In 1967 I was employed by the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company when living in Houston, Texas. Although it was a very large company, it was bought out by the American Express Company. Soon thereafter all we employees were presented with an American Express credit card. I had always wanted one of these cards, but they were expensive to purchase. Now, I had one for free. I have carried and used it since that day in 1969.
Now, fast forward to a few days ago here in the year 2019. I happen to notice a package placed near my front door. I was surprised as I had not ordered anything of late. I looked at the return address and it read, “American Express”. “Wow, what could I be getting from that company?”, I wondered. I took the shoe box sized package inside and placed it on the kitchen table. Soon I would find out.
My wife watched as I opened the box with anticipation. What would American Express Company be sending me in that box? Inside the box was another one, blue in color with the words “Tiffany” on the top. I recognized that name as a rather exclusive company. My hands were shaking just a little bit as I took off the white ribbon wrapped around the blue box.
Finally the contents came into view. There were two of them obviously make of high quality crystal. They were approximately ten inches tall, with long thin stems. I held one of them up to the light to examine it. “Wow, this is expensive stuff”, I opined. They were very beautiful.
Enclosed was a card from American Express. I read it and learned that I was being presented this gift because I have been a card-holder for fifty years without interruption. I was shocked that they would take notice of such a thing. I looked at my card, and sure enough it showed that I had been a holder since 1969. Needless to say I was a little shocked, but also pleased.
Now, I don’t know what to do with two, tall, expensive wine glasses. We do not drink wine and have little use for them. So, my wife tells me that she will use them as a decoration on a shelf. Thanks, American Express for the kind thought. The old saying, “It’s the thought that counts” applies here.
I have a feeling that if should I be late in paying a bill to them, the late penalty will still apply to their long-time customer.
THE AMERICAN EXPRESS CARD
BY: NEAL MURPHY
259 County Road 214
San Augustine, Texas 75972
Who is this person known as Santa Claus, aka Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, or just simply “Santa”? How can he be described? He has his roots in the Dutch figure of Sinterklass which, in turn, may have part of its basis in tales concerning the historical figure of gift-giver Saint Nicholas. It appears that he might have roots in early Greece around 1880.
To a young lad growing up in East Texas none of this was important to me. I must confess that I was a “believer” for far too long, milking the tradition for all I could. My parents were, I think, a little reluctant to stop playing the part for their youngest child.
Around five or six years of age I began to ask questions, as some things about Santa just did not add up in my mind. I was informed that Santa always entered the home via the chimney, but our home did not have a fire place. My parents had the answer to that one - he was like a spirit and could go through the key hole in the door. I bought that one for a couple of years, even making sure that the front door key was removed before going to bed on Christmas eve. He need not encounter any obstructions to gain entry.
Later, I considered how Santa could squeeze a bag full of toys through a key hole, even though he could enter himself. No problem, my parents said that they always left the front door unlocked so he could enter and take care of business. Ok, that one worked for a while. But, the year that Santa brought an electric train set pretty much settled the matter. I later saw the large box in which it came from the Western Auto store - “Mrs. Alice Murphy” was written on the box in plain view. So, here was proof that my mother had indeed purchased the train set and not Santa.
Now this information was difficult to digest as I knew that all this Santa stuff was about to end. The very last time it happened I recall being in my bed, but not asleep. I saw my dad sneaking down the hall toward the living room with a shotgun in his hands. That was the year he gave me his J. C. Higgins .20 gauge bolt action shotgun as Santa’s present. Since I was old enough to handle and shoot a gun, I was therefore old enough to admit the painful truth about the matter. Santa was now relegated to just a fond memory.
My parents always enjoyed telling the true story of my older brother, Richard, and sister, Evelyn when they were quite young, and before I was on the scene. One Christmas morning Evelyn woke up early and proceeded to the living room where she observed the toys that Santa had left. Being a bit mischievous, she hid all of Richard’s toys and put sticks in his stocking. When he ran into the room to find what Santa had left, all he found was sticks. It is said that he had his very first “Murphy fit” that day. That “prank” may have been an early form of child abuse.
I read where recently in a “progressive” school somewhere in a “progressive” city, a second-grade teacher told all her students that there was no Santa Claus, and fingered their parents as the guilty party. Predictably, this teacher and her principal were besieged with angry parents who felt it their duty to handle this matter with their children themselves - no help from a teacher needed or wanted.
So, what about this fellow, Santa Claus? Tradition says that he lives at the North Pole, with a large number of magical elves, and nine (originally eight) flying reindeer. Since the 20th century, in an idea popularized by the 1934 song, “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”, Santa has been believed to make a list of children throughout the world, categorizing them according to their behavior ( naughty or nice) and to deliver presents, including toys and candy, to all of the good boys and girls in the world. But sometimes he gives coal or sticks to the naughty children. All of this on the single night of Christmas Eve. He accomplishes this feat with the aid of the elves who make the toys in the workshop and the reindeer who pull his sleigh.
Here’s a late bulletin regarding Santa Claus - A large shopping mall in a large city has decided that allowing children to sit in Santa’s lap would no longer be tolerated. Seems as though some pin-headed leaders feel that Santa cannot be trusted any longer with a child in his lap. My, haven’t we come a long way in a short time.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.
“THE MYSTERY OF SANTA CLAUS”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
107 Hemlock Street
PO Box 511
San Augustine, TX 75972
If Santa Claus ever had a helper it was my mother-in-law, Leta Howell. Though she has been gone from among us for 35 years, her love of the Christmas season has inspired all of her children to do many of the things that she did. She was a minister’s wife and thus understood the true meaning of Christmas, and she passed that along to everyone she knew.
Although she was educated with college and seminary degrees, she retained the roots of her upbringing in the plains of West Texas. While living in the piney woods of East Texas, she began several Christmas traditions.
“Granny” Howell was an excellent seamstress. She made Christmas stockings for each family member. She used red felt for the main stocking, then she put a green border around the top. As grandchildren and great-grandchildren were born into the family, she would make sure the new baby would have its own stocking to hang across the fireplace mantle. She stuffed each stocking on Christmas Eve with candy, fruit, and simple useable gadgets. Near the end of her life, the Christmas stockings were almost too numerous to hang on the mantle. This tradition has been taken up by many of her children and grandchildren, most of whom are now married with families of their own.
One Christmas, she got the idea of making red outfits for all the members of her family. The good seamstress that she was, she made red suits for everyone to wear on Christmas day. Even her husband, Rev. Howell, got a new red coat to wear. She sewed for months on them, and gave each family member their red outfits on Christmas Eve, in packages wrapped in red paper. On Christmas morning everyone donned their red clothes, and the house looked like a collection of walking poinsettias. Rev. Howell continued to wear his bright red coat every Christmas until his death in December of 2006.
Now you know who put the red in Christmas.
“SHE PUT THE RED IN CHRISTMAS”
BY: NEAL MURPHY
P.O. BOX 511
SAN AUGUSTINE, TEXAS 75972
936-275-6986 (cell )
Another New Year’s Day is upon us and, as Southerners, we will be eating the symbolic meal of Hoppin’ John to assure a happy and prosperous new year filled with good luck. Most of you are familiar with the dish usually made with black-eyed peas (Texas Caviar), rice, chopped onion, and sliced bacon, all seasoned with a bit of salt. This dish has an interesting history.
Tradition says that the peas are symbolic of pennies or other coins, and a coin is sometimes added to the pot, or left under the dinner bowls. Collard greens or turnip greens served along with the Hoppin’ John are supposed to also add to the wealth since they are the color of American currency. Another traditional food, cornbread, can also be served to represent wealth, being the color of gold. On the day after New Years Day, leftover Hoppin’ John is called “Skippin’ Jenny”, and further demonstrates one’s frugality, bringing a hope for an even better chance of prosperity in the New Year. How did this strange tradition begin?
Unnamed sources indicate that it all goes back to the Civil War and Union General William T. Sherman and his march to the sea in 1864. His stated purpose was to destroy the South, burning what he could, while stealing crops and cows and food stuffs of all types, so that “a crow flying south across the land could not find a provenance”, as he put it.
All that is true, but the story continues that the only thing left to the starving people of the South were the black-eyed peas still in the fields, since the less savvy Union troops did not realize they were edible. Figuring that livestock was the only thing that would eat the peas (hence the alternate name of “cowpeas”), and since they had stolen all the livestock, there was no use for the peas.
Thus, since New Year’s day of 1866, the South has clung to the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on that day of the year. You may not, however, be familiar with Limpin’ Susan. Supposedly, Limpin’ Susan was Hoppin’ John’s wife, and this shrimp and rice dish was named for her. The ingredients for this dish usually contain items such as green bell pepper, Vidalia onion, cooked shrimp, white or yellow rice, and sliced okra. As one might suspect, this dish is most popular in Louisiana and other coastal southern states.
The truth of the situation is that the South was an agrarian nation, and its meals usually were made from what was in season at the time. By the time Christmas and New Year’s Day arrived, their barns and springhouses were low, but they still might have storage apples, sweet potatoes as well as winter crops of greens, peanuts, and some grains, and black-eyed peas.
However these two dishes originated, one thing is certain – they existed prior to the infamous trip of General Sherman, and he really can’t take credit for the delicious dish that Southerners associate with New Year’s Day. The black-eyed pea was also eaten as far back as the Babylonians, so as the Bible says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl. 1:9)
Now – after you’ve eaten of this meal, get ready for a happy and prosperous new year.