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A modern television classic of the Christmas season is “A Christmas Story”, authored and narrated by Jean Shepherd.  The oft-repeated memorable line from the story is “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”  It is likely that you have seen it at least once.  Perhaps you even saw it this year.

My memories of Shep go back long before the show made its television debut in 1983.  He was a master of monologue.  Without guests and stopping for only one commercial break 15 minutes into his 45 minute show during weekdays (an hour longer on Saturdays when he broadcast live from The Limelight in Greenwich Village), he wove humor, human nature, Americana, personal memories and insight into a spellbinding tale that somehow he always managed to bring full circle just before his theme song brought the show to a close.

Through much of high school, I spent many a night listening to his radio show on WOR while I was supposed to be asleep.  It was a highly developed art form practiced by me and my brother, soon after we received our first cheap transistor radios (back in the days when “Made in Japan” meant cheap).  Yes, they came with earpieces.  Those were the cheapest part of all.  The flimsy wire would invariably break at the point where it went into the part you inserted into your ear.  They would last maybe a month or two.  A replacement bought at Lafayette Radio was just as fragile and used part of our scarce money supply.

Eventually, my brother and I became accomplished at knowing the right volume and position under our pillows so we could hear the radio, but our parents could not.  That was easy when we were listening to New York City stations with their consistent broadcast signal.  The challenge was listening to the Dodger games, as we were both fans of that team.

When the Dodgers played the Mets, there was no challenge.  And Los Angeles was too far away to pick up the rest of the games and listen to the magnificent play by play of Vin Scully.  So we found out the flagship stations of the other teams and practiced our dexterity with the radio dial to zero in on that station at just the right point that the neighboring station signals would not bleed over and interfere with the broadcast.  We would tune in KDKA in Pittsburgh, WLW in Cincinnati, WSB in Atlanta and KMOX in St. Louis when the Dodgers did battle with those teams.  Ironically, Philadelphia was impossible to get as the Phillies games in those days were on a weaker station right next to an NYC station on the dial.  Houston was too far away, but it was a great coup when I discovered that we could pick up the games on the New Orleans station on the Astros’ radio network, WWL (“studios in the Roosevelt Hotel”).

Even with experience, it was a daunting task trying to keep the station in tune (and also keep Mom from coming in, angry when it was loud enough to wake her).  KMOX had a tendency to fade in and out, almost a stroboscopic effect.  Sometimes atmospheric conditions would change in mid-broadcast and you would either be able to pick up a game that was elusive earlier or vice versa.  And there was always the danger of signal drift on AM.  Trying to recapture it and hitting a much louder station was what often got us in trouble.

Another station we picked up was WGN in Chicago for the Cubs games.  That was very convenient for me.  It was one number away on the dial from WOR.  And since the end of Jean Shepherd’s broadcast at 11 PM (in the years I listened to him the most) coincided with the start of the Dodger games in LA, it was an easy move on the dial from one to the other.

One of Shep’s stories involved being disciplined while in grammar school.  In particular, he talked about one of the most feared tactics employed by school teachers and administrators to keep the children in tow.  I can still hear Shep intoning the school principal employing the threat, “Do this again, and it will go on your permanent record.”  And Shep would follow that with a long, shuddering, “OOOOHHHH”, the same one he narrates after the “double dog dare” in A Christmas Story.  And then, stepping back to childhood, he would imagine his future: “Mr. Shepherd, I am sorry but we cannot hire you.  We just discovered that in third grade, you hit Mrs. Shields with a spitball.  It’s in your permanent record.” And Shep would then say, “Oh no, my permanent record!  It was true!”

We know there is no such thing as a permanent record kept of our school misbehavior.  In fact, it is just the opposite with almost anything we do as a minor expunged.  But the point is, pretty much everything we call permanent really is not.

The curl eventually comes out of a home permanent but goes into a permanent press garment.  We classify jobs as permanent or temporary, but they are just relative terms.  In reality we mean a period of indefinite employment versus one of a fixed period.  Even Vin Scully, who started announcing for the Dodgers in 1950 before I was born and was just signed to announce about 100 regular season games for them in the upcoming 2014 season, will someday be absent from the broadcast booth.

Names written with permanent markers in our clothing eventually fade away with washing.  In fact, sometimes the only thing that seems to be permanent is a stain.  Maybe they should make permanent marker ink from blood, chocolate, chlorophyll and maybe a little egg white (Shep regularly talked about the dried egg stain on his mother’s chenille bathrobe, worn as a mother’s badge of honor.)

But even earthly stains will pass away eventually.  Decomposition rates vary but everything succumbs eventually if not kept in good repair.  Beyond that, the Bible talks about that day when the old earth and heavens dissolve and are replaced by a new heaven and new earth.

Spiritual stains are another matter.  I can remember commercials when I was a teenager that touted their laundry product’s “bluing for extra whiteness”.  It made no sense to me that bluing would make things whiter, not bluer.  My mother’s inability to properly explain it made it even more frustrating.  (I now know the reason why it works.)  And yet, it was even more amazing and wonderful when I realized that only the blood of Jesus can remove the spiritual stain of sin from our lives, even though human blood causes one of the hardest stains to remove.  But even though it might not make sense, it works “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men;” (1st Corinthians 1:25a) and because there is divine power in the blood of the Lamb when it comes to spiritual stains.

Indeed, there is one thing that we want to be permanent: the assurance that our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life and is not blotted out.  “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” (Revelation 3:5)  Only these things are truly permanent: God, our souls, eternal life and eternal torment.

Our physical bodies will also pass away.  “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.  Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.  So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?  The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”  (1st Corinthians 15:50-58)

This is a beautiful passage that describes what will happen to all who have received Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.  But herein is also something ignored by those Christians who rebuke transsexuals.  By focusing on the temporal (our body), they look at the part which matters least, for it will pass away and be changed.  Our flesh and blood will not survive.  It will not make it to heaven and everlasting life.  But something will survive.  That which survives is the part that lives within.  It will be cleansed of stain, and restored without blemish by the master cleaner; it will survive when flesh and blood is gone, in the presence of God for all eternity.

Which brings us back to Jean Shepherd.  While his voice lives on for now in a Christmas special, broadcasts of his old shows on at least one radio station and saved in various Internet archives, he breathed his last on October 16, 1999.  His body went the way of all flesh.  As to that of him which survives, only God knows.

How much of our memories will survive in eternity?  Only God knows that as well.  But we have memories while we live and our minds are still sound.  In honor of the fond memories from my youth that Jean Shepherd planted, and hopefully having done a fair job of creating a Shepherd style full circle monologue in this post, I close the way he closed his show.

Shep used the same theme music at the opening and closing of his show, just like he brought his stories full circle.  I remember him describing why he chose this particular piece of music: The Bahn Frei Polka by Eduard Strauss.  He explained that, just like our lives, it starts off impressive and promising but in the end doesn’t get very far.  (How true that is when you only consider life on this earth.)

Shep used the version recorded by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops in 1958.  For your enjoyment and enlightenment, here is a link to that exact piece of music.


Ta da!

God bless,