Sunday, December 20, 2015

Christmas carols form a bridge to the past, and dad

I went to a caroling party last week and learned it is much easier to fake harmony than it is to sing on key.

I was also humbled to realize that I only know the first line of any carol you can name. For example, I know perfectly well it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but I couldn't tell you where.

It was a festive evening, with food and drink and the predictable seasonal conversations about kids' exorbitant tuition costs. Somewhere between "Silent Night" and "The Little Drummer Boy," though, I began to feel the melancholies. It might have been the Old Fashioned I was drinking, which had four fingers of whiskey in it. That is, for me, three and three-quarters too many fingers. I am a basically antisocial person, but a social drinker. Meaning I don't get much practice.

So it might have been that, or maybe just the memory of Christmases past, which brought my dad to mind. He was a singer, a some-time professional, but best loved being part of a chorus. He once visited a prison with a choir to bring a little holiday cheer. They filled the place with song, and then as they departed, called out "Merry Christmas! See you next year!" From a far corner of the cell block came a doleful reply: "I'll be here."

There are a lot of carols I have never heard of. They, like all things unnecessary but good, can be found online. "Bethlehem Down" sounds like a Michael Bay action movie starring Liam Neeson. (Slogan: "They told Mary and Joseph there was no room at the inn. They were wrong. Dead wrong.")

I can't imagine "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" ever moved a lot of sheet music. "Rocking Carol" sounds hopeful, especially if you picture it sung by shepherds with ZZ Top beards and Stratocasters, until you find out it's a Czech lullaby to put babies to sleep.

Dad probably knew all of these. He would sing anything, any time. He felt like it made the world better.

The fire crackled at my back, and I set down my cocktail for good as we launched into "Jingle Bells." In this version, Batman didn't smell, and Robin didn't lay an egg. It wasn't that kind of crowd. It was cheery, though.

Songs are like a ribbon strung across time. Dad's got one end and I've got the other. Joy to the world? Yeah. I'm in.