Editor’s note: Ellen McDaniel-Weissler is taking a break this week, so we are rerunning the first column she ever wrote. It appeared on Aug. 7, 2016 — two weeks after the last column her mother, Maude McDaniel, wrote for the Times-News.
We like it just as much today as we did three years ago.
I have always wondered what I might write about if I were ever to have a chance to do a semi-occasional column for a newspaper.
My mother’s writings spanned about a bazillion topics (rough estimate) over her 37 years as a columnist, and in the back of my mind lurks the fear that I might repeat something she has covered before — and covered far better!
But then I thought — so what if I do cover a similar topic? Perhaps I could give it a perspective from my side of the generation gap, some twist that wasn’t on Mother’s radar screen, or a tilt from my own, albeit no less nutty, point of view.
So I’ve decided, in that spirit, to tackle one of Mother’s favorite topics: Christmas cards.
For their entire married life, Mother and Daddy created their own Christmas cards. Mother would write a poem — something profound and meaningful for the season — and Daddy would illustrate it; he was the visual artist in the family.
Sometimes he carved a wood-cut or linoleum-block picture, and the whole family would spend hours smearing the print-block with color, pressing out prints, mis-addressing envelopes, signing cards on the wrong side, covering our pajamas with ink, spilling it on the rug, making a mess in the living room, sticking stamps on upside down, and generally turning the chore into a typical McDaniel Yuletide Event.
This went on for about 150 years.
After Daddy passed away (should I call him MFTB — My Father the Bagpiper?) Mother took up the burden on her own, but scaled back to post cards. Still attempting to be somber and thought-provoking, her poems or haikus or cinquains or whatever form the poems took were classics of the genre. I always looked forward to her creativity.
Then one year she put me on the spot. I came to her house to rake some leaves, and she dragged me in off of a nice, healthy leaf pile and pointed to a few of her false starts.
“I’m tired of writing these poems. I’ve run out of new things to say! I’ve tried to write something humorous for a change, but nothing is coming to me. How about if you write my Christmas card this year? Come on, you think this is so easy? Sit yourself down, right now, and whip me off a humorous poem for my Christmas card!”
(By the way, whoever said I thought it was easy?)
So, being a smug young person, I took up the challenge. I sat myself down in front of a blank piece of paper, and within just a couple of minutes, I produced the following:
“We’ve always sent you Christmas cards
“That fit the season well;
“But if you want the same this year,
“Then you can go to Hallmark!”
“Very funny!” said Mother, “but hardly appropriate. Try again.”
(You just can’t please some people!)
My second try went like this:
“I’m dreaming of a new Christmas,
“Without the Christmas card ordeal!
“No more endless licking
“Of stamps, and sticking
“Upon each card a Christmas Seal!
“I’m dreaming of a new Christmas,
“Each time the dreaded day draws near!
“May your Yule be flowing with cheer,
“And may I be dead this time next year!”
Do I need to spell out Mother’s response to this little gem?
Finally she decided that she would give me a first line, and I would have to finish the poem. Knowing my penchant for all things medieval, she handed me this:
“What ho! The merry-footed stag!” (Seriously?)
And so I wrote:
“What ho! The merry-footed stag,
“All dressed up in Christmas drag!
“Dressed in drag on Christmas Day?
“He’s no merry stag – he’s gay!”
Mother still writes her own Christmas cards, and I’ve gone back to raking leaves.
Ellen McDaniel-Weissler is a LaVale freelance writer. Her column appears biweekly in the Times-News.