signature as “the typewriter band.”
     John Scott’s arrangements influenced everybody from Kay Kyser to Glenn Miller, and of course the greatest crooner of them all, Bing Crosby, who said this about Trotter: “I'm not musically educated enough to really describe what he was in music terms. I just knew he was very good and he had marvelous taste.”
     Blessed Christmastide & all good wishes.

If You Missed Any Of The Previous 3 Issues Of FlyingTypers
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Publisher-Geoffrey Arend • Managing Editor-Flossie Arend • Editor Emeritus-Richard Malkin
Film Editor-Ralph Arend • Special Assignments-Sabiha Arend, Emily Arend

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