by Deyan Ranko Brashich
Christmas trees and Holiday turkeys, snow and Yuletide carols, a boy dreaming of a toy rifle and a Norman Rockwell America are the main characters of A Christmas Story, the 1983 movie now a rollicking musical playing on New York’s Broadway. It’s a Christmas tale of human failings and redemption that is as good as, and even better than Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol.
In Sandy Hook, a town right next door to Bethlehem, Connecticut, a boy with a gun killed twenty sparkling full of life kids who were anticipating a Christmas they will never see. This year, the boy with his gun, not a toy or a present, killed Christmas and a little bit of my America.
After coming to America my best friend was a radio made of dark brown Bakelite. You may remember Bakelite, that smooth plastic that was like velvet to your touch. The radio had one dial, one paper speaker and a cardboard back that hid the glowing tubes and gizmos that made it work. For a 10-year-old immigrant, that radio was the window into a new world, my new country America. My parents had bought it on time from a store on Main Street in Flushing, New York. Could anything be more American than buying on credit from a store on Main Street? I learned English by listening to serial adventure stories on that radio.
One night in 1954 I chanced upon the midnight voice of Jean Shepherd then broadcasting live from the Limelight, a bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. The voice went on and on, with sly wit and sardonic humor, explaining the meaning of America with all of its foibles and failures. But, in doing so, it extolled its virtues and values, those of small towns, ordinary people. “Excelsior!” was the rallying cry. After many midnight broadcasts I began to believe in the American Dream.
Shep’s enduring veneration of that dream is the film, “A Christmas Story.” Traditionally in America the film is shown for 24 hours non-stop on television at Christmas. You know the story, Ralphie, a boy, and his family living through a Christmas season and his dream of getting a Red Ryder [a comic book hero of the time] air rifle for Christmas. All the Christmas riffs are there, the department store Santa, the Christmas parade, the carols, the Christmas madness.
But A Christmas Story is much more than that. It is a film that examines and ultimately revels in the American dream. Norman Rockwell did it in his Four Freedoms paintings and many Saturday Evening Post magazine covers. Rockwell conveyed his dream in two-dimensional pictures, Shep painted with words. Yet his words were as telling as Rockwell’s paintings. They evoked the beauty of ordinary lives and ordinary people in what we wanted America to be and vilified that which we didn’t want it to become.
I have lived in America for some 60 odd years. The American experiment still works, by and large. I have witnessed the political process at the grass root level with all of its recriminations and petty party politics. I have witnessed protests against and for wars we have fought. The political stage evolves and what was once unheard of, same sex marriage, is now commonplace and accepted. The body politic, and we along with it, changes and mutates, all in good time. America accepts and accommodates these changes, some with more grace than others.
But times are a changing. Jean Sheperd’s, Norman Rockwell’s and my America is no longer. A Christmas shooting is just another sad step away from that dream. Does Serbia have a dream?
Deyan Ranko Brashich, an attorney, Op-Ed columnist, resides in New York City. His contact and blog Contrary Views is at www.deyanbrashich.com