Christmas Spirit by Howard Freedlander


The Christmas season began just perfectly on the first night of December with a wonderfully low-key parade in Easton. We watched with friends, some remarking on the small-town quality of a parade that featured marching bands and company trucks bearing groups such as Talbot Lacrosse and Easton Elks Lodge.

One friend commented that the scene reminded him of a Norman Rockwell painting. For younger readers, Rockwell’s paintings of American life in its purest form graced the covers of a now dormant magazine, the Saturday Evening Post. One notable image showed a family, unblemished by dysfunction or strife, happily eating a Thanksgiving meal.

Some now might consider Rockwell paintings and illustrations corny and unrelated to current life. That might be true. So be it.

When I was a child, the Saturday Evening Post brought my father and me together. We looked and laughed at the cartoons sprinkled throughout this iconic magazine.

Perhaps at these times I learned to love to read magazines and to laugh. He kept a hyperactive child occupied with something more cerebral than playing touch football.

As December brings joy and glee, it also evokes memories of those who no longer walk the earth with us. In the Dec. 4 issue of The Star Democrat, I noticed a remembrance of the late Henry P. Turner, a well-known local attorney who died Dec. 4, 2015. Four friends, former and current judges, paid homage to a person characterized as a “renaissance man of devout faith and honor, a civic leader, gentleman, lawyer’s lawyer, mentor and wise counsel.”

The remembrance also described Turner as a” highly decorated combat veteran.” This apt phase begs an encounter that I had with Turner at a local jewelry store in Easton in 1994.

Knowing that this gentleman fought as a 19-year-old on D-Day, June 6, 1944, on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France as a member of the famed 29th Infantry Division, I asked him if he planned to join 29th Division veterans in celebration of the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest amphibious invasions in history. I’ll never forget his answer.

Henry Turner instantly said no. His eyes moistened. He said he could not even watch “The Longest Day,” the epic movie produced in 1962 about the D-Day landings. I wisely decided not to probe his reasons. They were obvious.

His combat experience had seared his soul. Memories were painful, maybe bone-numbingly so. He had served on a beach that claimed thousands of deaths and injuries. He likely questioned his survival.

To Judges Sidney Campen, Bill Horne, Chris Kehoe and Steve Kehoe, I thank you for marking the death of an outstanding citizen and courageous infantry soldier.

Speaking of people notable for their significant achievements, I felt honored to be included in celebration of former Governor Harry Hughes” 92nd birthday on Nov. 13 at his home outside Denton on the Choptank River. His former and steadfastly loyal staffers, as well as John Frece (who helped him write his autobiography) and I, joined in honoring this Eastern Shore native and acclaimed gentleman. One of his staffers, a good friend, invited me.

My friend, a Baltimore resident and Washington College graduate, was Hughes’ campaign manager through a poverty of support in the early stages and a primary that no one thought he could win. This friend then became a policy advisor in the State House during Hughes’ first term.

I first met Gov. Hughes in 1978 when he was running what many thought was a futile campaign for governor, and I was editor of the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. He was elected in 1978 and again in 1982.

Harry, as most people call him, is now fighting a tougher battle against old- age ailments and lack of mobility. He is singularly easy to like and respect.

Finally, like many others, I found myself transfixed by the services and ritual last week for President George H.W. Bush, who died Friday, Nov 30 at the age of 94. He epitomized class and decency. He revered the nobility of selfless public service. He was a strong leader. He valued his many, many friendships and relationships.

I listened to President Bush speak before an American Legion Convention in Baltimore and then again at a National Guard Conference in Salt Lake City, UT. Public speaking wasn’t his forte. Understated, resolute leadership was his trademark.

Amid the joyousness of the Christmas holiday, it is fitting to revel in our current happiness and fill our hearts with memories. When we think back, we can feel grateful that now deceased family members and friends graced our lives. They were living ornaments at one time, providing brightness and cheer.

Two weeks from today, we will celebrate a holiday that still seems magical, if ever so briefly.

We can drown out the noise and ugliness of life, if ever so briefly.

And we can live in a moment of joy and contentment, if ever so briefly.

I still have gifts to buy. The Christmas season does demand responsibility. And that’s okay.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.


Letters to Editor

  1. Beverley Martin says

    Howard, I so appreciate your words on so many subjects. The best part is that you make me think!

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