Sam Burnham, Curator
This time of year we speak of joy, hope, redemption, and celebration. There are so many songs, even one that reminds us that this is the “most wonderful time of the year.”
Its important to note that during this time can drives, food banks, and homeless shelters are kicking into overdrive. The Salvation Army is deployed with their little red kettles, “doing the most good.” suicide hotlines are working long hours. As a good friend once told me, “this is a messed up time of year for a lot of people.” That’s an easy truth to forget. All the festive and celebratory moods overshadow those who are missing someone, wresting with their past, or dreading their future. That larger shadow makes the season even more frustrating for folks having a hard time.
When God came in human form and walked among us He taught us about love, about compassion, about looking out for each other. He taught us about underdogs, the sick, the homeless, the hungry, the broken. He charged us with being light in a dark world. How we treat these people during this season is the real reflection of our Christmas spirit. Compassion, charity, and friendship should define the season. It could be as easy as an open ear. Sometimes just being available can be enough to alleviate the weight on a troubled soul.
Detractors and critics like to point out that Christ was not likely born this time of year. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. I don’t find the point to be relevant in either case. The point is that he was born and he gave a message and lived an example that should inspire us all this time of year.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that we hang lights, put candles in the windows, and illuminate our homes on the longest, darkest nights of the year. We celebrate the Incarnation during our darkest hours. We recognize that God comes to us when we need him the most.
We are beseeched to remember the reason for the season. That often is limited to a contest to put the manger in a place as prominent as the Christmas tree. But we miss the mark if that’s where we put our focus. More than elevating an image of Christ, our goal should be to remember and enact the those words, those teachings, those promises that Christ spoke among us. Love your neighbors, care for the sick, for widows and orphans, feed the hungry. As community-minded people we cannot wait for, or even expect, the government to do this. This is our charge, our responsibility. The darkest and longest nights of the year are when the lights shine the brightest. We’ve been instructed to be lights. Now is the time.
Sam Burnham, Curator
James Calemine’s latest dispatch at Snake Nation Press has me thinking about the ways the world, specifically The South, has changed just during my lifetime. Change is inevitable, no doubt, and it is even beneficial at least some of the time. Some change really is progress. Some progress really is improvement.
But the amazing photo of the Goat Man, a man out of time in his own era is an even more bizarre vision today. The man who is still a subject of stories and legends some 20 years after his death would likely have no place in our modern time.
He was a native of Iowa who was once married to a Spanish knife thrower 10 years his senior. He left her and their sideshow act after the Depression broke them. An injury back in Iowa led to a religious conversion that, understandably, led him to Georgia.
He’d leave out in that ramshackle wagon, pulled by his trusty team of goats and travel all over. He didn’t just wander Georgia. His stories are told in other states and he himself claimed he had visited all of the lower 48 states. He rarely bathed, he lived off goat milk and whatever else he came across. He wore goat skins and preached fiery messages of repentance in the makeshift revival services in every town he stopped in. He left his wooden plank signs, painted with repentance messages, nailed to trees and fence posts in his wake as he wandered. He was somewhere between a picture and a caricature of John the Baptist.
In the long run, he was a character in a large story that is Southern Culture. He was one of many unique and odd folks who inspired a thousand characters in books and stories by people like William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, and others. People like the Goat Man made the Southern Gothic literary genre possible.
But today our roads are far too busy for a smelly old man on a goat wagon. Our towns are far too refined for his unkempt campsite. Our discourse is far too tolerant to tolerate his fiery sermons. We don’t have the time, the patience, or the curiosity to be bothered by him or his kind.
But he’s not alone. Burwell Stark summed it up well on Twitter: “The South is no longer home to characters like those one would find in an O'Connor short story or Faulkner novel. This is not to our credit.”
While there admittedly are still some wild characters to be found here and there, we’ve lost both the volume of them and the fascination we have for them. A man traveling the road in a goat wagon it a traffic hazard, a nuisance, he’s holding up progress, he’s not living in 2019.
Do we ever ask ourselves if we’re making 2019 the kind of place we wish to inhabit?
This is why we lack modern folk heroes. The Legendary Georgia Goat Man is one of thousands of characters we no longer have. He’s one of thousands we don’t currently deserve.
Sam Burnham, Curator
I shared some of the music that helps me to stir the Christmas spirit but there’s more. I thought I’d add a list of viewing - movies and television - that can help in the same way.
It’s A Wonderful Life - 1946
This movie is one of the mainstays of the season. I know it can seem like a cliche to include it but this movie is filled with the themes that we espouse at ABG. The small town of Bedford Falls, George Bailey and his locally-owned savings and loan, the relationships he and the business have with the locals, the ever present bigger bank breathing down his neck, and his earnest efforts to keep them from taking over his town. It's the power of relationships in a small town and how things can be set right The messages are timeless, Jimmy Stewart is a legend and this is some of his best acting. It’s a Christmas must-see.
A Charlie Brown Christmas - 1965
An animated classic but this one isn’t just child’s play. Charlie Brown is frustrated by the commercialized Christmas he sees surrounding him. So he sets out to find some real meaning in the holiday only to be harried and harassed at every turn by the flashy expectations the commercialized Christmas has given to his friends. I gotta say that Linus standing on stage and reciting from the Book of Luke is one of the finest moments in television history. So simple but so profound. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
A Christmas Story - 1983
For 24 hours each year, Turner Broadcasting puts this little jewel in the player and hits repeat. You can turn it on and then go on about your way. When you walk in the room you can stop and laugh a bit before you move on. It’s not nearly as profound as the previous two on the list, but this is the funniest Christmas movie ever made. It’s nostalgic and gives us a chance to recognize our own reality in the comical dysfunction of normal life. So many quotes from this movie have become common in our cultural jargon. “You’ll shoot your eye out!” “It’s a major award!” And even the maniacal adaptation of “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Used by the shopping mall Santa. When you hear one, you know where it’s from.
A Christmas Carol - 1984
Whichever version of this Charles Dickens classic you watch is totally up to you. I’m kinda partial to George C. Scott. Regardless of the version, this is a how-to guide to getting into the spirit at Christmastime. The crustiest curmudgeon to walk the Earth is transformed into a tender hearted benefactor in the course of one night. And if Scrooge can get in the spirit, surely you can.
Again, these are a few and I'd love to hear your suggestions. Feel free to share them with us!
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire