Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sixty-four Years Ago Tonight

A couple months back I mentioned a book called HEYDAYS AND HOLIDAYS:

The main draw for this 1945 volume was the artwork by Grace Paull -- in fact, her name is the only one on the cover. The author, Laura Harris, is only acknowledged on the title page:

I love everything about HEYDAYS AND HOLIDAYS, from first page to last.

The first page, which is signed in ink by the illustrator, contains an excerpt from Robert Browning's "Pippa Passes." To read the words, click on the image below to enlarge it. This poem has always had pleasant associations for me: discovering it in a fifth-grade English book, hearing my brother's glee club sing it at a grade school spring concert, taking my parents to see their very first Broadway show in 1980 -- an all-star revival of the Paul Osborn play MORNING'S AT SEVEN, which drew its name from the poem. And I just learned today that there's actually a small town called Pippa Passes, Kentucky. Maybe I should plan a visit.

In HEYDAYS AND HOLIDAY'S, Laura Harris's brief text and Grace Paull's lively, colorful illustrations take us on a chronological trip through the year, introducing every holiday on the calendar (New Year's, Easter, Independence Day, Halloween, Christmas and all the rest) as well as some that only kids can appreciate (the last day of school, the day the circus comes to town.) Along the way there are occasional pitstops for listing monthly birthstones or offering pertinent proverbs such as:

Sixty seconds make a minute--
How much good can I do in it?
Sixty minutes make an hour--
All the good that's in my power.

And here's another:

The world has changed a lot since this book was published in 1945. Today's kids would probably be confused to see Lincoln's Birthday celebrated on February 12 and Washington's on February 22. They'd wonder why Columbus Day is listed for October 12 instead of the second Monday in October. There's obviously no page for Martin Luther King Day. And what's this "Armistice Day" all about? Yet in other ways, HEYDAYS AND HOLIDAYS was progressive for its era, including Jewish holidays (Passover, Rosh Hashonah, Hanukkah) which were sometimes ignored by other books of the time, and also featuring some African-American children in the illustrations.

My very favorite part of this book is the last page.

It was obviously not included in the volume's original plan or design, but when real life events intersected with the book's theme, Grace Paull added one final celebration to HEYDAYS AND HOLIDAYS, stating, "The drawings for this book were finished on August 14, 1945, the day the war with Japan ended. That night the people in Gorham, New Hampshire, built a huge bonfire in the village common to celebrate the end of the war."

I assume that most of the people who gathered around that bonfire sixty-four years ago are no longer with us. Even those who attended as children would now be senior citizens. Does anyone remember it? I wonder if this event was written up in local newspapers. I wonder if there are photographs.

Or is it only memorialized here -- a footnote, an afterthought, a postscript -- in a nearly-forgotten children's book?


Laura said...

This doesn't have anything to do with a book, but in one of your earlier posts you mention a Jackie Gleason Christmas special with nursery rhymes. Do you know where I can get a copy? I've been looking for one for awhile now. Thanks.

Peter D. Sieruta said...

Hi Laura,

I love that Christmas special too. Unfortunately, I don't know where you can get a copy these days. I videotaped mine off TV when my local PBS station ran it about twenty years ago.

I have two suggestions that might help:

1) Keep your eye on the TV listings this Christmas season on the chance that your PBS station or a cable station runs it.

2) I notice that the "Color Honeymooners" seasons are now available on DVD. They were part of the Saturday night Jackie Gleason Show that ran in the mid-sixties, as was the Christmas nursery rhyme special. Why not drop a line to the company that produces the Color Honeymooners episodes and suggest that they make a DVD of this Christmas show? During the holidays I frequently see Christmas episodes of old TV shows (Hazel, Andy Griffith Show, etc.) for sale on DVD and video. Maybe the Gleason producers never considered putting out a DVD of this episode too, but will do so if they get requests. It's definitely a classic!



JohnA said...

The Gleason Christmas special IS a classic. Charming and entertaining. And incredibly, not one word is spoken.