I have a particular group in mind for this year’s Christmas entry to my Deck Log. Come to think of it, though, it’s probably a pretty large group. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this one touches, or has touched, all of you.
If you remember the actor Robert Young at all, it’s probably from his first television series, Father Knows Best, which ran from 1954 to 1960. The sentimental family show was so popular that the CBS and ABC networks aired re-runs of the show on their prime-time schedules for the next three years. The memory of the show is so potent that it eclipses Mr. Young’s series Marcus Welby, M.D. (ABC, 1969-76), despite the fact that Welby ran for one season longer than Father Knows Best.
I had a personal connexion with Robert Young---someday, I’ll tell you how I got that lobby card for the 1937 film Navy Blue and Gold, signed by Mr. Young, that hangs on a wall in my den---but that has nothing to do with this.
What almost nobody remembers is that between Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby, M.D., Young starred in another series, probably because it lasted only a single season, from October, 1961, to May, 1962. Window on Main Street featured Young as writer Cameron Garrett Brooks. It was created by the same company that produced Father Knows Best and employed much of the same behind-the-scenes talent.
That’s what this is about. Or, at least, what leads to it.
In Window on Main Street’s first episode, we meet Cameron Garrett Brooks, returning to his boyhood home town of Millsburg. A few details leak out, here and there. He’s a marginally successful author who’s never lived up to his ambition; he used to live in New York City; and his wife and child died sometime before. It’s not much, but we don’t care because Brooks is so genial and self-effacing that we like him from the start.
He’s returned to Millsburg hoping to find material for his next novel in the lives of the people who live there. Brooks takes residence at the Majestic Hotel, a second-story suite with a balcony that overlooks Main Street, inspiring the title for his book (and the series). He re-acquaints with his best friend from his youth, Lloyd Ramsey, who is now the editor of the local newspaper.
Ramsey sees little grist for a novel in the residents of Millsburg, but Brooks’s belief in the town is given credence when he discovers the heartwarming solution to a mystery from his youth, with the help of Ramsey’s reporter, Christina Logan.
To establish the show’s premise, the début episode focused on Cameron Brooks himself. But that would seldom be the case from then on. The series was essentially an anthology about the fortunes of the people of Millsburg. In most of the episodes, Brooks serves as an observer to events, and sometimes, as a sounding board for a person involved. Brooks’s presence is often facilitated by the sub-plot of his growing relationship with the widowed Christina and her son, Arnie.
Just a pleasant little series was Window on Main Street. Nothing special. Except for a scene I’ve carried with me in all the years since.
“Christmas Memory” tells us something about the earlier life of Cameron Garrett Brooks. It’s Christmas Eve, and he’s exchanging gifts with his housekeeper, Mrs. Webster. The subject of the late Mrs. Brooks arises when her photograph is accidentally knocked off the desk. Her name was Selma, and they met when he was working as a copywriter for an advertising firm in New York City. They had been married for five years. “That picture was taken just before our last Christmas together,” says Cam.
Cam speaks of her warmly and with a little humour. Though a bit wistful, he’s clearly adjusted to the tragedy.
Or has he? After Mrs. Webster leaves, Christina telephones, and Cameron instinctively answers, “Oh, hi, Selma!”
Chris reminds him of her invitation to spend Christmas Eve at her house, with her and Arnie. At the appointed hour, Brooks arrives, laden with packages. Among the other presents under the Logans’ tree, Cameron notices a butter churn. Chris explains that it’s a gift from her mother.
Cam smiles and tells her that his late wife once gave him a butter churn for Christmas, too. It doesn’t appear to knock Brooks off his stride, though. He’s full of holiday cheer and even tells them a funny story about the way he met Selma. Yet, there’s something about the churn that keeps nagging at him.
When Christina goes to check on dinner, Arnie asks Brooks about the butter churn, and Cam explains how Selma had given him the churn on their last Christmas, and how disappointed he had been. He had wanted golf clubs. He smilingly recalls how they quarreled for an instant over it, then made up.
“I remember her saying to me . . . .”
What even a sympathetic Chris---she’s a widow, after all---doesn’t intuit is Cam’s real reason for leaving. The viewer doesn’t know, either, that Cameron Brooks has a promise to keep.
The snow swirls down on Cam, walking along Main Street. He pauses to take in a living-room display, complete with tree and fireplace, in a department-store window, while his memory flies back to that last Christmas. He remembers how Selma wished that they would spend all their future Christmases so happy together. And he remembers how he assured her that they would, and her voice comes back to him . . . .
If you have a vacant chair at your Christmas table to-day, then you probably identified with Cameron Brooks. There probably aren’t too many households on this day that aren’t absent a loved one, if not through tragedy, then through simple distance or time.
A human being is more than just the heart beating in his chest, or the blood rushing through his veins. Those are just the mechanics of life. Those we love, and whom love us, truly live in their words and expressions and gestures. The way they greet you in the morning, their hearty laugh at a good joke. Their smile when you give them good news, the tilt of their head when they are upset. The aroma of her perfume, of his pipe tobacco. The look in their eyes when they tell you they love you.
That is the gift all of us give to our loved ones, the gift of our presence, a gift that carries through even when we cannot be together in person. When we are separated from those important to us, it is that part of them that remains with us.
I learnt that one Christmas night twenty years ago, when I was standing in downtown Yokosuka, Japan, a foreigner, half a world away from home and Cheryl. Yet, surrounded by a thousand strangers, I wasn’t alone that night. And neither was she.
It’s said that the magic of Christmas unites us all in spirit, far and near. Go out to-night and look at the moon---it’ll be shining up there; I checked---and see if it isn’t so.
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From Cheryl and myself, to all of you, our fondest wishes for a Merry Christmas, and many more of them!
Merry Christmas and May the Next Year be kinder to us all!
As someone whose marriage started out as a long-distance relationship, I know what you mean. Merry Christmas commander.
For anyone who's curious, there are several Window on Main Street episodes on YouTube (I suppose for obscure old shows that's like saying "Water is wet").
Merry Christmas to all. Thought-provoking as usual, Commander. I have never even heard of this series, and I'm curious.
I had never heard of it, either. Thanks for sharing the story.