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Christmas Eve In Starhill

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That’s the official seal of the Republic of Star Hill, or Starhill, depending on how you swing. My cousin Rae Lynne burned it onto a cutting board as a gift for her brother Andy. Decades ago, Andy created it (that’s a possum in the center) and had it printed on stationery for his dad, my Uncle Murphy, who fashioned himself the Mayor of Starhill, as well as the head of state. He was drunk as a skunk one night when he used the private phone number at the Ayatollah Khomeini’s palace in Qom, Iran — he’d gotten the number from a Washington friend — and called to inform the Iranians, during the hostage crisis, that the Republic of Starhill had broken off diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic. He encouraged his Iranian interlocutor to advise the Ayatollah Khomeini to perform certain anatomically impossible acts.

That was Murphy. You have heard my story about his tombstone. Notice the epitaph, which he wrote himself:

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I took that shot late this afternoon, in the Starhill Cemetery. We did the annual candle-lighting thing, in which my mother coordinated a group of us lighting candles on every grave in the cemetery. I made sure to be the one who honored Murphy with a candle. Here are a couple other ancestors I honored; if you’ve read Little Way [3], you’ve read about Columbus and his daughter Lois:

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It’s strange to think that as a small child in the 1970s, I heard stories about Columbus Simmons fighting in the Civil War from his daughter, Aunt Lois. History is so close.


The whole family got together tonight, as we always do, at Andy and Nancy’s. There was gumbo, and more cakes and cookies than you can shake a stick at. We sang Christmas carols while our cousin Emily played the piano, and sang Happy Birthday to my mother, who turned 70 today, and also to Cousin Guy Ruth, who turns 83 on Christmas Day. There was bubbly wine, and bourbon, and enough fireworks to have shaken Fort Sumter to its foundations. My cousin Melanie did this Elf Yourself video starring me, Aunt Patsy, and Cousin Guy Ruth. I’d love to show it to you, because I look like a perfect idiot in it, but I can’t figure out how to embed it. Here I am tonight with Aunt Patsy and Cousin Guy Ruth:

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Those ladies are so great. Aunt Patsy was Uncle Murphy’s wife. She and Murphy gave me for Christmas, 1980, the newly published novel A Confederacy Of Dunces. I read it instantly, and it changed my life. Cousin Guy Ruth is a Katrina refugee. My late sister Ruthie called me in Dallas the day after Katrina to say that she had been watching CNN, and saw an elegant lady dressed to the nines stepping out of a rescue boat, carrying a fluffy Persian cat. It was, of course, Cousin Guy Ruth, who had been rescued with her husband Ted from the second floor of their lakefront house. She was not about to go to her own rescue without looking fabulous, because that’s how she rolls, dahlin’.

“Why don’t I go to your house for cocktail hour ever?” I said to her tonight.

“I don’t know, why the hell not?” she said.

You’ll know where to find me.

My mom and dad seemed to have a great time tonight:

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Julie and I sure did:

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We all took our drinks outside in the cold and watched the fireworks, which were fantastic. Cousin Bob told about the time a few years ago when something fell over at just the wrong moment and they had to put out Guy Ruth’s husband Ted, who had caught on fire. He was uninjured, thank God, so it became one of those funny stories that families tell.

Family! Christmas! I hope y’all are having as much fun as I’m having. We must live — while we live.

21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "Christmas Eve In Starhill"

#1 Comment By David J. White On December 24, 2013 @ 11:54 pm

Technically it means “Let us live, while we live,” but I won’t quibble. If Andy were one of my Latin students, I’d take off maybe a point or two, tops. 😉

Merry Christmas!

#2 Comment By Fred On December 24, 2013 @ 11:58 pm

Beautiful. Love it. Thanks for sharing.

#3 Comment By RB On December 25, 2013 @ 1:30 am

Right. That’s it. I’m adopting your family. We’ll make boudin sushi. It’ll be great.

Seriously, you guys all look terrific. And I would love to borrow your Uncle Murphy, just for the stories.

#4 Comment By charles cosimano On December 25, 2013 @ 2:12 am

Donna and I just finished tearing open the gifts and as usual now we have no floor space left in the living room.

Merry Christmas!

#5 Comment By Darth Thulhu On December 25, 2013 @ 2:33 am

The epitaph on the tombstone is very close to an aphorism used by one of my followers in the ol’ Multi-User-Dungeon days. As a God of Death not particularly interested in power, my character attracted a lot of extreme roleplayers, with many playing as zombies, skeletons, mummies, vampires, ghosts, and so on.

One of the revenants got a motto banner, “worn with pride”, saying: Undead Thralldom! It’s not so bad, once you get used to it!

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

#6 Comment By surly On December 25, 2013 @ 5:13 am

Love it!

We just filled the stockings after a long and hilarious conversation with our youngest, who is also #1 son.

Nothing I can repeat here, except to say it is one of those conversations that is joy filled and revelatory.

And choir–oh how I do love choir. We sang our butts off tonight. Our church was full–once every few years this happens, where everybody brings their adult kids to church. This was an evening every Episcopal priest dreams off–pews full of Millenials. Our priest took advantage and almost did an altar call, but checked himself and preached about how Christianity is the religion of the desperate. The churchyard was decorated with a luminaria for everybody who has ever been buried there, and twinkly lights on the fence and up into the trees. Fr. John invited explained the Communion of Saints and invited everybody to go check out the garden after Communion.

I was sitting in the choir loft and I looked down and the church was empty. My first thought was “whoa–sermon was too weird.” Turns out they were all out in the garden. We had a bit of a wait after communion for everybody to come back inside.

When he dismissed service we had our choirly things and when I turned around and wanted to leave the church it was like a wedding reception line–two priests and one deacon with lines back into the aisle. I have no idea what was going on, but I do believe in miracles–some of those who got dragged to church seemed to be the ones most enthusiastically holding up the line so they could talk to clergy.

#7 Comment By Jane On December 25, 2013 @ 7:09 am

This is really great stuff. Thanks for including the photo of your Civil War ancestor’s headstone and the details of your memorial service.

#8 Comment By BenSix On December 25, 2013 @ 7:31 am

Merry Christmas, Drehers all. Thanks for an interesting year.

#9 Comment By naturalmom On December 25, 2013 @ 8:23 am

Merry Christmas Rod.

#10 Comment By arrScott On December 25, 2013 @ 8:58 am

Merry Christmas, Rod, to you and all of yours.

Three generations of interfaith marriage on all sides of my family and my wife’s have left us with little to do on Christmas Day. Most of the gatherings, services, and festivities take place on Christmas Eve, with only the stockings left for the morning. So it’s become our tradition to take off, just the two of us and the dogs, for Mount Vernon on Christmas morning to walk the grounds and greet the animals. Aladdin the Christmas camel always greets the older pup with a lick, while scaring the bejesus out of the younger guy. The White House pardoned turkeys fascinate us all with their preening and bawking. And if the weather is clear, like it is on the Potomac this morning, we usually get a glimpse of a bald eagle or two. Somehow this little walk has become the tonic I need to catch my breath and ponder the incarnation afresh.

#11 Comment By Tom S. On December 25, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

Had our usual passive-aggressive pre-Christmas dinner and gift exchange with my wife’s stepmother and her family last night. Highly alcoholic and somewhat peculiar Southern desserts involving jello and custard (peppermint ice cream for me, thanks).

Tonight, I am making a Middle-Eastern-ish Christmas dinner for my mother-in-law (a convert to Catholicism who walks a fine line between excessive devotion and lunacy (will have to discuss Pope Francis with her; in the past, she has been a supporter of Papal infallibility, now…we’ll see). My old boarding-school roommate, his Iranian wife and their two daughters will also join us.

On the menu, roast leg of lamb with a “gyro” spice rub (mostly salt, garlic, cumin, and turmeric, from the looks of it), saffron rice pilaf with almonds and currants, roasted winter vegetables with chermoula sauce, and hopefully a Whole Foods strawberry cake, which is equal parts cake, whipped cream and Strawberries. Our friends bring the latter.

Merry Christmas, Chappy Chanukkah, etc.

#12 Comment By SAF On December 25, 2013 @ 2:30 pm

So Southern it makes me miss home, especially the name “Cousin Guy Ruth.” My great-grandmother, Foxie Attice, would approve.
Merry Christmas. Christ is born!

#13 Comment By MikeCA On December 25, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

Your family looks like a rollicking good time!

#14 Comment By VBKim On December 25, 2013 @ 6:09 pm

Merry Christmas to the Dreher family and all Rod’s faithful readers.

#15 Comment By JonF On December 25, 2013 @ 7:34 pm

Glad you had a good Christmas (I won’t say “Nativity” because I know your church feast is still two weeks off). For me it was my first “white Christmas” in some years as I am in Kent OH where there is a slight covering of snow. A pleasant, restful day though I did run down to St Elias in Akron for Christmas vespers this morning (yes, you read that right, folks, We Orthodox don’t just have arguments about the calendar; we also can’t tell time).

#16 Comment By Nancy Wang On December 25, 2013 @ 11:58 pm

Sooo nice to be near family. I loved this little narrative recap of your Christmas Eve, complete with pics and matchless Southern vignettes. I’m almost too late for this, but merry Christmas to you and all the Dreher family!

#17 Comment By mrscracker On December 26, 2013 @ 10:33 am

Hope you had-and are having-a blessed Christmastime!
My son & I actually spent the day before Christmas Eve tramping through the woods near St. Francisville trying to find where some of our family had once lived.The ladies at the historical society are amazing, they found the location on one of their historic maps within a couple of minutes.Friendly & helpful folk at the courthouse, too. I’ll try to return when I’m better prepared for trekking through a wildlife refuge.

#18 Comment By steve in ohio On December 26, 2013 @ 11:56 am

I suspect you were still feeling pretty good when you wrote this as you didn’t apologize for having a Confederate ancestor.

When I was a student at Washington and Lee, the history professors were always politically correct in the classroom. At parties, however, after several drinks, they would bemoan the fact that the wrong side had won.

Thanks for all of your great posts this year. I look forward to reading you for many years to come.

#19 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 26, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

As General Ulysses S. Grant said, shortly after the surrender at Appomatox, one has to respect anyone who has fought so tenaciously for a cause, although it was, I think, one of the worst causes men have ever fought for. When you fight to keep a country united, there has to be a place in the reunited country for those who tried and failed to split it.

So, all honor to Columbus Simmons’s dedicated service, and thank God his army lost. (I once heard a direct descendant of Robert E. Lee say something similar).

I didn’t touch my computer once from 3:00 pm Christmas Eve until after 11:00 am on Boxing Day. Its time for the Hunting of the Wren, but I don’t know where to find any wrens, and I don’t think I could kill one anyway.

[NFR: I’m glad the Confederates lost too. — RD]

#20 Comment By mrscracker On December 27, 2013 @ 9:28 am

Personally,I wish the North & South had come to an amicable truce & been able to sort things out without so much destruction & bloodshed.Having 2 separate nations, side by side as allies-in the way we & Canada are, isn’t such a bad solution.It’s worked well on our northern border since 1812.

#21 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 27, 2013 @ 9:10 pm

mrscracker, something like that might have been both possible and ethical if the advice of General Patrick Cleburne had prevailed. He advocated arming slaves to fight in the confederate army, and candidly asserted that to do that, would require respecting their marriages and offering freedom to those who served AND their families. Robert E. Lee warmly endorsed the idea. Jefferson Davis was cool, Alexander Stephens and several general officers were hostile, on the ground that the whole basis of the rebellion was the inferiority of the Negro, and “if we make soldiers of them, we concede the question.” Just what sort of pleasant brotherly republic do you think the confederacy would have been if the bourbons and nabobs had triumphed? Why do you think whole counties in the southern states were full of armed deserters prepared to shoot confederal conscription officers?