Contrary to what you may believe, it doesn't take a lot to put me in the holiday spirit, or as I like to call it, "get my holiday groove on." Beethoven's 9th will do it. In fact almost anything by Beethoven does it, as do most things by the Sex Pistols, Sham 69, The Jam, or just hearing the magic words: "Sigourney Weaver."
And once I get that holiday groove on, I love to call all my little ones around--children, grandchildren, small furry mammals-- and read aloud the best parts of my favorite holiday story: Charles Francis Adams, Jr.'s Notes on Railroad Accidents.
Originally published in 1879 by G.P Putnam's Sons (Sons, not "and Sons), a full reproduction is available from Old South Books (a name which worries me, but forget it, it's holiday time).
Well, today it seems the little ones are all otherwise occupied (in warmer climes, or with their own little ones) and since the small furry mammals would rather sleep than listen, I thought I'd share some passages with you-- my next-to-favorite audience in the whole wide world. I told you I was in the holiday spirit.
So let's begin with my all time favorite:
The simple fact is that to now operate single track roads without the constant aid of the telegraph, as a means of blocking them for every irregular train, indicates a a degree of wanton incompetence for which adequate provision should be made in criminal law. Nothing but this appeal to the whipping-post, as it were, seems to produced the needed mental activity; for it is difficult to realize the stupid conservatism of ordinary men when brought to the consideration of something to which they are not accustomed.
The little (bipedal) ones usually clap their hands at that one, or maybe it's the gingerbread cookies I hand out after reading every passage. You make the call.
Then there's this one, timeless in its simplicity and accuracy:
No human appliances, no more ingenious brakes or increased strength of construction could have averted it or warded off its consequences once it was inevitable. It was occasioned primarily by two things, the most dangerous and the most difficult to reach of all the many sources of danger against which those managing railroads have unsleepingly to contend:--a somewhat defective discipline, aggravated by a little not unnatural carelessness.
Sound familiar? Like the phone ringing at 2:30 AM, or rather, 0230 hours? Here children, have another cookie.
Ready? Let's continue:
A railroad in quiet times is like a ship in steady weather; almost anybody can manage one or sail the other. It is the sudden stress which reveals the undeveloped strength or the hidden weakness.
That one's a little too subtle for the children, but the cats seem to like it. Maybe it's the sardines I give them after reading that passage.
But we must go on:
Neither the Miller platform nor the Westinghouse brake won its way into general use unchallenged. Indeed, the earnestness and even the indignation with which presidents and superintendents then protested that their car construction was better and stronger than Miller's; that their antiquated handbrakes were the most improved brakes;--better, much better than the Westinghouse; that their crude old semaphores and targets afforded a protection to trains which no block system could ever match, --all this certainly was comical enough, even in the very shadows of the great tragedy.
Which I immediately follow with:
Accidents due to wilfullness, however, can hardly be provided for except by police precautions. Train wrecking is not to be taken into account as a danger incident to the ordinary operation of a railroad. Carelessness or momentary inadvertence, or, most dangerous of all, that recklessness-- that unnecessary assumption of risk somewhere or at some time, which is almost inseparaable from a long immunity from disaster-- these are the great sources of peril most carefully to be guarded against.
Charlie, our granddaughters' Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Security Dog doesn't much care for that one, but I quiet him down with a piece of dried beef tendon.
At about that point in the reading, I'm flat out of gingerbread cookies, sardines, and beef tendon. The little ones (bipedal) are amped out of their gourds on sugar, to the point where the big ones mull over their earlier decision to leave them in my charge; the furry mammals are either curled up on the couch with fish scales glistening on their lovable whiskers, or struggling to consume a tendon bigger than itself from an animal bigger than all of us.
I put my book down and smile as the children try and get their children into bed, as the cats purr, and as the guard dog wrestles with gristle.
I wish them all a good night, peace on earth, and good will to all. I wish them all a good night's sleep, and hope they never ever have to answer a phone at 0230 hours. And the same to you.
December 22, 2015
"Hudson may be right..."-Vasquez, Aliens