Kindness Remains After Life Keeps Changing

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Dear Reader:

After telling everyone (on the blog yesterday) that on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, it would be a nice thing to follow the English tradition of doing something kind for someone…it turned out I was the one surprised by a wonderful act of kindness.

fullsizerenderMy across-the-street neighbors, Suzanne and Mack and their children Nick and Cheyenne are moving. Suzanne had moved in when Nick was a tiny little baby and now he is a big football player and graduating from high school. It will be quite an adjustment, after almost two decades… not to have them across the street.

Apparently sometime Christmas Eve (during the family gathering) one of the family must have handed Walsh a gift from them to me on the porch (maybe during the crazy snowball fight) and I put it under the tree to wait until everything had calmed down to open it and see who it was from.

But before I could do that Santa Claus arrived with all Ady’s gifts and the package got buried under her presents. It wasn’t until yesterday morning when I was throwing out bags and bags of boxes, wrapping paper, etc. that I saw the lone package and went to check it. It was from Mack, Suzanne and family… When I opened it up and saw the wooden plaque: “You Will Never Regret Being Kind” I felt nothing but kindness…from them.

Since I have a whole other side of the house…if plumbing problems developed or any other dilemma I told them to come on over and use the shower and toilet facilities, kitchen, whatever…that was why I have my “B and B”…to help out in emergency situations.  And now looking at the plaque I was so glad I had been able to help in some way throughout the years.

So “Boxing Day” is alive and well…no money in the form of bonuses…just gratitude instead of a gratuities with memories planted of a time when we were all neighbors and shared friendship among us.

My cousin Dean, who grew up with my brother Ben, sent us a story he knew we would both relate to….the true story behind the actor Jimmy Stewart and his fight through PTSD while making the Christmas Classic: “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  I had never heard this story and now I will always view this wonderful film even more appreciatively and poignantly.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

How Jimmy Stewart Became George Bailey

The star of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ struggled with his wartime memories

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Every year around Christmas, Americans stop to pay homage to what is perhaps our most beloved motion picture, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The 1946 film may flicker in black and white, but it still manages to feel fresh in affirming the human spirit as we head into each new year.

Fans of the movie might assume that making such an uplifting tale was a joy for cast and crew. In truth, this story of redeeming angels was born in the devastating wake of World War II, and it starred an actor swatting away his own demons.

The first time that Jimmy Stewart appears on screen as George Bailey, the image freezes in close-up as two angelic figures discuss the character in voice-over. One says to the other, “I want you to take a good look at that face.” It’s something that all of us should do as we watch the film.

Stewart is supposed to be playing a young man in his early 20s, but the once-boyish 38-year-old had just returned the year before from fighting in Europe, and only makeup and careful lighting could give him a semblance of youth. More seriously, as we know from the testimony of those who worked with him in the military and in Hollywood in those years, Stewart was suffering from what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

After two years of subsisting largely on ice cream and peanut butter, he had only just begun to eat real food and keep it down. He had the shakes and at times flew into rages, and his sleep was interrupted by images of bombers burning in the sky and men tumbling to earth.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” was Stewart’s first picture after almost five years away, including 20 months on the front lines. As a squadron commander of B-24 heavy bombers, he flew his first combat mission to Germany on Dec. 13, 1943. He commanded 12 missions in his first two months and was almost shot down twice. The experience unnerved him enough that he spent time at the “flak farm,” where fliers went to decompress after seeing too much combat.

It wasn’t fear of losing his own life that had gotten to Stewart. It was his deeply ingrained perfectionism, which made him fear making the wrong split-second decision in German airspace while leading dozens of planes and hundreds of men in combat.

Filming “It’s a Wonderful Life” found him back in Hollywood after surviving too many crash landings and close calls. In sunny Southern California, the land of make-believe, this suddenly middle-aged man faced other problems. A new crop of youthful leading men had emerged in his absence. he also faced a crisis of conscience, 

wondering if acting was a worthwhile profession after the gravity of his daily life in the military.

This back story may help to explain the remarkable emotional energy of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Stewart’s bordering-on-frantic performance was not just virtuoso acting. Co-star Donna Reed reported that both Stewart and the picture’s director, Frank Capra, made the production difficult at times as they second-guessed how scenes were done.

And why not? Both men were desperate to re-establish themselves in a Hollywood that, they feared, had passed them by while they served in the military. “It’s a Wonderful Life” is considered the picture that relaunched Stewart as a more serious, seasoned actor. But for him, making it was just one more trial by combat.

It was the veteran actor Lionel Barrymore—the movie’s villain, Old Man Potter—who helped Stewart to claw his way back. When Stewart wondered aloud during production if acting was worth his time, Barrymore looked him in the eye and asked: Isn’t entertaining people better than dropping bombs on them?

Stewart seems to have gotten the message. He was able to convey great joy and passion in the movie’s closing scenes, shouting “Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls!” as he runs through the streets and saying with a wink to his guardian angel, as he turns heavenward, “Atta boy, Clarence.”

Jimmy Stewart returned to Hollywood unsure if he would be able to continue his career as an actor. “It’s a Wonderful Life” showed that he could. It arrives every December like a holiday card from a dear friend, a man who came home from war and found the beauty in peace.

…………………………….

Isn’t life, filled with so many ironies, also filled with them in this production…it isn’t Clarence, the guardian angel who saves the real Jimmy Stewart from himself,  but the villain, the bank owner Old Man Potter (Lionel Barrymore) who talks to Stewart and helps him get his real perspective on life back on track. Stewart would go on to have a wonderful movie career…and it all started with “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

So until tomorrow…Let us give thanks for time spent with neighbors and friends who pass in and out of our lives…leaving behind memories forever.

“Today is my favorite day”  Winnie the Pooh

15727185_712666775574557_3121267866255663857_n*Another elf who sneaked in on Christmas Eve evening during all the craziness was Stephanie Ballard Trzeciakiewicz (my former babysitter when my children were little.) I opened the gift yesterday ( a damp, rainy day) and it was a comfy big overshirt to lounge in at home on such a day. Perfect timing and the best smelling candle –Garden in the Snow. How do Yankee Candles come up with so many naturally wonderful smells from life? Excuse me while I go catnap some more. Hope all of you are getting a chance to rest and dream of Christmas 2016.

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About Becky Dingle

I was born a Tarheel but ended up a Sandlapper. My grandparents were cotton farmers in Laurens, South Carolina and it was in my grandmother’s house that my love of storytelling began beside an old Franklin stove. When I graduated from Laurens High School, I attended Erskine College (Due West of what?) and would later get my Masters Degree in Education/Social Studies from Charleston Southern. I am presently an adjunct professor/clinical supervisor at CSU and have also taught at the College of Charleston. For 28 years I taught Social Studies through storytelling. My philosophy matched Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Today I still spread this message through workshops and presentations throughout the state. The secret of success in teaching social studies is always in the story. I want to keep learning and being surprised by life…it is the greatest teacher. Like Kermit said, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”
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