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Cele's 1998 Columns

Immigration.  Then, it was a wave of Pentecostal Christians from Russia arriving in my district. They caused quite a stir, and some outrage in some circles. And, because they had large families, the Russians impacted the school system. It wasn't popular to defend them, but I tried. Governor Jane Swift told people to mind their own business when they criticized her pregnancy. And I ended up defending working women as well. Enjoy.

We Wish You a Merry...

We Wish You a Merry...

You always think, or hope, that holidays are going to be special, memorable.

And, then, they all kind of blend into one year, one Christmas. You can't remember if that was 1978 or 1984, or the year that Grandma fell in the garage, or the St. Bernard ate all the Christmas cookies while you were at church.

But, in the long run, I guess the year really doesn't matter. You can always check the back of the photographs, hoping that you dated them, if it's really important. And if you didn't, you can always say, well, "Cathy looks about 4", or "Chris was just a baby."

There was the year the St. Bernard ate all the turkey drippings and belched about the time the static electricity hit her, causing the gas that had built up inside to explode, burning off her eye lashes, and whiskers. We remembered that holiday, if not the year. So did Brandy, if dogs have memories.

Christmas trees sort of all run together, too, after awhile. The same decorations, collected year after year. The tree with the birds nest in it. The tree that had long needles. The tree that lost all the needles before Christmas. The year it fell off the top of the Jeep in front of Daly Chevrolet.

The years when we ran fish wire from the top of the Christmas tree to the ceiling, so the cats wouldn't fell the tree when they attempted to climb it. The year we didn't wire it, the year the tree fell, crashing across the glass coffee table.

There was the 20-foot Christmas tree the year I told the guy to deliver one that went to the highest point of the Cathedral ceiling. He called the office and said he'd delivered in the driveway, but he sure didn't know how I was going to get it in the house.

It weighed more than any two, or three, people could possibly handle. So we recruited our neighbors, strong teens, to help us shove it into the house through the sliding glass door.

The borrowed boys helped Curt and me get it upright, and it did, indeed, touch the top of the cathedral ceiling. A Christmas tree stand just wouldn't hold it. So we got a bucket from the garage to stand it in, and Curt sent me off to the hardware store, while he and the helpers stood by holding the tree up, to get sand, to weight the bucket down.

The closest hardware store didn't have sand. Being creative, I bought a bag of sacrete. And hauled it home, and into the house.

Never send a woman to buy sand. Curt was not happy. Sacrete was not the answer. It would get wet, it would clog up the bottom of the tree, you couldn't water the tree, it was a dumb idea. He wanted sand. I could either hold up the tree, or go get sand. Off into the darkness to the next hardware store for sand.

"What kind of sand?" the young clerk asked.

"Any kind of sand, please, and fast," I replied, as the clerk started listing options.

"Coarse sand, fine sand, sandbox sand...what are you going to use it for."

"Any bag will do...heavy sand! But make it a big bag. Maybe two bags. It has to hold the Christmas tree up. And, while you're getting it, get me a half dozen 8-inch bolts, at least 8 inches, longer if you've got 'em."

"Lady, I won't even ask why."

Home again, with sand, lots of sand, and the precious bolts. We filled the bucket with the sand, but the tree still wouldn't stand alone.

I held the tree. Curt constructed braces, big ones out of long boards, in a teepee effect, which he bolted through the carpeting, right into the floor.

We decorated that mammoth tree with every single decoration we'd ever collected, and it looked magnificent. Visitors were awestruck. We enjoyed hours of sitting around on the floor near that tree. We had to sit on the floor because we had to move most of the furniture out of the living room to make room for the tree.

Reality hit, shortly after New Years. Hauling the tree in was a lot easier than it was going to be to haul that tree out. The branches had been tightly bound to the trunk on the way in. Now they were full and billowing. And, well, it wouldn't, couldn't, go out the door.

Santa to the rescue! He'd left a chainsaw for Curt, and it was put to use sawing the tree into manageable pieces. In fact, the entire family spent most of the day sawing the tree into pieces and hauling it to the curb, then vacuuming the remains.

No, not this year. One of those was enough for a lifetime.

So we just added some new memories this year and, a Christmas we'll remember forever. Just like your Christmas.

Did I tell you that all animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve? If, and only if, there aren't any people around to hear them?

It's true. I learned it, well I think it was about 1945, and....

Merry Christmas!

You Taste Just Like an Overshoe

You Taste Just Like an Overshoe

Look, Scandinavians and non-Scandinavians. I am not an expert on lutefisk.

I repeat the word "not."

It seems that because I once wrote a column on lutefisk, and the fact that I can't cook it, won't eat it, and wouldn't even consider touching it, I am suddenly getting e-mail from around the country asking me for information on lutefisk.

If you missed that information, just let me tell you that lutefisk is, supposedly, a Scandinavian delight. Swedes, like me, say loot-fisk. Norwegians, like my best high school buddy Suzy, say loot-e-fisk.

It's cod. Dried. Soaked first in water, then in lye. And it's soaked about a week or more so the flesh can soften. Then it's soaked in water for another week to get rid of the lye. Then you cook it. And no matter what you do, it comes out looking like a gelatinous mass. Or mess.

Some people call it Norwegian jello.

If you ever have to eat it, disguise the taste with a lot of butter. Which won't affect the slimy feeling in your mouth. Just eat the flaskorv instead, which is a really great potato and pork sausage, that, yes, I actually do make.

Back to the lutefisk. My father once sent a bucket of it to my grandmother. From Iowa to Colorado. In the back of our car. Curt and the kids weren't too pleased to share the ride.

I write about it now because, at least in my home growing up, it's a Christmas treat. And I write about it now because another Swede just send me a couple poems.

One, is a takeoff on the Christmas carol "O Tannebaum," which is German for "Oh, Christmas Tree," which is what my husband's Germanic family sings. And which is better than eating lutefisk.

I don't know who wrote this little ditty, but it goes like this:

"O lutefisk, O lutefisk, how fragrant your aroma,
"O lutefisk, O lutefisk, you put me in a coma.
"You smell so strong, you look like glue.
"You taste just like an overshoe.
"But lutefisk, come Saturday,
"I think I'll eat you anyway."

Well, I'm not eating it any day of the week. You either love it, or hate it, and I'm one of the latter. So I don't have a recipe, don't ask. And I don't serve it.

And my children probably don't even know what it is. I spared them the experience. Which is not something my parents spared me. My brother, who spend his childhood eating nothing except Pep cereal and vanilla ice cream, probably threw up when they made him eat it.

But he always threw up. It was just something he did. I wonder what he eats when he goes out to dinner now with his fellow bank examiners. And I wonder if he still throws up.

Some people, like the Sons of Norway, actually like it. (Don't tell me I'm politically incorrect by saying the Sons eat lutefisk--I'm just trying to tease my Norwegian friends, because the Swedes and the Norwegians just do that to each other.)

Anyone that actually eats it, I think, just does it because they traditionally enjoyed it as a kid. It's a cultural thing. Like corned beef and cabbage. Which I like.

And there are all those lutefisk jokes. Like why did the Vikings leave Scandinavia? To get away from the lutefisk.

And, there's an old Scandinavian recipe that tells you to let the lutefisk sit on a pineboard for a day, then throw away the lutefisk and eat the board.

So, we're not having it. This week. Or, any week. Because, as Don Freeburg wrote, in his parody of "The Night Before Christmas"...

"Then I summoned that resolve for which our bread is known.
"My hand took the fork as with a mind of its own.
"And with reckless abandon that lutefisk I ate.
"Within 20 seconds I'd cleaned up my plate.
"Uncle Kermit flashed me an ear to ear grin
"As butter and cream sauce dripped from his chin.
"Then in my great shock, he whispered in my ear
"I'm sure glad this is over for another year."

Merry Christmas to all ..from your State Representative, and lutefisk-free Scandinavian.

You Wouldn't Want to be the Clerk

You Wouldn't Want to be the Clerk

No wonder Bob McQueen is retiring.

Bob is the Clerk of the House of Representatives, the guy in charge of keeping all of the legislation in some semblance of order.

And, he's been doing this job for 43 years.

He's the guy you see announcing all the bills at the Speaker's podium, if you ever watch the House on "Gavel to Gavel," the cable channel that MediaOne occasionally remembers to actually broadcast out here in Western Mass when the legislature is in session.

During budget session he actually stands there a dozen hours a day, or longer, patiently keeping a bunch of rowdies, your elected officials under control. He's the one that tells us when we're out of order, not playing by the rules.

If the truth be known, he knows more than anyone else in the House. But don't tell The Speaker that I told you so.

His biggest job is keeping all the pending, and passed, legislation in order, as I said.

And, this time of year, that means sorting through about 8,000 bills that the House members filed for action during 1999. Last week was the deadline to file legislation. And, we filed a lot.

Of course, we had some help from you, which is one reason Massachusetts deals with more bills every year than any other state. Because, this is the only state that anyone can file legislation.

All you have to do, when you say to yourself "There ought to be a law", is call your own Senator or Representative and tell them to file your idea as a bill.

This time of year, every bill has to be assigned a number (like H546 or S201, H for House, S for Senate, depending on where the bill was filed).

After the first of the year, when committees are assigned, every piece of legislation filed has a hearing before at least one committee, where it must pass the muster before going on to the entire House for action.

The bills range from silly, like my friend Representative Susan Pope's bill to make six the official number of the Commonwealth. To the serious. Very serious. Like the state budget.

Now, take the budget. The Governor will file a budget.

The House puts a budget together, at which point you might as well put the Governor's budget in the garbage. Somehow, however, I can't toss any of them. I think I have a file cabinet full.

And, the Senate puts a budget together. Then, everything gets combined and all hell breaks loose. About May. Or June.

But December is the season to file legislation. Which, first, is why I'm writing about Bob McQueen. And, secondly, because everyone asks all of the legislators what legislation did you file?

I could give you a long list. Because we all sponsor or sign on to a lot of bills. I can't even tell you how many. Probably a hundred? No, probably more.

If you'd really like to know, wait a few months, and go up on my homepage on the world wide web. It's celehahn.org. And, you'll find a list of all the legislation I'm sponsoring. Right now, you'll only find the legislation I sponsored for the 1997-1998 session.

For example, I agreed to co-sponsor most of the legislation initiated by Associated Industries of Massachusetts, because it is legislation that will strengthen our business community, that will make Massachusetts an easier place to conduct business, that will lower taxes for you as well as businesses. And, when businesses do well, our cities and towns, and our citizens, do well.

Closer to home, I'm taking the lead for legislation that will allow Westfield State College to build a new field house. I'm sponsoring the MTA legislation for the Rule of 90, allowing teachers to retire when their age and years of service total 90. And, if you pay college tuition, I'd like it to be tax deductible.

Of course, I've refiled my legislation to eliminate taxes on airplane parts and service, a move to benefit the fixed based operators of the state at airports, including our own Barnes. I'm tired of pilots and airplane owners flying off to be serviced in states that don't tax them.

A new piece of legislation, brought to my attention at a national convention of legislators, is also on my agenda--being sure that the guy who rents you a car does not have to be a registered insurance agent.

Some day soon, when I've straightened it all out, I'll give a longer, better list. But, to do that I need the help of Bob McQueen.

And, Bob, I'm really going to miss you.


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