The Memory Project
Off the top of my head, natural (Johnny Ketchum)

TMP: Christmas letters
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This will be a long one. Bear with me.

So there was this woman at the Baltimore Sun, a Hateful Boss. (She once said to a friend of mine: "Are we supposed to put 'Your child had a fever of 105' on page one, so readers will know why you didn't attend the school board meeting," or words to that effect.) Before she was a Hateful Boss, she was an Obsequious Toady, which is often a prerequisite to achieving Hateful Boss status. And I have to give her this: She saw early that this thing called the Internet was going to be big, and she was very on top of it, and spent a great deal of time bragging about her amazing computer skills.

This is why it gave me such profound pleasure when I, a reporter of average computer skills, found the Obsequious Toady's annual Christmas letter in the newspaper computer system's "Spike" basket, an all-access directory. While copy in one's private basket could be restricted, once you spiked anything, it went to a trashcan where it sat for 24 hours, available to all users. If you were smart, you erased stuff you didn't want people to see and sent a blank document to "Spike." She didn't, and her Christmas card was full of wonderful boasts and brags. My only regret is that I didn't print it out.

But the thing is, I adore such letters when I receive them. I also love Christmas cards with photos, particularly of my friends' children. These are the cards I display every year.

My father was a long-time columnist for The Sun, 1965-1995. (In his retirement, he still continues to write and publish at a rate that should embarrass some daily newspaper staffers.) In the early years, the column was called Notes and Comment and ran without a byline, in the strange reverse snobbery that The Sun did so well. Eventually, he was granted a byline --and won the ASNE award for commentary -- but the column remained very short, even by today's standards. He specialized in presidential politics, although he also wrote about the Supreme Court and some local issues. The thing he almost never did was write about his family. As a child, I often asked that I be featured, only to be told that it wasn't that kind of a column. In hindsight, I'm glad that I got to keep my childhood to myself.

But in December 1984, my father wrote a very personal column. The microfilm is so faded that I can't read the first third of it, but the last two-thirds should give you the full gist.

"Janus, the two-faced god who looks back and ahead is the [indecipherable] guide this time of year. Today, back at 1984 . . . I've been mulling the AP Top Ten list [of 1984's most important news stories]. Was Reagan's win a bigger story to me than Bhopal (No.2)? Bigger than Geraldine Ferraro's unprecedented candidacy (3)? Would I rate as No. 1 the assassination of Indira Gandhi (4)? The embassy annex bombing in Beirut (5)? The African famine (6)? The summer Olympics, heart transplants, the U.S. economy, the San Ysidro McDonald's mass murders (7, 8, 9, 10)?

My No. 1? None of the above. My father died on December 5.

The real news of the year is what happens to us and our families. One death in the family can have greater impact on an individual than 20 or 2,000 or scores of thousands of deaths far away.

A wedding or a birth affects one's life more than any Page One headline event. A new job. A promotion. A move to another city. A new home.

Or a plant closes and a career vanishes, a marriage fails, a crippling disease strikes. A friendship ends. A home burns or is flooded out or razed by a tornado. That's _the_ news to those involved.

Christmas is the time of year when many of us get (and deride) those 'the year to date' Xeroxed family histories. Mary's engaged. Fred's vice president of the Kiwanis club, the twins got their braces off . . . These are easy targets for derision, because it's clearly not important news to the recipient. But it is to the sender.

Harry Golden, I think it was, once said you find the real news in the little stories on the back of the clippings about wars, elections, catastrophes. That's true, and in many, many cases, the real news never gets in the paper at all.

It is, of course, a newspaper's important job to chronicle elections, wars, sensational crime and punishment, social, economic and intellectual developments and men biting dogs -- and we will continue to. But we know, as you know, that's not always _the_ news."

-- Theo Lippman Jr. (c) The Baltimore Sun

Feel free to post your own "the year to date" missive in the comments. I'm going to, although knowing the history of this blog, some of you might beat me to it. Whatever you do, enjoy the holidays and I'll see you here in 2006. where I'll continue to work on the three R's -- reading, 'riting and remembering.

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