Singing The Season

Today is the winter solstice, as many bloggers are noting. When I was ten, I had never heard of the winter solstice... I wonder if it made its way into western thinking along with the new age movement in the '70s. At any rate, as a Methodist kid of southern, military, Methodist parents, living in largely WASPy Prince Georges County, Maryland (I know what you're thinking), just outside the District of Columbia in the mid-Sixties, what I knew of December was Christmas. And singing. I loved singing.

Down the street on Coolridge Road was a young woman who loved singing, too. I don't even remember her name -- I think she was in college, still living at home. I do remember how she organized the kids in the neighborhood each Christmas, how we'd have two practices at her house in front of her piano, and how we'd go out, on a pre-arranged night, and carol all over the neighborhood, freezing, giggling, singing, and how we were treated to something sweet and warm at each house. When we got to your house, you would pick the two songs we'd sing while your parents hovered in the doorway wrapped in jackets, beaming at you. They had been waiting for this moment.

Then we'd be ushered inside for cookies or cocoa (my house) or -- and this one we dreaded each year, because we were well-mannered and had to drink it -- tomato juice punch. Warm. In punch glasses. Gale Morris's mother served this each year, and each year we'd lobby Gale to get her mother to serve something else, but each year there it was again, tomato juice punch. Warm.

We'd belt out "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and trundle to the next house, our collective breath surrounding us in a cloud of fog, and we'd begin again. I looked forward to this night as much as I looked forward to Christmas Eve. Then, one fall, this woman's younger brother died after being hit in the temple with a baseball. She didn't issue the invitation to come to practice, so we didn't go. We didn't carol that year. We never carolled again in that neighborhood. And then I moved to Charleston, South Carolina with my memories of Christmases carolling through the dark and cold and cocoa and warm tomato juice with my neighborhood friends.

I grew up and I grew jaded about Christmas. But sometimes I hear carolers, or I smell the cold December night air, or I am handed a tomato juice punch, warm, and I remember those years when I looked forward to the simple pleasure of singing with my friends, led by a young woman who loved singing with us through the dark.

EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS is the title of one of my novels. We are all little birds, that's what I meant to say in that book. We all have songs to sing. Those songs -- and by songs I mean our stories -- buoy us, nurture us, explain to us, define us in time and place, and carry us through the cold, dark night. Merry Everything, even Christmas, especially song. And, most especially... stories.

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