You don’t have to be young to find Christmas the best day of the year, even if the latest edition occurs (it increasingly seems) no more than a day since the previous one. It doesn’t even have to be celebrated in a wintry wonderland. A sandy one will do, thanks very much. So thank you especially to Larry Thornberry, who captures the day at a certain place and time simply perfectly (p. 64). All the Grinches in the world can’t steal Christmas from us (pp. 16, 36, 41). It might even be the one time of the year we can feel sorry for them, as we wish them another year no less miserable than this last one. Maybe if they spent more time reading (p. 30) they’d find some greater purpose in life and we could then get along the way—Christmas reminds us—we’re supposed to.
Alas, Christmas also has a very sad side. Thoughts of Christmases past, family and friends no longer with us, the Christmas card that won’t be arriving this year (unless of course it was written and prepared for mailing ahead of time, which would have been just like her). We at TAS lost someone very special last month, Jenny Woodward, who died in Bloomington, Indiana, our magazine’s fabled birthplace and her hometown. She graced our masthead for nearly 20 years, starting as executive assistant (which her obituary, in its quick rundown of her resourceful career, listed thusly: “…and her favorite position, executive assistant to R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., editor-in-chief of The American Spectator”). In 1985, she moved with us from Indiana to Arlington, Virginia, and continued at the magazine another six years, before understandable family obligations compelled her to return to Bloomington perhaps before she wanted to. But she remained on our masthead for another decade, first as proofreader-at-large and then as Indiana editor. Her competence was legendary. As a proofreader she didn’t miss a thing, including many a leftover problem in a writer’s argument. Throughout the Clinton presidency the fax machine in her home office was our safety net.
But it couldn’t fax her back to us. There was such a calm, patient goodness to her. Her life hadn’t been easy, as she married and was widowed early, with three young children to raise. Yet not once did I ever hear her complain about anything in her life, certainly not after she found and married Ray in 1985. She lived the Good Book. I never really thanked her for a special display of Hoosier Hospitality. My in-laws were visiting from Poland in 1982 and she invited us all to her home near New Unionville for supper. For my wife’s parents, to be inside a real Indiana home, outside the carpetbagger precincts of Bloomington, was a huge deal.
Jenny’s formal education ended on her graduation from New Unionville High School. But the longer I knew her the more I was impressed by her first-class mind. We stayed in too infrequent touch, though she never forgot my birthday. When the Indiana Hoosiers did well, we’d talk on the phone. Ditto after Butler and its young coach had their amazing run. She rued how badly the Indianapolis Colts treated Peyton Manning, whose teams she’d grown very fond of. We’d talk about our cats and our children. Every call she’d end with, “Say hello to everyone”—this after I’d fed her as much gossip about old friends and colleagues as I could. I was happiest for her when she described the trips her son had taken her on to Europe and to the West Coast.
Ten years ago Jenny sent me a book entitled Bloomington Past & Present. In her perfect hand she wrote, “A book with a purpose—to make you a little more homesick.” That doesn’t begin to describe it.