CAWTHON'S CATHARSIS - Bah, Humbug! Jimmy Stewart


By Jack Cawthon

It's that time of year again when we are advised, no pressured, to go out and spend our hearts and wallets out to boost the economy. To give lots of credit where credit is due, shortly after the end of the year, I suppose it's the American way with side benefits to China.

We see and hear almost daily reports on how consumers are reacting, and if they aren't keeping up the pace, dire predictions for a slumping stock market are droned at us.

I guess my hero is Ebenezer Scrooge who represented the best in the free market system. Scrooge was only saving for his old age, no doubt, already knocking at his door and wouldn't have stood a ghost of a chance as a pauper on the street. (Why not modernize the story with a Ghost of Christmas Future in the Old Folks' home?} Scrooge stands for the best in Goldwaterism-in your heart you knew he was far right, didn't you?-in that he showed his true spirit in the end by fostering private charity without government intervention.

On the other hand, we are beset each year with the overly sugared Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life." I certainly hope liberals don't watch this presentation all teary-eyed, as Jimmy was a banker. Of course, he was of the old school of banking before government entered with its role and reams of paperwork. No longer does individual character count. Jimmy, today, would certainly be censured by federal examiners for lending to people with only good hearts and good character, but who had no collateral. And all those commercial ventures which sprang up with him out of the picture would be lauded for increasing return on equity and higher dividends for the investors.

I've developed a phobia about Jimmy's "wonderful life." My wife has learned to screen the screen whenever a rerun is scheduled. The last time I saw it I began to scream for Jimmy to jump from the bridge. If he had we might have been spared all the future reruns and my theory would be bolstered that no one is indispensable. At least, that's what my bosses always told me, and lots of people would be happier, especially the people at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

But I can't fight tradition. Nor can I fight nostalgia that comes with age. I call it that, but many folks, mostly younger, may call it senility. I try not to begin a statement with "When I was young…" and then go on to describe the hardships and tribulations.

That applies especially to Christmas. We all retain memories of that special time of childhood in our own way. For those little kids who didn't receive presents Santa may have become a bah, humbug memory. (I believe that most of them grew up to become political liberals.)

Most kids today can't conceive of a world without electricity and a Christmas without the twinkling lights, the glare of a TV set, or an outlet in which to plug the microwave. In my day, well, here I go again with those aged, terribly lit reflections, there was none in one of those isolated hollers that were once so filled with people. Most of them didn't realize that they were "backward" and in poverty because the economists and sociologists hadn't documented them and proclaimed through government bullhorns that "Aha! There is poverty in Appalachia!" We didn't even know we lived in a place called "Appalachia" until we were told. Talk about backward!

But back to those Christmases past. At the age of nine I was transported from that backwoods holler to live among the city elite who had electricity, hard roads and streets, and, sometimes, harder hearts. But the one spark that was to brighten my life that first Christmas as a "townie" was a Christmas tree with real lights. Through the miracle of electricity we could also play the radio to our heart's content without fear of exhausting the batteries, and we could even make toast without first firing up the oven.

From that day onward I never wanted any part of that dark holler again. Or at least, I didn't think that I did. Oh, the follies of youth! When young we tend to take for granted that the world is created just for us. As we grow older we begin to analyze. Maybe it's a part of the brain that matures and overrides the immediate gratification region, or maybe it's just hardening of the arteries with a softening of the heart.

I doubt if I'm unique in my views. I'm certain there are others like me who, when they shook the mud and grime from the holler declared never to look back. Look what it did to Lot's wife. But somewhere along the line, maybe at Christmas time, as the period seems to be right for reflection, we do take a backward look with the Ghost of Christmas Past and see perhaps how little we had in material wealth but realize all the intangibles instead, and here I don't want to become maudlin like Jimmy, but merely observe that maybe it was a pretty good life.

For some the memories are of the dad or brother going out on the hillside and cutting that scrubby pine tree, bringing it in and setting it up in a corner of house that wasn't exactly plumb, then having the whole family help decorate it with handmade ornaments. When the lights were lit, not switched on, the whole thing sparkled with brilliance. A little kid's heart beat with an innocence and the belief in Santa that would too soon be stolen away by the outside world. In that childish belief he just knew that Santa could find that dismal, isolated, mud road homestead some way. This was an electric moment that came from within instead of from the power company.

Well, enough of this senior sentiment. If you want more, then watch Jimmy in the reruns. I'm already behind in my shopping, and I'm sure I'll be blamed if the economy goes down the tubes. Frugal people like Scrooge can not only wreck the economy but become president.

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