Archive for December, 2010

The Gift of the Magi

Illustration by O. Henry

“The Gift of the Magi,” the classic tale of selfless love by American short story master O. Henry (W.S. Porter), has long been one of my favorite Christmas stories. It was first published in 1906. The illustration is by P.J. Lynch.

By O. Henry

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling — something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”
Down rippled the brown cascade.

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.

“Give it to me quick,” said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation — as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value — the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends — a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do — oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?”

At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two — and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.
Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again — you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice —  what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”
Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you — sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year — what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs — the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims — just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.
“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ‘em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

The magi, as you know, were wise men — wonderfully wise men — who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

In greed we trust: the gospel according to Gekko

The cast of "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" includes Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko, Shia LaBeouf as Jake Moore and Carey Mulligan as Winnie Gekko.

It’s been a generation since the movie “Wall Street” came out days before the October 1987 stock market crash made its timing perfect.

Now 23 years later, the timing is right for the sequel, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” which was released this week on DVD.

In this film, Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, is out of prison and trying to bond with his estranged daughter, Winnie, played by the lovely Carey Mulligan, who has a leftist website and despises Wall Street, despite the fact that she’s in love with an idealistic young stock analyst, Jake Moore, played by Shia LaBeouf. Moore’s company is destroyed and his mentor driven to suicide by a shark, Bretton James (Josh Broslin), who was also helped the feds get Gekko for insider trading and other crimes. Moore makes a trade; he’ll help Gordon reunite with his daughter if Gordon will help him get revenge against James.

I watched the movie last night. Because it’s an Oliver Stone film, I knew it was going to have a political message. I also knew that Gekko, the chastened criminal, wasn’t going to come off as a born-again reformer. But he is dead on when he lectures students at Fordham about the message in the book he wrote in prison.

He gets their attention from the start by telling them they’re all “f—ed.” Toward the end, he gives an exposition of the mindset and practices that led to our current economic crisis. It’s classic Olive Stone, who has an interesting way of using his movies to speak truth to power.

Reminding his audience that he once said “Greed is good”  (a line made famous by stock speculator Ivan Boesky two years before the 1987 crash), he adds: “Now, it seems, it’s legal.”

What he says next is powerful.

“It’s clear as a bell to anyone who’s paying attention: The mother of all evil is speculation. Leveraged debt. Bottom line: It’s borrowing to the hilt. And I hate to tell you this: It’s a bankrupt business model. It won’t work. It’s systemic, malignant, and it’s global — like cancer. It’s a disease, and we’ve got to fight back.”

The moral of this story comes at the end, when Jake, as narrator, gives the trite but true definition of insanity as “doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.”

Isn’t that as good a characterization as any of the recent history of corporate capitalism?

The day their American DREAM died

UCLA students Leslie Perez, left, and Grecia Mondragon, 19, had their hopes crushed after the Senate voted to kill the DREAM Act. AP photo.

The AP image of two young women is heartbreaking. One is weeping. The other is holding her head in one hand and wearing a look of weariness and sorrow, while her other arm is around her friend’s shoulder.

These women are not outlaws or welfare cheats or people who are trying to get something for nothing. They are enterprising young achievers who want to become productive, middle class, taxpaying American citizens.

On Saturday, the Senate dashed their hopes.

The Democrats fell five votes short of the 60 they needed to override a Republican filibuster and pass the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act.

"This is the only country they have ever known. All they are asking for is a chance to serve their nation," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., one of the sponsors of the failed DREAM Act. AP Photo.

Under the DREAM Act, immigrants younger than 30 who entered the United States illegally before they were 16, lived here at least five years without committing a serious offense, graduated from high school and were attending college or serving in our military, would have been eligible for legal residency if they completed other criteria.

But opponents of comprehensive immigration reform like Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., called the bill “amnesty” and said it would encourage criminal activity.

They’re wrong.

These are exactly the kind of hardworking, ambitious people this country needs.
Some of these young people were brought here by their parents when they were only toddlers, and they want a better life than their parents had — many of whom were migrant farm workers or laborers.

One hundred fifty-five years ago, Abraham Lincoln said: “As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are equal, except Negroes. When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all mean are created equal except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics.’ When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty.”

The three Lincoln Republicans who joined the Democratic majority in voting for the bill — Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Robert Bennett of Utah — should be commended for their political courage.

And the modern-day Know-Nothings who caved in to the irrational hostility of some of their xenophobic constituents rather than be true to the American dream of achieving prosperity through education and hard work should hang their heads in shame for their cowardice.

The light shines in the darkness

An Advent Story

It must have caused quite a scandal in the barrio when neighbors learned that Maria was pregnant. The girl was only 15, and was engaged to a man who was a few years older — a carpenter from Juarez named Jose.

Jose had not slept with the girl before their wedding, so he was hurt and angry when she told him she was expecting. He considered breaking up with her to avoid the ridicule they would encounter in that culture. But he loved her, and after a strange dream, he decided he would not leave her, and would love the child she was carrying and bring him up as if he were his own.

Maria was a poor campesina, but descended from a noble family. She was a deeply spiritual person, but not in a haughty way. She was also a woman of the people. She believed in a God of liberation, one who defended the cause of the poor and the oppressed.

Before Emanuel was born, Maria gave an incendiary speech denouncing the social order in which small farmers and sweatshop workers were heavily taxed, and corrupt leaders had members of their own families assassinated to get what they wanted.

Maria believed God’s revolution would right such wrongs, and that her own son would have a role in bringing about this new order.

Speaking without fear, Maria said of her Lord: “He has accomplished great works and scattered those who are proud. He has brought down the powerful and lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his followers and shown them mercy, just as he promised.”

It was easy to see where Emanuel got his passion and compassion, as well as his piety.

Maria may have been a sweet girl, but she was a little rough around the edges, as was her son, from the beginning.

He was, after all, born in a barn while the couple were traveling to a little town just south of the capital, Mexico City. They couldn’t find a hotel to stay in, and there was no hospital, so Maria gave birth to Emanuel amid the stench of manure, wrapped him in some cloth and laid him in a feeding trough lined with hay.

That night a bright comet was visible in the sky, and Jose and Maria wondered whether it had some strange meaning.

Like his adoptive father, Emanuel grew up to be a migrant worker, a carpenter. He was also a sort of itinerant preacher, spreading his liberation theology among the people.

Emanuel was often homeless, wandering from one desert town to another. With his long hair and beard and dusty sandals, he wasn’t much to look at — nothing about him that would mark him as special. But people were oddly attracted to him, and he gathered about him an unlikely assortment of friends, from Pedro the headstrong fisherman to gentle Juan, who was something of a mystic.

He had a cousin, also named Juan, who appeared to some to be a little loco. He lived outdoors and ate grasshoppers and honey. That Juan was a street preacher who had a dangerous habit of criticizing corrupt officials. No one was surprised when he was murdered in jail, although the way it was done was shocking; he was beheaded.

Emanuel, too, was a troublemaker. He didn’t advocate violence, only resistance to injustice. But one day when he was at the cathedral in the Zocalo, he became so incensed about loan sharks preying on the faithful that he couldn’t control his anger, and he started yelling at the swindlers and kicked over their tables.

“This is a house of God, and you’ve turned it into a den of thieves!” he shouted.

That kind of behavior didn’t sit well with the establishment, and some tried to discredit him, saying he was a drunkard and glutton because he drank wine and ate with outcasts. He befriended prostitutes like Magdalena, as well as AIDS victims and other untouchables and tried to help them.

About the only people he lacked patience with were the self-righteous preachers and fundamentalist hypocrites who had close ties to the some of the country’s worst politicians and their wealthy benefactors.

Emanuel defended the poor, called for the release of captives, fed the hungry, cared for those who were ill and envisioned a godly society of love and justice that would turn the selfish values of the old society upside down.

He advocated peace, but he met a violent end. A former friend betrayed him for money to those who couldn’t stand his egalitarian message. They had Emanuel tortured and executed. He was taken to a garbage dump on a hillside, where they fastened him to a wooden post, stabbed him in the side with a machete and left him to die.

Yet some say he isn’t dead — that his spirit lives on, and that at this time of the year, when his birthday is celebrated, he is reborn into the hearts of all who believe in what he stood for and follow his example of a life of love, forgiveness and sacrificial giving.

His light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Randy Patrick is the managing editor of The Winchester Sun. Contact him at rpatrick@winchester sun.com.

Where we got the idea for ObamaCare

Like most of my fellow Republicans, I won’t shed any tears over the recent ruling by a federal judge in Virginia that could undermine the key provision of the new health care law: the mandate that individuals purchase insurance from private companies or pay a hefty fine.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often disparaged as ObamaCare, is modeled on RomneyCare, the Massachusetts state law proposed in 2005 by Gov. Mitt Romney, shown here with President George W. Bush.

It was always the worst part of the law. It would provide a windfall of some 30 million new customers for insurance companies without requiring the companies to control costs, and it would include government subsidies in the form of vouchers to help poor individuals buy those private policies.

Unlike most Republicans though, I will be honest about where this idea came from — and it may surprise you.

It was a Republican idea.

Although GOP lawmakers have spent the last two years railing against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the law is basically a mashup of President Bill Clinton’s employer “play or pay” plan, with its exchanges for small businesses, and a mandatory individual purchase plan that drew heavily on ideas from Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.

The individual mandate requires every individual who isn’t covered by an employer’s plan or an existing government program, such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program or Veterans Affairs, to purchase an individual insurance policy in the private market.

The late Sen. John Chafee, a liberal Republican, was the chief sponsor in 1993 of a health care reform plan similar to ObamaCare. It had the support of the GOP minority leader, Bob Dole, as well as some centrist Democrats such as Bob Kerrey.

This was the main part of the alternative proposal that John Chafee, Bob Dole and other GOP senators put forward during the debate over President Clinton’s complex health care reform plan in 1993-94. (See a summary of the Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act of 1993.)

Then in 2005, Republican governor Mitt Romney proposed that the state legislature enact an individual mandate program for Massachusetts, which passed with Democratic and Republican support. It was this existing Bay State plan — let’s call it RomneyCare — that became the model for ObamaCare.

Liberals in 2009 wanted a single-payer health insurance plan like Canada’s, or the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s “Medicare for all” proposal — but that was never going to be politically viable in sharply divided Washington.

At least liberals would have settled for a “public option” to cover the 2 percent of uninsured who might have opted for a nonprofit, government insurance policy that would have been funded by premiums, just like any other policy.

Even after the public option was removed, however, Republican activists decried the Obama plan as a “government takeover,” not only of health insurance, but of health care, and even described it as “socialism,” which was as ridiculous as it was dishonest.

Unlike Medicare, which really is socialized medical insurance, ObamaCare is a sop to the bloated private insurance industry, which supported it with massive spending on advertising.

Like President George W. Bush’s Medicare prescription drug program, it is pork barrel politics at its worst — a massive bailout of the insurance industry that guarantees continued obscene profits for rapacious private insurers and drug companies. It isn’t reform; it’s a tax on individuals and small businesses to support big business.

After their “shellacking” (to use a current political term) in 2006 and 2008, however, the Republican minority was so intent on regaining control of Congress and the White House that they opposed this essentially Republican health care plan, not on principle, but simply because they weren’t about to allow the Democrats to have a legislative victory.

Although President Obama and Senate Democrats went the extra mile to compromise and make the final health care bill more palatable to conservatives and Republicans, the disloyal opposition wasn’t going to give an inch.

So it’s ironic that in the Nov. 2 election, the Republican Party was able to recapture the House and make gains in the Senate in part by being disingenuous in its strident resistance to a health care idea that came from their side of the aisle 17 years ago.

In a rare display of candor, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said recently that his party’s number one priority should be to make sure Barack Obama is a one-term president.

Lately, though, McConnell has been making a good-faith effort to compromise on tax reform, the debt and other issues — now that he has a stronger hand.

President Obama, who was never the doctrinaire leftist that right-wing critics painted him as, is now being attacked by the left and most House Democrats for reaching out to Republicans to try to solve the country’s economic crisis — a crisis for which both parties are culpable.

Soaring health care costs, unaffordable private insurance and the denial of insurance coverage to tens of millions of Americans are elements of that crisis, especially for poor and working class people. Something still has to be done. “Kill the bill” is not a solution.

If U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson’s ruling Monday is upheld by the Supreme Court, then the individual mandate will no longer be part of the health care act. I’m hoping that will happen. But I’m also hoping that rather than playing a game of one-upsmanship, the president and the new Congress will go back to the bargaining table and rewrite the health care law.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes a few good insurance reforms, such as requiring insurers to provide coverage to those with pre-existing conditions and allowing parents to keep their children on their plans until they are 26. But it should also include some Republican ideas like allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines and limiting damages in medical malpractice suits.

And rather than throwing taxpayers’ dollars to private insurance companies to help individuals who can’t afford those companies’ over-priced policies, the new plan should include a public option.

With an optional government (or nonprofit) program, there would be more accountability than if Washington just took our money and gave it to UnitedHealth, Wellpoint or Aetna.

Randy Patrick is the managing editor of The Winchester Sun. Contact him at rpatrick@winchestersun.com.

John Lennon remembered

So long ago — was it in a dream?

That’s the opening line of one of my favorite John Lennon songs, “#9 Dream,” (see the tribute video) and it reminds me not only of the nostalgia I sometimes feel for the 1960s and 70s, but of the innocence of that age — an innocence that was almost lost in the violence of Birmingham, Khe Sahn and Kent State.

It was the Beatles, especially John Lennon, however, who were among those who kept the dream real — the 60s ethos of peace, love and harmony. They made us believe there is a better world yearning to be born. But a more mature Lennon later understood that while we’re waiting, it’s up to each of us to make the best of the world we have now.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans,” he sang, just a short time before he was murdered on this date in 1980.

Just when he had begun to really live.

The Rolling Stone magazine my mom ripped the cover off of when she found it in the mailbox. This picture was shot the day he died.

I remember that day when the dream turned into a nightmare. I had gone back to my dorm room in Mattox Hall at Eastern Kentucky University, where I saw and heard the news on the little black and white TV. I remember people walking around on campus, passing one another, and saying things like, “It really sucks, doesn’t it?” And no one had to ask what was meant by that. Everybody knew.

On this day, though, I don’t want to think about how he died, but how he lived, and to imagine what it might have been like to have had him in our lives many more years. I want to remember the hope and optimism that Lennon and the Beatles represented to those of us of my generation, and other generations.

I want to remember a man who had earned fame and fortune, only to learn at the end that the best things in life aren’t things.

He had come to realize that mattered most to him were his wife, his children,  his music, art, nature.

There’s magic in the air — if you believe.

Listen, and let the music touch your soul.

Sun columnist covers community supported agriculture

Kentucky author and environmentalist Wendell Berry has for his entire adult life been an advocate of family farming and local marketing of locally grown farm products. Source for painting: Earth's Eye (http://earthseye.wordpress.com)

Some time back, my father and I were watching Wendell Berry’s interview with environmental writer Bill McKibben on KET, and the two were talking about a quiet revolution in agriculture — the “buy local” fresh food movement.

Berry, prophet of the “think locally, act locally” school of economics, was encouraged by this trend, but said it’s hardly been reported on by the state’s media.

“Wait a minute!” I said, “that isn’t true of The Winchester Sun.”

We’ve published many stories about community-supported agriculture, farmers’ markets, vineyards and other alternative agriculture operations. Now we have a new columnist, Lisa Johns, who writes exclusively about those subjects.

Lisa Johns

Every other Wednesday on our Country Living page, Lisa features a farming operation that depends mostly on local marketing of its products.

Among her recent contributions were one on Jeff and Patricia Fraley’s farm on Paris Road, where consumers can buy shares in the operation and receive their dividends each week in the form of seasonal, pesticide-free baskets of produce, and one on Beech Springs Market on Old Boonesboro Road, which grows the fruits and other produce it sells at its rustic country store. She includes with each column a recipe using the farm’s products.

Beech Spring Farm Market (photo from their Facebook page)

Lisa says she has enough stories like this about Clark County to keep her busy for a long time, and then she’ll write about farms in other counties.

She is uniquely qualified for this task because she has a background in English and journalism and an interest in the subject of community-supported agriculture, as well as a network of friends who are involved in it.

Winter's magic

Morning snow by Rocky and Gina Howard of Salyersville, Ky.

When I looked out the window a little while ago and saw it was snowing heavily — big, fluffy flakes falling gently, I had to get out of the office. When there’s snow, I have to be in it. I love snow. There’s something magical about it.

As a boy growing up on Irvine Road in the 1960s and 70s, I was excited about snow days, not only because they meant no school, but because I liked to play in the drifts with the other kids. No matter how cold it was, I didn’t want to come in, unless it was only for a little while, to warm myself with a steaming cup of hot chocolate.

One of my fondest childhood memories was of a neighborhood snowball fight in which our two armies took turns defending a massive snow fort we built on the vacant lot beside our house on Hilltop Drive. The Piersalls, Stampers, Flickingers, Coxes and Patricks were among the winter warriors.

Then there was the time that Armin Flickinger and I took an ax and chopped some small evergreen trees on a nearby farm (without permission, of course) and dragged them back home, singing along the way, and tried to sell them as Christmas trees. I can’t remember whether or not we got in trouble for it. But we were always trespassing on farms — exploring the woods, meadows and streams around our home for hours at a time, and we especially enjoyed doing so when there was a heavy snow. Children in those days an unwritten pass to go where grown-ups couldn’t.

In school, I loved reading stories with winter themes, especially William Steele’s boys’ books about frontier life on the Oregon Trail. And in high school, one of my favorite poems was Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I knew it was about growing older and facing one’s mortality, but I still found it endearing because the imagery was something with which I was familiar.

It begins:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

When "And Then There Were Three" was released, Genesis consisted of Mike Rutherfurd, Phil Collins and Tony Banks.

And when I was a freshman at Eastern Kentucky University, my friends and I would pile into someone’s little economy car (this was the early 1980s), and go driving around in the country with the stereo playing  our tunes.

One of my favorite songs was Genesis’ “Snowbound” from their 1976 album “And Then There Were Three.” I remember spinning the vinyl disc on Chet Damron’s stereo, and I’d have it so loud the walls of Mattox Hall would shake during the chorus. The song had a big, symphonic sound — even if it was only the miracle of synthesizers. I was a little late catching on to English art rock, but it was mostly what I listened to for years.

Some lyrics from “Snowbound”: Here in a world of your own/in a casing that’s grown/to the children’s delight/that arrived overnight …

It’s not a well-known song, but it is still one I like to play every winter when the first beautiful snow falls — like today— to get me in the right mood. I thought I would share it with you. Click here for the YouTube video of the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pxvSxv7O8M

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