Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reel To Reel: Valkyrie

The first casualty of war is the plan.

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Tom Cruise, Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: War Violence, A Few Moments Of Swearing

I was surprised to learn of 15 assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler during the course of World War II. Valkyrie details the last of them, an operation doomed to failure from the beginning because it depends on too many variables and leaves no room for error.

Yet a group of disillusioned officers and politicians are willing to give it a try because they decide Hitler has fallen off the edge, the war is going badly for the Axis, and they need to find peace with honor before Europe is reduced to rubble. Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise) is recruited to the cause, having lost an eye and an arm in the opening act of the film for a floundering offensive. Stauffenberg is immediately skeptical of any plan to take out Hitler without a strategy to replace him. Why does that sound so familiar?

Col. Stauffenberg soon finds what he needs is already there: Operation Valkyrie, a plan to provide continuity and security in case of Der Fuhrer's death using a reserve army to provide protection to essential government functions. With a few modifications, Stauffenberg reasons, it can facilitate a coup. The entire operation involves one bomb during a briefing and at least a dozen members of the German High Command aided by politicians. From the start, the pols and brass can't agree on how to proceed. The indecision leads to a key tactical error which costs the turncoats their best opportunity to take Hitler out. Eventually, Stauffenberg gets a bomb into a briefing room and sets it off, but to quote from the movie Casino, "it was Amateur Night."

Valkyrie is the war movie where most of the action is in your head as you watch the wheels of the plan turn, stop, start, and jam. A lot of people sit by phones, fretting for one or two crucial calls. They nervously slam the receiver down and then pick it up again to make another call. The film exposes the bureaucratic nature of old-school war, where the movement of armies rely on three or four people to relay orders and push paper around. Much of Operation Valkyrie depends on a number of underlings following orders like dominoes falling over each other. It's just not that simple, especially when you're trying to get an army to turn against itself.

Hitler would eventually commit suicide when he discovered the truth his officers knew months before. It's interesting to note the Fuhrer's (David Bamber) performance in this picture. Hitler is not his madman self we've all seen in the black and white film but a graying figurehead of a lost cause. He seems almost resigned to his doom. Had the plot on his life succeeded, we can have a nice parlor game talking about how much longer WWII would have lasted, or whether whoever took his place would have negotiated peace with the Allies. Given the fortitude of Churchill and Truman, I doubt anybody would have bargained.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Yo, Laddie, Ye Mother Wears A Wee Kilt!

A University of New Mexico professor claims the Scots invented rap, according to the London Telegraph:
Professor Ferenc Szasz argued that so-called rap battles, where two or more performers trade elaborate insults, derive from the ancient Caledonian art of "flyting".

According to the theory, Scottish slave owners took the tradition with them to the United States, where it was adopted and developed by slaves, emerging many years later as rap.

Professor Szasz is convinced there is a clear link between this tradition for settling scores in Scotland and rap battles, which were famously portrayed in Eminem's 2002 movie 8 Mile.

He said: "The Scots have a lengthy tradition of flyting - intense verbal jousting, often laced with vulgarity, that is similar to the dozens that one finds among contemporary inner-city African-American youth."
Imagine with me now a group of thirtysomething men standing around in a 1500's Edinburgh tavern dropping rhymes, one of them blowing through a pair of hands cupped to his mouth, providing the rhythm.

No, I can't, either.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Christmas Crossing & The Holiday Highlander

For the close of the 5pm newscast on Christmas Day, I added a story on the annual re-enactment of Gen. Washington crossing the Delaware.

Unknown to me, a fellow producer decided to have some fun by sneaking in a camera and making me part of the story, since I was dressed in historical attire of Scotland to celebrate the day. A lady once told me I looked like a giant candy cane in my kilt and diced hose. Besides, any excuse to put on a kilt is a good one.

Here's what people saw on the air:

video

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Losing Grandpa

Christmas Day 1999 started off so well.

I was in St. Louis, one of many former hometowns, with Mother and Father. We had opened presents and gone out to a movie, The Green Mile. Dinner came with no flourishing touches. Now we were enjoying some individual me-times. Dad was watching TV. Mom was washing her hair. I was fooling around on the computer trying to copy a CD.

Then one of my uncles called from Kansas City. "And he sounds very upset," my Mom said to Dad.

Within moments we knew the unbelievable, unthinkable, disturbing and heartbreaking truth. My Grandpa Francis had died.

It happened without any tinge of warning. He had Christmas dinner with my aunt and uncle and went home with his special friend Fern, a person whom I dubbed "Madam X," because she never seemed to be around for family gatherings. But she meant the world to Grandpa after his beloved Martha -- my Grandma Francis -- passed on, leaving him alone in a huge house in Overland Park, Kansas.

He was taking a shower upstairs in that house, and Fern hadn’t heard from him in awhile. She went upstairs to check, and that’s when she found him on the bathroom floor. Apparently he’d had a heart attack. She called 911, and he still had a pulse when the EMT’s got there. They couldn’t save him.

Besides the shock and the pain, I thought I was cursed... or cursing others.

Grandma Francis died in 1994, days before I took my first real television job at KRGV in Weslaco, Texas. When Grandpa died, I was days from taking a new job at KOLD in Tucson.

"You are going to retire in Arizona," my brother wisecracked.

If anything, I thought it would be my other living grandma. She’d broken her hip right after I’d accepted the KOLD job, and she was in the hospital. I found out about it on my answering machine.

I didn't learn the truth until many years later. One of the biggest questions people have about God is why, with a loving and powerful Maker, do bad things happen to good people? Why did both my paternal grandparents die suddenly? Why did Grandpa leave this world on a day of joy and thanksgiving? The Cool Church has an excellent seminar on this, but the thing to remember is none of these things are God's doing.

I believe, and Scripture confirms, that God is not a God of death, but a God of love and life. What people fail to realize is that there's a spiritual battle going on. I John 5:19 (NIV) says, "We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one." That would be Satan. He's the one responsible for Grandpa's sudden death. He's the one to blame for every tragic death.

I wince when people bring up that saying, "God only takes the best," or anything implying God "took" them. Do you really believe a loving God would do this to people? As James 1:17 (NIV) says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."

If we ever needed a reason for a Savior, this is it. I was watching Rick Warren give a Christmas Eve teaching on Fox News tonight, and he reminded us Jesus didn't come just to save us from sin, but also from death -- and from ourselves, our own plans that aren't in harmony with what God wants for us.

Romans 8:28 (NIV): "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." No, God didn't "take" my Grandpa away. But He did reunite him with Grandma. And together they're living in Paradise.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

May You Run For President Against An ATM Machine

Here's my impression of Carnac The Magnificent:

I hold the sealed envelope up to my head and deduce the answer: "Washington Mutual, Wachovia, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton."

Rip. Puff. Pull out the paper inside.

"Name two banks that need a bailout and a banker who just bailed out."

That would be Mrs. Clinton, who just ate more than $13 million in campaign loans to herself. Not that she wanted to, but with her confirmation hearings for Secretary of State coming up, she has to cut ties to her campaign days -- hence the huge writedown.

I guess that side campaign to pay off Clinton's debts hasn't been a huge success. Most of us would slobber over having that much money to spend on ourselves. And it isn't like the Clintons are going broke. Bill made at least $20 million in book advances. Hillary got $10 million up front from her tome.

In the words of TV's Judge Joe Brown, "You gotta pay to play, so don't whine and moan and call it a loan!"

After kissing off that $13 million, Mrs. Clinton's campaign is left with $6.3 million in red ink. The L.A. Times reports $5.3 million is owed to her former campaign adviser Mark Penn. Er, is he the same one who thought the Democratic Party nomination process was winner-take-all?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Price Was Right

A little more than a year after my appearance on The Price Is Right set off an Internet gawkfest, another one is blowing up. On Tuesday, contestant Terry made a perfect bid on his showcase, netting him more than $20,000 in prizes.

Two controversies are actually erupting from this, primarily on Golden-Road.net:

1) Host Drew Cary had the enthusiasm of a lump of coal over this historic game-show moment.

2) Terry cheated by taking advice from an audience member who knew the exact prices of every prize in the showcase.

Remember on TPIR, shouting bids to help contestants is not discouraged (except during Clock Game). So our contestant didn't break any rules. However, I am told there was a 45-minute pause in the taping while producers apparently debated this before revealing Terry's perfect bid.

As far as I know, Terry will still get his prizes. But we're not sure what will happen to "Ted," the person who fed him the information. We know "Ted" has attended multiple tapings of the show, and he knows the exact prices because TPIR recycles many of the prizes it puts up for bids (which is why I was offered money instead of prizes after my appearance).

According to Golden-Road.net, TPIR producers are taking action against these kinds of price experts by telling them either not to talk to other contestants in line or seating them at the back of the studio where contestants on stage can't see or hear them. As you would expect, the G-R folks aren't happy about that.

Terry won through the game-show equivalent of counting cards. It's not illegal, but it's frowned upon. And Terry didn't even do the counting. He did what thousands of other contestants have done. Unfortunately, his win will always be stained by the controversy of whether he deserved it.

Deja vu.

What The Heil?

Heath Campbell of Holland Township, New Jersey, can't understand all the hate people are lumping onto him. All he wanted to do was get his 3-year-old son a cake with a cheery message: "Happy Birthday Adolf Hitler!"

Yes, that's his name: Adolf Hitler Campbell.

The local ShopRite grocery store refused to make it, but a nearby Wal-Mart did.

From Leighvalleylive.com:
Karen Meleta, a ShopRite spokeswoman, said the grocer tries to meet customer requests but rejects those deemed inappropriate. "We believe the request to inscribe a birthday wish to Adolf Hitler is inappropriate," she said.

The grocer offered to make a cake with enough room for the Campbells to write their own inscription. But the Campbells refused, saying they would have a cake made at the Wal-Mart in Lower Nazareth Township. The Campbells say Wal-Mart made cakes for Adolf's first two birthdays.

A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart said the store won't put anything illegal or profane on a cake but thinks it's important to respect the views of customers and employees.

"Our No. 1 priority in decorating cakes is to serve the customer to the best of our ability," Anna Taylor, the spokeswoman, said from Bentonville, Ark.
So there, Wal-Mart haters, you have another dart to throw.

Oh, and did I mention Adolph has a baby sister named JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell?

But let us return to the father figure in this ruckus, a 35-year-old with German ancestry who obviously never spent time on a playground.
The Campbells have swastikas in each room of their home, the rented half of a one-story duplex just outside Milford, a borough in Hunterdon County. They say they aren't racists but believe races shouldn't mix.

The Campbells said they wanted their children to have unique names and didn't expect the names to cause problems. Despite the cake refusal, the Campbells said they don't expect the names to cause problems later, such as when the children start school.
I feel for the teachers who'll be educating these kids.

Giving a child the name of a notorious mass murderer isn't considered abuse, but only on paper. I see it as a continuous form of abuse, rooted in ignorance and showing absolutely no regard for the welfare of the children outside the home. The kids can't legally change their names until at least 18. What's worse, young Adolf and JoyceLynn won't even know they're victims until they figure out why they're getting taunted and beat up at school all the time.

The law in New Jersey has no power to come in and take a child on grounds of racist parenting. Earlier this year, Texas authorities found they couldn't take hundreds of children from their polygamous parents, even though we knew darn well what would happen to them after puberty. The legal principle of presumption of innocence includes the reasonable corollary that you can't arrest anybody for a crime before it is committed -- except in Minority Report.

Passing a law to ban certain names won't stand under our Constitution, nor should it. We've got to do better, but that's only possible if we have better parents. Heath Campbell says his kids will make their own decisions on race. If only they could do the same with their names.

UPDATE: Since I first posted this story, Child Protective Services has removed the kids from the home.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Didn't We Fight A Revolution Over This?

New York wants to tax iPod downloads, movie tickets, cab rides, soda, cigars and massages -- and more -- to close a $15.4 billion budget hole.

From the NY Daily News:
"The governor is nickel-and-diming working class families," said Ron Deutsch, executive director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, an advocacy group.

State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long warned that reinstating the sales tax on clothing and shoes will drive people to New Jersey, where they will also gas up their cars and pick up their wine, spirits and soda because the prices are less due to lower taxes. "You're sending notice to the people of New York that we really don't want you here," Long said.
Next up: a tax on paper, paint, lead, glass, tea and playing cards.

At least this time we have representation... maybe. The prevailing sentiment from comments in the Daily News article is New Yorkers did this to themselves with too many social programs. No blaming King George III this time.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Year Of Clarity

Lessons learned as I celebrate a 37th (or, Seven and 30th) birthday.

I call it the "oh-snap" moment. Last year, on my 36th birthday, my colleagues at the station didn't know the magic day had arrived until I explained why I was wearing a tricorn hat to work.

Oh snap.

Somebody ran and found a bag of gingerbread cookies -- which I suspect were grabbed from another office -- and hastily put them out at the afternoon editorial meeting as a treat. Later I found my desk decorated as my friends made up for lost time. I'm sure some felt embarrassed, but I didn't mean for it to be that way. I can't remember everybody's birthdays, and I don't expect people to remember mine. We're all so busy covering the news, it's a wonder we can remember our own names.

This year, I got an idea: be pro-active. I bought a triple-chocolate cake at the Wal-Mart bakery and carried it into the newsroom with little fanfare other than the gold-and-faux-fur trimmed tricorn on my head. No candles. No song. Just eat and be merry everyone, if only for a moment. My colleagues gobbled it up.

Wisdom comes from God, and God has given me wisdom on so many things this year. I have clarity now in several areas of my life.

Never underestimate the power of prayer.

I know God heals and answers prayers, but how He did it this year floored me.

How else can you explain a right arm smashed to pieces, healed to a doctor's satisfaction in three months? Besides the two pins holding it together. New bone still has to lay in there. All sorts of people were praying for me on that awful night in Flagstaff, and look at the miracle that came out of it. It strengthened my faith, not to mention my desire to get back on the dance floor again and again.

I'm not ashamed to tell people how it happened: "I broke it while dancing a Highland Fling." I don't think it makes me any less of a man to admit that. I refuse to fib about my passions or why I healed so quickly.
I Peter 3:15 (NIV) -- "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect."
One person suggested that God was trying to tell me to slow down after I broke my arm. On the contrary, I think He wanted me to get back up.

I am where I am for a reason.

The Virginia tourist board has a saying: "Live Passionately." That's exactly what I did for a week in April -- re-enacting a Civil War battle with the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry, touring Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestowne, and Leesburg. I'd never lived with as much passion in my life, walking through Colonial Williamsburg dressed like a Continental Army soldier and posing with so many families for pictures. Then there was that ball in the Capitol building.

When I returned to Tucson, I felt like a stranger walking back into my job, seeing the world again through computer screens and TV monitors. It's living in the fishbowl, only I'm the fish looking out at the rest of the world. I wondered if I was missing some calling. I wondered if I belonged in Virginia, showing people their history rather than writing its rough draft.

I prayed for guidance. The answer came at the American Heritage Festival, when I was talking with some fellow 18th Century re-enactors about the Virginia experience, when I suddenly realized this: "If I go there, I can't do it here." I can't enlighten Arizona children (or adults) in Virginia. A need exists here, too.

My heart needs friendship and companionship more than marriage.

This year, I met a beautiful single lady at a picnic through a mutual friend. We opened up to each other. She expressed an interest in attending one of the We Make History balls, and that's when I felt the push.

I invited her to be my guest. I hungered to show her the joy of historic dance with a room full of gracious people in period attire. That was our first date, although I didn't think of it as one. I saw it as inviting a lady to share in a night of fellowship and warmth. She enjoyed the dancing, and she persevered through the parts where I got lost and wasn't the best teacher. I invited her to another ball a month later. She enjoyed it even more.

We shared a few typical dates -- seeing movies and exploring Colossal Cave. The two of us enjoyed pleasant dinners and conversation. We talked about our lives and our dreams and how God had touched us. We shared several hugs.

"You're so real," she told me.

That left me worried. My demeanor towards ladies draws its inspiration from the 18th Century. I labor to aim my thoughts high, showing what many would consider an anachronistic degree of respect. Why? Because something as simple as a bow uplifts me, and it uplifts the ladies. It gives me peace. It gives me purpose. It's not an act or some phony come-on, although I fret people might misinterpret it.
II Corinthians 8:21 (NIV) -- "For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men."
I found her real, too. I thanked God for bringing her into my life. Here, finally, after many years of not even trying to find a lady was somebody with whom I could share some special time. But as the relationship grew, and we looked towards the future and whether we would -- or should -- spend it together, I couldn't dodge the truth. I didn't see any desire for marriage growing within me. I thought that would change, but it didn't.

I've always had a problem seeing myself married. I don't understand why, but I gather it comes from so many years of living on my own and finding comfort in moving at my own pace. Or maybe God just didn't put that desire for marriage in me. Instead, I have this "honor the ladies" desire. It came From Above after some friends showed me where to look.

Finally, I confessed to her marriage scared me. Perhaps that was more truth than I needed to say at that time, but I promised I would never hurt her, and I did not want to lead her on in vain. She and I moved on with our lives, even though we still remain friends. I still love her as a Sister in Christ.

God answered my prayers for guidance in that relationship. Now I know what I seek. The honorable gentleman sometimes lives alone, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. God, I believe, has a different path for me, one that has brought and will bring many friends into my life -- even if I never kneel at the altar with a lady.
I Corinthians 7:32-35 (NIV) -- "I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord."
Thank you, God, for 37 years of life on this earth. Help me to serve You and others. Please keep giving me these points of clarity. I have a lot to learn, and I'm far from a genius.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Governor Rod Soprano

The FBI wiretap on Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich shocks me. Is this a Governor of Illinois or a member of Tony Soprano's crew?

As you may know, Gov. Blagojevich is now facing corruption charges on allegations he tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by President-Elect Barack Obama, essentially demanding compensation for naming Obama's successor and threatening to put himself in the seat if he didn't get what he wanted.

Check out some of what Blagojevich said in the wiretap, as reported by ABC News.com (and edited for language):
Told by two other advisers he has to "suck it up" for two years, the FBI says it heard Blagojevich complain he has to give this "mother[bleep] [the president-elect] his senator. [Bleep] him. For nothing? [Bleep] him."

The governor is heard saying he will pick another candidate "before I just give [Bleep]ing [Senate Candidate l] a [bleep]ing Senate seat and I don't get anything."
The Smoking Gun has more from the wiretap, uncensored, if you can stomach it.

ABC also reports:
Blagojevich was overheard by the FBI saying "I want to make money," complaining he was "financially hurting."
Maybe that explains his quickness to declare war on Bank of America for its role in the closing of a Chicago door and window factory where workers are staging a sit-in.

But Governor, if you need a bailout so badly, why not just go to Congress like everybody else?

Prime Time Leno

NBC, trying to cut its costs and losses at the same time, is giving Jay Leno a weeknight talk show at 10/9 Central after he cedes The Tonight Show next year to Conan O'Brien.

This a great move on several fronts. First, it keeps Leno from jumping to ABC, which everybody expected. Second, NBC won't have to develop material to fill five hours of air each week -- meaning five fewer shows that could tank, and NBC is seeing too many flops. Third, Leno's show costs considerably less than any scripted or unscripted prime-time show, and NBC is banking on that, as Nikki Finke reports:
Estimates are that Leno 2.0 may only cost $2M a week and result in 46 original shows, compared to the average $3 million per episode pricetag of scripted primetime dramas that air on average 22 original episodes. But the real question is whether the 58-year-old can attract more eyeballs than just the 4.8 million he averages now on The Tonight Show -- measly by primetime standards, especially in the advertiser-coveted 18-to-49 demographic. But [NBC Universal President & CEO] Jeff Zucker will try to explain this away by repeating his mantra that he's managing for margins instead of ratings in this lousy economy.
Leno is an already proven commodity, and he's bound to help out affiliates who are pleading for NBC to give them better news lead-ins. However, Nikki reports at least one affiliate is lukewarm about what's coming, and this move still doesn't solve NBC's larger programming issues in the other two prime-time hours. Remember when NBC said it would no longer put expensive scripted shows in the 8/7 Central hour? As Finke points out, NBC may come to stand for Nothing But Cheap!

Kiss Of Deaf

The London Daily Mail reports the strange case of a Chinese girl who lost her hearing after an extremely passionate kiss from her boyfriend:
'The kiss reduced pressure in the mouth, pulled the eardrum out and caused the breakdown of the ear,' a medic called Dr Li told state newspaper The China Daily.
Doctors tell your Lightning Round staff that the lady's hearing shall return in a few months. They would've tried blowing back into her mouth to undo the damage, but they were afraid her eyes would pop out.

As for the boyfriend, he's now finding work as a Dirt Devil.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Girly Men

As we first told you on The Lightning Round, the one who manipulates the hormones will be the one who rules the world. Now it's happening. Don't blame Dr. Evil; blame chemical exposure.

As the Independent reports:
The research – to be detailed tomorrow in the most comprehensive report yet published – shows that a host of common chemicals is feminizing males of every class of vertebrate animals, from fish to mammals, including people.
Many have been identified as "endocrine disrupters" – or gender-benders – because they interfere with hormones. These include phthalates, used in food wrapping, cosmetics and baby powders among other applications; flame retardants in furniture and electrical goods; PCBs, a now banned group of substances still widespread in food and the environment; and many pesticides.
The article lists a number of studies pointing to animals either changing their gender or seeing their maleness evaporate. Humans are not immune:
And a study at Rotterdam's Erasmus University showed that boys whose mothers had been exposed to PCBs grew up wanting to play with dolls and tea sets rather than with traditionally male toys.

Communities heavily polluted with gender-benders in Canada, Russia and Italy have given birth to twice as many girls than boys, which may offer a clue to the reason for a mysterious shift in sex ratios worldwide. Normally 106 boys are born for every 100 girls, but the ratio is slipping. It is calculated that 250,000 babies who would have been boys have been born as girls instead in the US and Japan alone.
Already the business world is starting to cater to the new breed of male. E-mancipate sells pantyhose for men.

We need a new bumper sticker: "Save The Males!"

They Don't Have A Horn, Either

A curious entry from the Urban Dictionary:
manicorn

a mythical male creature who is successful (read: pursuing his passion and can pay his electric bills/rent), funny, chivalrous, masculine (read: not chauvinistic), adventurous, artistic (read: not suicidal).
Er, I believe that person is called a gentleman.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Christmas List

From the desk of Pvt. Christopher Francis of the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry
Daguerreotypes by Sgt. Michael
(click any picture for a larger view)


Dear Santa,

I would give you my Christmas list, but in all honesty, my favorite gifts of this season are not in your sleigh but from We Make History’s annual Victorian Christmas Ball. Still, I shall offer you my list in hopes you might be able to share it with other girls and boys. It makes a great stocking stuffer.


Scores Of Merry Newcomers

They snake all around the hall, in every possible direction, winding around in the grand promenade. With our seasoned regulars, the multitude numbers one hundred and fifty, perhaps two hundred.



Our host reprises his classic game of drawing them into a spiral and then out again, but he adds a new twist to give the lines to room to maneuver: leading them out of the ballroom and into the refreshment room, through the reception area and back into the hall. We can still see the tail of this promenade marching into the side rooms long after we’ve re-emerged.


A Lady With Great Expectations

Among them are a young lady and gentleman I have chauffeured to the party. The lady is a newcomer, unfamiliar with any sort of historic dance. I gave her some reassurance as I drove the modern-day carriage.

“The dances are very simple,” I said. “Maybe five or six basic moves. Don’t worry about your steps. Just enjoy the evening, enjoy your partner, enjoy the moment.”

“And laugh a lot,” her seasoned escort added.

“Yes, and dance on.”

Honorable Ladies And Gentlemen

“What is the first thing you do when approaching a lady for a dance?” our host asks the gathered.

Bow, of course.

“Private Francis, will you demonstrate?”

I prefer bending humbly over one outstretched leg – a bit dramatic, I will admit, when a simple bend of the wait will suffice. However, I want no question of respect lingering in the air. Ladies curtsy with a simple sink and rise.

A Lady In Need Of A Partner

They stand there in the middle of the floor. Sometimes their eyes search as if they are lost. Or maybe they are seeking a target like skilled marksman. I have no time to deduce who is doing which as I hone in on a lady like a hound to a fox, and ask my qualifying question:

“Are you seeking a partner?”

“Yes.”

I bow. “May I be yours?”

It is my heartfelt mission to dance with as many ladies as possible. Traveling through this life solo, I know the feeling – wishing someone will share a moment of joy with you. When that person finds you, your gratitude bursts from within. Out of all others, this person chose you. You matter. You hold worth. The pessimist will scoff that it is merely a dance, and merely formality. All others know better.

A Simple Gift

Many a lady among us has not danced in sets. Never fear, for our renowned Mistress Becky knows the way to dissolve the fear of the unknown like frost in fire.

She leads us in the Gallopede: Long lines step forward and back, then cross over to your partner’s side. Forward and back again, crossing over once more. A do-si-do. A two-hand turn. Then the head couple sashays down the set to the bottom and you start over. A simple yet lively diversion. The uninitiated learn it quickly and nobody misses a step. We laugh, we smile, we worry not.


Joyful Voices

“O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ The Lord.”


The hundreds of voices echo through the hall with heavenly resonance. Not one of us fails to feel the peace in the room, so it is with a blend of shock and sadness when I hear our host reveal that in many schools, such carols are not sung anymore. But we’re singing them now, and that’s all that matters.


My 1st Virginia compatriots exercise their vocal talents with a round of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” – all five stanzas of it, including the refrains. For us, it is the oral equivalent of a ten-mile march, complete with the rough patches.

“Now Ladies,” I coax after the beautiful ones of the 1st Virginia applaud us, “let us see if you might be able to top that.”

The gentlemen next to me cautions I haven’t heard a certain lady sing. “We made a brave effort but I think they have us beat.”

“I believe my voice may be up to the challenge,” she replies. “Nevertheless, I shall call for reinforcements!” She invites a private with a potent baritone to join her angelic soprano.

“Oh the Holly and the Ivy
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The Holly bears the crown.”


The rest of us join in the refrains.

“O the rising of the sun,
And the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.”


The gathered crowds applaud us all, well-voiced or not.

Creative License

Those who win door prizes must present a historic fact, sing a few lines of a Christmas carol, or dance a ten-second jig. Many guests choose the latter two options.

Here is where the term “jig” is open to interpretation. One young man performs a variant on the Robot Dance. Another, his take on the Moon Walk. The crowd approves with gusto. Fine dancing is fine dancing.

Birthday Celebrations

“Have you ever noticed,” our host inquires, “that the most brilliant people are born towards the end of the year?”

I stand near him in the center of the hall amongst the guests celebrating birthdays in November and December. He explains the tradition to the crowd, where those surrounding us shall circle and sing, “For They’re Such Jolly Good Fellows.”

However, many are unsure of how to arrange themselves. Some have not heard. Some are unsure. But to our rescue comes the 1st Sergeant of the 1st Virginia and the private with the potent baritone.

“For they’re such jolly good fellows, for they’re such jolly good fellows!” they begin, leading a half-circle around us, saving the celebration and some face.

Our host is satisfied. Otherwise, he notes, he was going to point out that the “most beautiful people” are born in the latter half of the year.

The Brave Ones

We pause to honor two service members: a young Marine who will soon be headed to the Middle East, and a veteran of World War II. Present and past stand together before the crowd. As we give cheers and applause to us, they turn and shake hands, thanking each other for serving as we thank them.

Moments Of Grace

Anything that reminds me of a graceful 18th Century dance shall imprint itself into my heart forever, something like the Spanish Waltz. Couples stand in circles of four all about the hall. The gentlemen balance their partners -- stepping towards and away from each other with one hand joined -- before twirling the lady underneath one arm. They then balance the lady opposite from them and twirling them on, meeting back up with their partner again to balance them one more time and their opposite more time. They join in a right-hand star, then a left-hand star, then waltz past their opposite couple to join a new couple… all in three-quarter time.

I cannot resist dipping my knees to the rhythm and holding my free hand in the air during the stars. I notice others are doing the same.

If only I had a three-cornered hat on my head.

A Lady To Entertain

I see her alone, and I have seen her before. She is dressed in honor of Mrs. Claus. I know she is unaccompanied this evening, and I know she would enjoy my company once more. I waltz with her, but she is not satisfied with one dance. She asks for another, and I indulge her with another waltz.

“Waltzes don’t count,” she tells me. She wants to be my partner in a set dance -- something rollicking and lively. I know I’m expected to dance with other ladies too, but my mission and purpose is to serve. I cannot leave her unfulfilled.

When all is said and done, I have given her four dances, including a spirited Virginia Reel and a bit of lively waltzing after we notice a pair of young ladies and gentlemen twirling about in a beautiful display of ballroom skill and spectacle.

I must admit some envy. But why be jealous when you can be brave? I lead her through a few twirls and fancy turns to liven things up from my elementary two-step -- all improvised. Surprisingly, we both enjoy it. But we soon return to our simple steps. Both of us are content with our company and not under any burning desire to dance better than anyone in the room.

Expectations Fulfilled

At the end of the evening, I rejoin the young lady and gentleman whom I have brought here. I ask the lady if her expectations were met.

“Oh, the dances were so much fun!” she proclaims with her eyes as wide as her smile. She tells me of her desire to line up her family in sets and teach them the dances she has learned. She wants to bring them to another ball. She cannot wait for the next one.

I feel her feelings without asking another question. I know the bliss fluttering within her, the surprising magic of the first time dancing with a merry crowd of strangers who suddenly become your friends, all of them. To call it an enjoyable evening is to underestimate its impact. All those newcomers, uplifted and overjoyed by the fellowship and love of the dance, are finding a happiness they never knew. It will dwell within them long after the final waltz, and they will labor to preserve it.

Santa, can you or your elves make that? Can you instill that kind of light within someone’s heart? With all due respect, I doubt it. It doesn’t come from the North Pole. You have to look someplace higher. I would suggest this particularly bright star. Follow it and see where it leads you.

More photos and merry memories here.

NEXT: For Queen And Country