Friday, December 22, 2006

The 12 Days Of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
A partridge in a pear tree

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Two turtle doves,
And a partridge in a pear tree

...and so forth. The last verse is:

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me
Twelve Drummers drumming
Eleven Pipers piping
Ten Lords a-leaping
Nine Ladies dancing
Eight maids a-milking
Seven swans a-swimming
Six geese a-laying
Five golden (sometimes gold) rings
Four calling (or colly) birds
Three french hens
Two turtle doves and
And a partridge in a pear tree

The Twelve Days of Christmas is a children's rhyme that was originally published in a book called Mirth without Mischief in London around 1780. It was originally a memory and forfeit g
ame and it was played by gathering a circle of players and each person took it in turns to say the first line of the rhyme. When it is the first player's turn again he says the second line of the verse and so on.

100 years later the game and rhyme were adopted by Lady Alice Gomme as a rhyme that "the whole family could have fun singing every twelfth night before Christmas before eating mince pies and
twelfth cake".

These are the twelve days beginning on night of the 25th of December and ending on January 5th, the eve of the Feast of The Epiphany. In the Middle Ages this period was one of continuous feasting and merrymaking, which climaxed on Twelfth Night, the traditional end of the Christmas season.

During the twelve days of Christmas, traditional roles were often relaxed, masters waited on their servants, men were allowed to dress as women, and women as men. Often a Lord of Misrule was chosen to lead the Christmas revels. Some of these traditions were adapted from older, pagan customs, including the Roman Saturnalia.

Some also have an echo in modern day pantomime where traditionally authority is mocked and the principal male lead is played by a woman, while the leading older female character, or 'Dame' is is played by a man. Some people give gifts, feast and otherwise celebrate on each of the twelve days rather than just on one day at Christmas.

Some Christians assign symbolism to the gifts in the song. One of the most common versions of these assigned meanings is:

• The 'partridge in a pear tree' means there is only one God and is also symbolic of Jesus (see Luke 13:34).
• The 'two turtle doves' are the Old and New Testaments.
• The 'three French hens' are the three Persons of the holy Trinity or the three virtues: faith, hope, and love, though according to Ace Collins' book "Stories of the Best Loved Christmas Songs", they represent the expensive gifts of the Wise Men: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
• The 'four calling birds' are the Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; or their Gospels. Which makes sense because they are "calling" out the story.
• 'Five gold rings' are the first five books of the Bible, or the Pentateuch.
• 'Six geese a-laying' refer to the six days of the Creation.
• 'Seven swans a-swimming' are the seven sacraments and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.
• 'Eight maids a-milking' are the eight Beatitudes.
• 'Nine ladies dancing' are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.
• 'Ten lords a-leaping' are the Ten Commandments.
• 'Eleven pipers piping' are the eleven faithful Apostles.
• 'Twelve drummers drumming' are the twelve doctrines in the Apostles' Creed.

This interpretation is usually taught with a story that British Catholics, suffering persecution in the 16th century, wrote the song with these hidden meanings. Although some sources, such as Snopes, disagree on this point. They point out that under the rule of Henry Vlll (1509-1547) ties were broken with the Catholic Church in Rome and the Anglican Church was established. After Elizabeth l established rule the “old worship” and open practice of the Catholic Church was forbidden following the Act of Uniformity. This was until Parliament passed the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829. However it is not accurate to say that, without exception, anyone caught practicing Catholicism or possessing related material at any time during this 270 year period was immediately imprisioned or executed. The state’s tolerance of Catholicism waxed and waned with political exigencies of the times.

We can say with certainty that the song would have served as a pedagogical tool, however, some sources say that it was merely a "memory and forfeits game" originally played by children.

Sometimes "sent to me" is used instead of "gave to me"; also "five golden rings" is sometimes "five gold rings". Some argue that "gold" is correct and that "golden" is not. But because "gold" requires stretching into two syllables, the word "golden" seems to fit better. Additionally, some interpreters of the song argue that the five rings refer to coloring around the neck of birds such as pheasants, not jewelry.

The line four calling birds is an Americanization of the traditional English wording four colly birds, and in some places, such as Australia, the variation calling is supplanting the original. Colly is a dialect word meaning black and refers to the European blackbird Turdus merula.

The line four calling birds in some versions is four coiled birds. One version even had four mockingbirds.

The line nine ladies dancing in some versions is nine ladies waiting. The ladies themselves are also called dames a-dancing.

In Scotland early in the nineteenth century the song was started with:
"The King sent his lady on the first Yule day,A popingo-aye (parrot) Wha learns my carol and carries it away?"

I hope you have a Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Homer Ledford - A Kentucky Treasure Passes

Legendary bluegrass musician and instrument maker Homer Ledford, whose work is displayed at the Smithsonian Institution, died Monday afternoon.

Mr. Ledford, of Winchester, was 79.

"He'd been sick real bad for a month or so," said Vernell Carpenter, wife of Rollie Carpenter, a member of the group Homer Ledford and the Cabin Creek Band.

The band had been performing since 1976.

"He hadn't played with the band all year," she said. "He'd been real sick and couldn't walk or anything."

Vernell Carpenter said she and Rollie Carpenter received word of Mr. Ledford's death yesterday from another member of the band, L.C. Johnson. Other band members are Marvin E. Carroll and Pamela Case.

Mr. Ledford was born Sept. 26, 1927, in the Tennessee mountains.

At an early age back in Tennessee Mr. Ledford started making musical instruments, according to his band's Web site.

At 18, he was given a scholarship to attend John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C. He later attended Berea College, but transferred and graduated from what is now Eastern Kentucky University in 1954.

Mr. Ledford worked as a high school industrial arts teacher in Jefferson and Clark counties and became a full-time instrument maker.

He completed an estimated 5,776 dulcimers, 475 banjos, 26 mandolins, 26 guitars, 18 ukuleles, and four violins, among other instruments, the Web site said. He is also the author of a book on Kentucky life that featured his stories and poems called "See Ya' Further Up The Creek."

Mr. Ledford has samples of his craft in the Smithsonian Institution, including a fretless banjo, an Appalachian dulcimer, and a dulcitar, an instrument of his own invention, which he patented.

He was honored in Winchester in 1986 when the Homer Ledford Bluegrass Festival was named after him.

He was also one of the original inductees in the Kentucky Stars. A sidewalk plaque honoring him is in front of the Downtown Arts Center on Main Street in Lexington.

In 2005, Mr. Ledford helped restore an 1850 Martin parlor guitar -- played by Henry Clay's granddaughter, Anne Clay McDowell -- for Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate.

"Homer was a delight to work with, and until I showed up on his doorstep, he had only worked on one other Martin guitar dating to the 19th century," Ann Hagan-Michel, executive director of the estate, said at that time. "He's done a wonderful job, and the guitar is playing nicely now."

Michael Jonathan, the host of Wood Songs Old Time Radio Hour, calls his friend Homer, "a sweet, gentle and humble man. Homer is a great bluegrass musician, a brilliant luthier.

He is survived by his wife, Colista. The two met as students at Berea College in the late 1940s. They were married more than 50 years.

My home state of Kentucky has lost a great treasure.

Excerpts from the obituary written by

Shawntaye Hopkins of the LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

Monday, December 18, 2006

My Dream of December 9th, 2006

Well me and my missus had arrived in Gatlinburg and pulled into the parking lot of the first motel that came into view. We registered at the desk, but didn’t unpack the car. We just wanted to secure a room.

Driving up the main road, my wife said to turn left down the next street. We did and parked the car in a small lot behind some old white framed houses. She told me to place the brown leather bag that held my Fender Stratocaster guitar in the garage next to the other brown leather bags that held the other guitars and basses.

She and I headed for a family visit to see her uncle. She hadn’t seen Uncle Jimmy in a long time. At this point we couldn’t drive anymore and would have to walk the rest of the way and headed past the old frame two story houses that lined the pathway. It was just a pathway, for there was no paving here. ‘just a brown dusty footpath that lead past a handful of old homes and a what appeared to be a tree filled park. We walked past a cage of kangaroos that were fascinated at our presence and saw the long white frame one story ranch house. It stretched on for what could have been two houses.

We were then met by my wife’s uncle Jimmy Dean. You know that guy that sells sausages. I remember him from his years as a country singer and the evenings that I spent watching his television show. You know he was also a movie star and had a role in a James Bond film.

Well Uncle Jimmy welcomed us to his home and brought us in to meet his wife and kids. Mrs. Dean, who was known to all as Auntie, was sort of a curmudgeonly sort and seemed quite a lot older than her husband. She was tall, plump with close-cropped gray hair. She wore an old house dress that buttoned up the front. She had orthopedic shoes and opaque stockings that I imagine covered the varicose veins. She brought us coffee. We sat, talked over old times and got caught up on family matters.

Uncle Jimmy’s kids, Donnie and Marie Osmond made their appearance from the upstairs. I could have sworn it looked like a one story home! They too were very cordial. Uncle Jimmy’s other son Ron then entered the room. He was the only one dressed in old ragged jeans and a flannel shirt. Uncle Jimmy was, as usual, dressed in traditional western garb, his cowboy hat was placed nearby on an end table. Donnie and Marie, well they always knew how to dress up.

Marie had a kangaroo with her named Amy that told us she was nearing the age were she would be allowed to attend school. I was unaware that kangaroos went to public schools, but perhaps customs were different in Tennessee. The mores of the South had changed radically I thought.

My wife asked Amy the kangaroo what grade she would be attended. Amy the kangaroo replied that she would be in kindergarten. I said that I did not know that kangaroos spoke English and commented on her excellent grasp of the tongue. Amy said that most kangaroos only spoke kangaroo, but that there were various dialects and the local herd all had a pronounced southern twang. I asked about those we saw in the cage. Would they be going to school? Amy responded that although she was related, she considered them to be animals since they hadn't developed her advanced language and reasoning skills.

Donnie and Marie excused themselves and went upstairs on the pretense of having to prepare for some event. That left us with Uncle, Auntie and Cousin Ron. Cousin Ron then asked if I wouldn’t mind walking over to the hovel were he lived. He had some work to do and needed a hand. I couldn’t be ungracious. We walked a few doors down the footpath to his ramshackle two story frame home. I told him, “I wouldn’t call this a hovel.” He said that I hadn’t seen the inside and he need to take the trash out to the footpath. So we moved about a dozen or so rusty galvanized trash cans to await the garbage man.

Ron confided in me that Amy wasn’t working out with Auntie being so old and whatnot and that Uncle Jimmy’s reason for invited us was to see if we could adopt the young kangaroo. Boy this took me by surprise. I hadn’t thought much about this. Heck, the thought had never broached my mind of accepting parenthood repsonsibilities again. I’m 54 and I didn’t know if I was up to the task of raising a young kangaroo, even if she was blond and reminded me of my daughters.

Oh yeah. I don't think I mentioned that Amy had a head of long blond curly hair on her head. I can’t say if it was a wig or an anomaly, but it was definitely long, blond and curly. I might add here that Amy, unlike the naked kangaroos in the cage, wore clothing. The day we met she had on a white flowered summer dress that covered her tail and white pumps with low heels and a matching purse.

I walked back to the Dean home with Ron. My wife had already spoken with Uncle Jimmy and Auntie about matters and was rather excited about the prospect of being a mamma again. The decision was made, I guess. Amy was equally exited as were Donnie and Marie, who had just descended the stairs again and looked rather relieved.

So it was to be. My wife and I walked down the footpath with Amy the kangaroo and waved good-bye to the Deans and the Osmonds. We said our hellos and good-byes to the crowd of caged kangaroos as well, who had by now become passive of our presence and ignored us. We headed back to were we parked the car and the guitar and then drove off

The next thing I recall was that I was driving an old Willies Jeep in a desert that was just outside of Gatlinburg. You know the one. A sign said that we had entered a missile testing range and that we should beware of scattered live ammunition as well as the need to keep vigil for incoming missiles. How the heck did we wind up here. I seem to have the worst sense of direction. I was feeling guilty for having lead my family into a missile test range. I should have pulled into the service station. I was wondering how we could leave when I spotted a general store.

Now this was not your old fashion general store that one would imagine from an old-time movie. No sir, this was sort of a modular aluminum frame-two story construction prefabricated deal. Sort of what you see when you pull into a BP station.

The windows were made of thick glass. Since it was a desert, there was a place you could take a shower, as long as you didn’t have a sense of modesty. You could buy snacks, cold drinks and sandwiches. And thank the Lord it was air-conditioned. We all bought some Pepsi-colas, cotton candy and hot dogs and sat for a long time with the gal that runs the place. The owner, Marva said that she spent a lot of time alone and was glad for the company. She said had no worries about the missile attacks and had grown use to them being around the explosions. After all it was the U.S. Army and she did have a big flag flying over head. I was about to put pickle relish on my hot dog but the scenery suddenly changed.

Somehow we were now in a large room not unlike a lodge. The beams overhead where rough hewn cedar that had been covered with dark stain and the along the stuccoed walls were pine beams. Apparently Amy had already been going to school. I don't recall anything about this. Were we home? It sure didn't look like home. I guess the missus had taken care of business. I have not much recollection. However I am 54 now and my memory is not what it used to be.

This was some sort of parents meeting. In fact it was an angry parents meeting. The regional folks were upset that there were far too many critters attending the public school and that critters were just not the “public” they thought of when it came to public school.

A man stood up to speak in defense of his son. His boy, he said was a bright young bandicoot anmed Billy, that had a 4.0 average and deserved the proper education. He finished by saying "After all, what was the point of paying his Tennessee state taxes?" I didn't think that Tennessee had state tax. I may be wrong.

Then Amy made me lean over and whispered that she was not comfortable about the whole situation. She said that the girls in her class had made fun of her paws, since none of theirs was covered in hair. Besides she didn’t have opposable thumbs and she was sick of sticking her tail flat against her back. It was very uncomfortable for a kangaroo and it made her look sort of hump-backed. The principal told her it was against school policy to "show tail." Wearing shoes was another thing she took issue with. Her shoes were rather large and not available at Payless. She told me that wanted to go back to Uncle Jimmys’.
We walked about downtown Gatlinburg and visited some souvenier shops. We even had lunch al fresco at a place that sold ice cream and sandwiches. I had a BLT and a chocolate malt. We stood for a little while in the entry way to a closed store. I remember vividly the bright pastel tiles that lined the outer walls of this store. Amy had made a big decision for such a young kangaroo. She told us that would move back with Uncle Jimmy, Auntie, Cousin Ron and the Osmonds and go to a private school that they ran on the property.

And the next thing I knew, well there we were back at Uncle Jimmy Dean's house. I had to go to the bathroom. Jimmy Dean's bathroom was huge! In it were two toilets, a bidet and one sink was leaking from underneath. The leak was so bad that it had worn away the tile to reveal the cement underfloor. I wondered why he hadn't fixed it since the sausage business was so successful.

The room held an extra large tub for Auntie and a shower with at least four shower heads. It came to my mind that maybe since the Osmonds were Mormons, that communal bathing might be a Mormon thing. Who knew. Mormons did everything together.

Eventually Uncle Jimmy came downstairs from the mysterious second floor and we explained the situation. He and Auntie said they would like to discuss the matter with Amy the kangaroo. So Donnie and Marie offered to take us on a walk around the compound..

We went over the hill to “the Ranch” which was the name that we given to a sort of a camp for kids. There were about a dozen cabins and a play area and lodge. They told us all about the Ranch and their work there as counselors and how much fun it was to be around Uncle Jimmy and Auntie. (She seemed grouchy to me) We talked a little about Ron, the outcast. They told us that Amy the kangaroo would be OK and that it was too bad it didn’t work out. But that they didn’t really think that it would. After all it was Tennessee and the South was not ready for kangaroo integration yet.

I mentioned that I did not see much hope of it working out in the North either. Most Yankees would cotton up to the idea of animal integration in the public school system, what with funding the way it is and having expenditures for zoo to school busing.

Donnie said that it was probably best if we would leave without saying good-bye to Amy since she was already very upset. He hoped that this wouldn't hurt our feelings. So my wife and I headed back to the car and drove away.

I couldn' help but think that here I was spending several days with some of the world's most successful musical entertainers and I didn't ask them a thing about music. I just scratch my head.

It was a delightful dream. I wonder what Freud would say?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Dances With Bears

What do bear really do in the wood?

Find out with me as we go on our forest adventure...