Friday, November 25, 2016

EDITOR'S NOTES: Christmas tree topper a family tradition

By David Kennard

Sitting at the top of our Christmas tree this year will be what my sons and I call Bear Claw Santa. The tree topper first made his appearance about four years ago after a trip to a green house to buy poinsettias for my wife.
While we were there, we took a look inside the Christmas shop, which was known to have almost every kind of Christmas ornament ever made.
They had angels and bells and feathery things and ornaments with every theme you can imagine; traditional crystal snowflakes, gold leafed candy canes, candles of all colors, marching bands, those old-fashioned water-filled lights that bubble when you plug them in. They had fish ornaments and bird ornaments and cats and dogs and giraffes and bunnies, some that made noises and some that just hung there.
So, when the boys and I saw the very mountain man looking Father Christmas, dressed in his fur coat and long beard, we knew it was time to replace that dumb old angel that had been marring the top of our tree each year.
OK, that may be a little harsh, but decorating the tree each year usually turns into a day-long repair project involving duct tape, hot glue and a fair amount of non-profanities.
Over the last few years of its life the once majestic angel that proclaimed the pending arrival of a glorious Christmas morning to all corners of our living room, had turned into a hunk of brittle brown-ish plastic that was more fire hazard than anything.
The sad little angel first made her appearance early in our marriage -- she may have even been there from the beginning (my wife would know) -- and each year as each child grew, a tussle usually broke out over who’s turn it was to put the angel on the top of the tree.
I have three sons and a daughter, so wrestling, hair pulling and screaming are pretty much par for the course when it comes to decorating the tree each year.
I probably shouldn’t say this but, thankfully, we’re down to just one child still at home, so by default the honor of placing the tree topper will fall to Sam this year.
Bear Claw the Christmas tree topper seemed to be the right fit for us, since we’ve done a fair amount of camping and hiking as a family over the years.
Let me explain.
The boys all grew up in Boy Scouts and love rugged mountain man stuff - guns, tomahawks, starting fires with flint and steel. We’ve also skied all over the West, including at Sundance Ski Resort, which is owned by movie star Robert Redford. Redford, as you may recall was in a film titled, “Jeremiah Johnson,” which includes a character named Bear Claw.
So, that’s where the tree topper got its name. I’m pretty sure Suesan still misses that old angel and I’m guessing a more traditional topper will one day take the place of the mountain man. But for now it’s Bear Claw’s domain.
The wife will, however, have a bigger voice in the actual tree that we select this year. The artificial tree we had for the past few Christmases didn’t make the move with us from out West last year. We’ve got a couple of smaller countertop trees that have been used to decorate other parts of the house, but our goal of downsizing has left us without an actual Christmas tree.
My guess is that we’ll go “au naturel” this year and try to support a local Boy Scout troop or service organization.
Suesan will tell you that I’ve got a pretty low bar for Christmas trees. My main objective is usually to find one that will be big enough to hold all the junk we throw on it -- and that’s it. Pretty much as long is it will fit in the door and not block the TV, I’m good with it.

David Kennard is the executive editor of Summerville Communications, which publishes the Berkeley Independent, Goose Creek Gazette and Summerville Journal Scene. Contact him at or 843-873-9424. Follow him on Twitter

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

EDITOR'S NOTES: Our veterans are worth remembering, honoring

By David Kennard

Bert Allen Bourne died in 1974 at the age of 82 when I was 11 years old.

I don’t remember much about my grandfather, but I learned at an even earlier age that he was well respected in the tiny wheat farming town in the Midwest where he spent nearly his entire life.

He was drafted into the Army in April 1918, about seven months before the Armistice of 11 November 1918 ended World War I.

I have a small collection of the things that he carried with him as he fought in the trenches of France leading up to the day that we now celebrate as Veterans Day.

His compass, a hand mirror, some uniform insignia. But my most cherished possessions are the journals that he kept and the letters that he wrote home to his sister and best friend Louie.

Oct. 9, 1918

“Dear Friend Louie

“Rec'd your letter a few days ago and will try and write a few lines in reply. Have just been eating hazelnuts and sitting around a fire trying to keep warm. It is cold enough here this morning to make a fellow want to hunt a fire but the sun is shining bright outside so I guess it will soon warm up. I hope it will dry up some of the mud too for while the mud is not so very deep it is the stickiest stuff that I ever saw anywhere and sticks to one's shoes so that your feet get so heavy you can't hardly walk….

“Well, I haven't got hit by any whiz bangs or G.I. Cans yet. A G.I. Can is what they call some of those big shells that come sailing along singing "Nearer My God to Thee". G.I. stands for galvanized iron you know and some of those shells sound like a can or something bigger.”

Although Bert’s letters are full of detail, nearly all of them were censored by the Army to prevent intelligence from getting into enemy hands.

His handwritten journal that he carried with him helps fill in the blanks a little.

“On to line, Oct. 18”

“Relieved 1st Btln., Oct. 30”

“Over the top Hallowe’en Night, Nov. 1”

“Eleven days of Hell”

“Along banks of Meuse Canal when armistice news was heard.”

Later, in a letter home he wrote about the end of the war.

“Stenay, France, Nov. 22, 1918: We certainly celebrated Hallowe'en and raised a little h--- with the Kaiser.

“For several days previous the Hun aviators had been flying over our lines and dropping propaganda saying ‘Come on over Americans we will treat you fine’ and the like. Well we come alright. But not the way they meant and we kept right on until they hollered enough.

“On the day of the armistice we had packed up about 2:00 in the morning, marched all the rest of the night, crossed the Meuse and the Canal on pontoon bridges and about 9:00 fell out for a rest along the road. Pretty soon a car came along and one of the men in it called out ‘The war is finished at 11:00 o'clock boys.’ Well we didn't know whether to believe it or not as the guns were still pounding away but we felt a little encouraged. Well we (stayed) there for a few hours and presently the time drew close to 11:00. For some time it seemed as though the artillery fire had been slacking up and at 11:00 it stopped entirely and not a sound could be heard.”

My grandfather stayed in France and Germany for several more months as part of the occupation force after the war. He returned home in the summer of 1919, married a local girl and went on with his life.

Having never served in the military, I can only imagine what it must have been like, not just for my grandfather in World War I, but for all our men and women who have stepped up to join the cause of freedom.

With the approach of Veterans Day, I urge all Americans to pause for a moment to mark the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.

David Kennard is the executive editor of Summerville Communications, which publishes the Berkeley Independent, Goose Creek Gazette and Summerville Journal Scene. Contact him at or 843-873-9424. Follow him on Twitter @davidbkennard.