The Sled

Over the weekend, the lights came down and the decorations were stored away. This included the beat up sled that my wife brought home from a craft fair several years ago. It’s wrapped in some greenery and battery operated lights, and sits on the front porch to greet visitors during the Christmas season. Well, during every other Christmas season. This year, there were few visitors.

When it first came home, I figured it for another mass produced “antique” that’s peddled to folks wanting something that looks vintage, but is really a modern knockoff. But when I looked at the back, I found something interesting. The name Louise Remley was painted on the back, along with the name of the town, Anamosa, Iowa. Well, I thought, that’s a clever touch. They went through the trouble to make it look like this belonged to an actual person.

Christmases came and went, and we pulled out the sled every December and put it away every January. But this season, when taking the sled out of the shed, I noticed the name again and started to wonder: what if Louse Remley of Anamosa, Iowa was a real person?

It didn’t take long to find the truth. After a little digging on genealogical sites, I discovered records for Louise Remley, born to a family in Anamosa in 1917. This sled was no reproduction, but probably a Christmas present given when she was a little girl. Mind blown.

How does a sled from Anamosa, Iowa end up in Upstate New York? Based on her obituary, Louise Remley, then Louise Remley Scott, died in 1999 here in the Capital Region. After living in several spots around America, she last resided with her husband, Ira Scott, in Niskayuna. Did she keep that sled for the entire time, possibly since the 1920s? That’s a tougher question to answer – but it would be odd if fate brought both her and her sled her independently.

I don’t know much more about Louise Remley, but I like to think she’d be pleased to know that her sled is on display at my home every year. To me, the sled has always been a symbol of the season, but finding out about its history gives it even greater power. When you touch the worn wood and rusted runners, you’re making a connection to the past, and a child’s joy.

The Name Game

OK, folks, game over.

My new granddaughter is obviously the winner in the most beautiful baby ever contest, and until you can show me a prettier little thing, she’s the champ. I’m not going to post a picture here, so you’ll have to take my word for it — but God help you if I see you on the street. If you see me pulling out my phone, it’s all over.

Leading up to the birth of the world’s best baby, there was quite a bit of discussion over what we should be called as grandparents. According to the internet, these are some common choices:

Grandmothers: Nana, Grammy, Granny, Mimi, Gram, Nanny, Mamaw, Gran, Meme

Grandfathers: Grandpa, Papa, Grandad, Gramps, Pop-Pop, Poppy, Papaw, Pop, Pappy, Pepaw

Another website had extensive lists of names, including categories they describe as “trendy” and “playful.” These are worth a look, but I can’t imagine my wife being called Uddermudder.

They also list a bunch of ethnic names, and I quite like the Irish Daideo, which should be pronounced DADJ-yoh, but would probably end up as daddy-o.

So I’m just settling on Robert.

I know that seems a bit weird, but I think it would be funny. It would certainly turn some heads and raise questions. Imagine her saying, “I’m going to visit Grammy — and Robert.” People would be like, who the fuck is Robert?

Someday we’ll be at the playground, and she’ll say, “Robert, take me to Stewart’s for an ice cream cone.”

“Yes, your grace. Right away.”

It would give her a regal bearing when she addresses me, and that’s fine. After all, it’s inevitable that she will be my little princess, and I will do her bidding.

Santa Season

I watched for a few minutes at Bob’s Trees as children lined up to visit with Santa. He had a real beard and a pretty good looking Santa suit. Maybe he was a tad thin, but that’s OK. Good on him for watching his weight.

To a little kid, spotting Santa is a pretty big deal — and seeing those children reminded me of something that still makes me feel bad.

Years ago, I produced a Christmas commercial for a local liquor retailer. The concept was simple: this store has such great prices, it’s where Santa shops for booze. I hired a local actor with experience playing Santa — he even had his own suit — and we spent a morning getting shots of Santa darting gleefully around the store picking out bottles for people on the ‘nice’ list.

All this was going great — but then, a woman came in the store with her young daughter to buy a bottle of wine. While we worked, the little girl kept peeking around the end of the aisle to catch a glimpse of Santa. Our talent played right along and coaxed the girl out from behind a stack of boxes. He was great, launching right into full Santa mode, and it really made that little girl’s day.

OK, that doesn’t sound bad, does it — and the commercial turned out great — so what’s the problem?

Even now when I think about that day — and this was nearly 30 years ago — I get the nagging feeling that it was wrong to put Santa in a liquor store. To that little girl, this was the real Santa, and I was using him to sell hooch.

Santa’s been used to sell so many things, but to see the power he has over children, right before my eyes — in a liquor store, for god’s sake — just made me feel dirty.

I’m probably the only person in the world who remembers all of this, but Santa, please accept my apology for exploiting your image in such a crass way.  I hope you can see fit to forgive me — and if you do, a bottle of Glengoyne 18-year-old Scotch might help ease my mind.

Candy Left Over From Halloween

A sack of candy on Halloween is a small thing that makes children very happy.

You remember dumping out that bag on the kitchen table and sorting through your loot. You’d carefully guard the good stuff, separate out the second-tier items (I’m looking at you, Smarties) and throw out the crap that looks sketchy. In my day, you’d sometimes get apples, which we discarded immediately.

But why do people insist on making this a bad thing with candy buy-back programs? I’ve written about these fun cops before, and how they tempt kids to trade their sweets for a small reward, as if having some Snickers bars is like keeping an illegal handgun tucked under your mattress.

This year a local mall is behind one of these schemes, offering the worst deal ever: for each pound of candy you bring in, they give you a gift certificate worth… one dollar. One dollar. But, wait — the offer is good for up to five pounds of candy, so kids could net a $5 payback. What a haul.

“But, Rob,” I can hear you saying, “They say the candy will be donated to ‘local organizations’.”

That’s certainly a nice idea, but here’s a better one: just take the funds you were going to pay those kids and give these “local organizations” something that will actually help them: cash.

The whole thing is beyond dumb.

Kids, you worked for that candy. Don’t be part of someone’s ill-conceived public relations scam. And parents? If you want to turn this into a lesson, here’s an idea: have the kids donate a little money for each pound of candy they wish to keep. Then, everybody wins.

Big Candy

When it comes to Halloween candy, it’s my policy to overbuy. Don’t be cheap; running out is a real rookie move, and whatever excess you have can go to the office the next day.

Last Halloween was my final one at the old house in Glenmont, so I decided to treat the kids to full-sized candy bars. It was a huge hit and made me feel like the King of Halloween.

But I wonder if it will bring unintended consequences.

There is a chance that kids will return to my old house expecting big candy bars, and the children — being by nature half-wild and unpredictable  — might not react well.

Imagine scores of kids looking into their bags and saying, “What? This was supposed to be the place with the big candy bars?!”

Who knows what tricks could befall the owners of my old home? But I’ll tell you what: Based on their behavior on the day of our closing, I do sort of hope that the little ghosts and goblins go into full fun-sized outrage.

But enough of that! Give generously on this spooky night and spread a little simple joy — or else risk tempting the dark spirits that reside in all of us.

Lost Boys

The lives of boys are fragile.

Maybe you saw this story of the two 12-year-olds accidentally buried in snow while playing outside after a storm. One of them died and the other was rescued just in time. It filled me with such sadness, imagining this child and his family, just weeks before Christmas.

They were just doing what boys do, and it got me thinking of the dangerous world they inhabit.

For boys, even innocent fun can take a quick, dark turn toward tragedy — and as the testosterone takes hold, they grow bolder. The railroad tracks and tunnels and forbidden places. Mischief and trouble gone bad. The cars and other motorized things. The lure of all that burn or goes bang. Alcohol, drugs, great heights, small confined spaces. Then they go off to war at an ungodly young age, because to an 18-year-old risk is an abstraction.

That’s the world of boys. Join me in praying for them this Christmas.


We’re moving very soon, so packing and de-cluttering have been a daily chore.

I take great pleasure in getting rid of things. There was the ornate couch in the cellar that we planned to reupholster  some day. The day never came, and in the words of Oscar Madison, “Now it’s garbage.” I pulled a box of baby toys from the attic, where they’d sat since the day we moved in more than 20 years ago. Bags of old clothes, musty books and a vast assortment things that once seemed like a good idea. The guy at the dump? We’re on a first name basis.

But amid all the stuff, are some things that move you, like my son’s journal from when he was seven.

journal 1

Some things you must let go, and some things you must keep. Choose carefully.

Fifteen Years

My son was home recently from sunny Twentynine Palms, where he’s stationed in the Marines. When home, he marveled at how green everything was, even in the midst of our dry, dry summer.

At dinner one night he ordered a beer, and as usual he was proofed — except this time, having finally reached 21, he was legal. My son looks young for his age, but he’s old enough to be a machine gunner in the Marines, old enough to go to Iraq, old enough (to his mother’s displeasure) to get tattoos and now, at long last, old enough to be served a drink.

On the morning of 9/11 he was six-years-old. My older boy , now a sergeant in the New York National Guard, was 13. Like his younger brother, he also serves in the infantry.

They were just kids 15 years ago and today they’re men. I remember in the days after the attacks that I’d sit up at night waiting for the other shoe to drop. A decade and a half later both my children have fought this war, and the shoe is still dropping.

Look, Up in the Sky

The great thing about picking cherries and blueberries is that there’s no bending over. Yes, strawberries are wonderful, but the stooping down makes them so tedious to gather.

Last weekend at Samascott Orchards, the fruit was mostly at eye level, but up in the sky was something much more interesting.

High above the farm a biplane was lazily cruising along and performing loops and rolls as it made its way westward. It’s surprising enough to see a biplane, but the stunt flying made it a truly extraordinary sight.

My wife called out to two boys picking cherries from a nearby tree and pointed out the plane. They shrugged and went back to the picking. Their mother, said, “They are not little boys any more.” This surprised me, because actually, the were little boys — and what sort of little boys would not be thrilled by such a thing?

It could be that the stimulation of phones and video games are making real things seem mundane to some kids. In a world where you have endless action at your fingertips, something like an airplane performing acrobatics might not merit even a moment of interest. God, I hope I’m wrong.