Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Axleys' Last Xmas

December 25, 1947
Los Angeles

Mrs. Mabel Axley, 30-year-old beautician, didn't tuck her sons Claude Jr., 8, and Jimmy, 3, into bed on Christmas eve. After a fight with her drunken, unemployed husband Claude, she was locked out of the family manse at 739 Marine St., and spent the night in the garage. Mabel awoke to the heat and smell and sound of fire--the house was burning, and no one responded when she pounded on the door.

Gerald C. Benson, who lives at 801 1/2 Marine, soaked himself at the garden hose and made several valiant efforts to rescue the children, to no avail. The children's mother was badly burned attempting to get to her sons, and is in Santa Monica Hospital tonight. Claude Axley, meanwhile, emerged unscathed. He has been charged with two counts of murder.

And on Marine St., a charred teddy bear lolls in the ashes, along with other ruined Christmas gifts opened not by tiny fingers, but by flame.

1 comment:

Larry said...

The Christ of Joy

Once more we welcome to our hearts and homes
The Light of men—the radiant child of heaven,
The “word made flesh,” the minister of truth,
The brightest hope to mortals ever given.

The Babe, the Youth, the Man of Joy we sing!
Too long He has been pictured pale and sad,
Friendless, forsaken, homeless, lonely, poor,
With nothing in his life to make Him glad.

Yet surely He who bade his friends rejoice,
Joined them at feasts, turned water into wine.
Blessed children, fed the poor, healed broken hearts—
Surely He knew a happiness divine!

Yes, He knew hunger and adversity,
The malice of the mob, the traitor’s kiss.
Merciless were the storms that round Him raged.
Deep was His grief, but deeper was His bliss.

Love brought Him to the world, love ruled His life.
He knew a faith that nothing could destroy.
Sorrow He knew—and yet He sorrowed most
Because men could not share His deepest joy.

Surely all ancient foes He has forgiven,
As He would have his friends forgive them too.
In joy He lives today, high up in heaven
And in the hearts of all whose love is true.

He is no longer on the cross of pain;
From his dear eyes the tears no longer flow;
There are no nailprints in those precious hands
That ministered to men so long ago

He is the joy of angels and of men—
The “hope of glory” and “the open door,”
The Prince of Peace, the “bright and morning star.”
He is the Christ of gladness evermore

+ + +

The Times’ front-page Christmas and Easter poems are as forgotten today as their author, James M. Warnack. I’ll leave it to my theological betters to parse the significance of a Christmas poem that’s mostly about the crucifixion, but Warnack was just as contradictory as his work.

He called himself the Foothill Philosopher and was nicknamed around the office as “the Bishop” because of his angular features and long, white hair. An actor in his early life, he appeared in D.W. Griffith’s silent movies, portrayed a priest in the “Mission Play” and Judas in the first “Pilgrimage Play.”

Warnack was The Times’ religion editor for many years, but was not a church member. He called himself “a theoretical Christian but a practical pagan.” As a Southerner, he always said he “absorbed a little religion from the preachers, but not too much.” Over the years he expanded The Times’ religious coverage from Catholics, Protestants and Jews to include Buddhists, Muslims and Theosophists.

He died Dec. 31, 1957. His last poem, “Matchless Morn,” was published April 6, 1958, for Easter. It concludes:

“We may not understand the mystery
Of One with love so great He could not rest
Until He came to light a darkened world
And fold the weak and weary to His breast.
Yet whosoever seeks the way of truth,
Shall reach the path the loving Master trod.
And follow in His footsteps till at last
He finds his home upon the hills of God.”

The year after Warnack’s death, The Times ran the Christmas account from Luke on the front page. By 1960, the biblical account was moved inside to be The Times’ lead editorial.

Quote of the day: Suicide Spoils Man’s Christmas
Headline in The Times