Silver lining

Twenty-five years ago, at 5:21 p.m. on January 2, our priest pronounced me and Kim “husband and wife.” I’ve already blogged the awkward love story that eventually led to that moment, and I’ve shared a lot about our life together in the two and a half decades since. But I’d like to focus first on that ceremony, then on the greater three days that became known as “our wedding.”

Common prayer, uncommon words

We were married in accordance with the rite in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, which means we made our Declaration of Consent with the words “I will” rather than “I do” — I’ve always thought that’s a nice touch. It’s less “I promise right now” and more “I promise now and forever.” (And we have done exactly what we said we would do — loved, comforted, honored, and kept each other, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others and being faithful to each other alone.)

The Declaration of Consent was earlier in the ceremony; the vows came right before the exchange of rings, followed by the 5:21 pronouncement. There were some cool words in those parts, too — “In the Name of God, I, Dan, take you, Kim, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.” She repeated that vow to me. All with our hands bound together, another nice touch. And we got through it without choking up. For some reason, it was the rings that did that to me.

First, the priest asked God’s blessing on the rings, which were declared to be a physical symbol of the vows by which we had bound ourselves. Then came the hard part. I don’t know why I choked up a little, other than that’s just my Irish tear ducts that want to open too often. But I don’t know why it specifically happened at that part. Maybe I found the words to be particularly powerful: “Kim, I give you this ring as a symbol of my vow, and with all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It was on the “all that I am, and all that I have” part — maybe I knew that didn’t amount to much, so I was worried I wasn’t putting enough into the vow.

Then the priest, who ironically would be separated from his own wife within a year, joined our hands and said, “Now that Dan and Kim have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, with the joining of hands and the giving and receiving of a ring, I pronounce that they are husband and wife, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.”

These are all powerful words, and the moment was solemn. Then we got back to partying, as we had been for the two days prior.

The Velvet croaked

I had asked Kim in May to marry me, and we knew we wanted to be married during the Christmas season. But we were foiled in every attempt to find a place that was available in December. I can hardly plan something more than seven minutes in advance, let alone seven months, so I found it surprising that everywhere was booked. Then we realized the time after Christmas is still part of the season, and might make things easier not only for planning the wedding, but for celebrating future anniversaries — the time before Christmas is crazy-busy already.

So we opted for the first Saturday in January. Kim had her heart set on a place called the Velvet Cloak Inn, so we scheduled an appointment with their event planner to discuss the details. We wanted to have a Christmas tree at the reception, and she told us she could probably do that, unless someone else booked something for earlier in the week and wanted the tree gone. We wanted a certain size room and she told us she could do that, unless she needed it for New Year’s Eve. We kind of scratched our heads over those responses, losing out to an imaginary party that wasn’t likely to materialize.

The planner had an obvious disdain for the size of our reception, preferring to work with a larger group that could bring her more revenue. But she was “willing” as long as we could be flexible. The kicker was, she wanted to demonstrate that we had come to the right place, because they did so many weddings. She pointed to a bridal portrait on the floor behind her desk, leaning against the wall. And she began to tell us all about the wild bride with her unusual haircut, and how funny she thought the whole situation was, because she “loved her brides.” I should have stood up and walked out, but I didn’t want to disappoint Kim.

It turns out, Kim was as shocked as I was. I just didn’t want to assume she was willing to walk out on her dream location. It turns out, she was. Not that she wasn’t disappointed — she was — but she didn’t want to sign a “contract” that could be overturned at any moment by a greedy bitch who wasn’t content with a bird in the hand, nor give said bitch control of her beautiful bridal portrait, leaving it lying around God-knew-where, judging Kim’s looks, and telling some other couple all about the crazy bride who wanted a Christmas tree to stay up past New Year’s Eve.

Months later, on the morning of our wedding, I indulged in a little immature revenge at the behest of one of my groomsmen. He dialed the Velvet Cloak and handed me the phone. When someone answered, I asked if they had a wedding scheduled there that day. When they said they didn’t, I shouted, “Well, you could have!” and hung up the phone. Not my best moment as a human being, but somewhat worth the minor cost of my shame.

Alternative ‘tracts

Anyway, we found a better place place for our reception — Embassy Suites. It was a beautiful venue with a nice, normal event planner who was willing to work with us and put everything we wanted in the contracts. Plus, there was a bonus….

Every year, that Embassy Suites throws a massive New Year’s Eve party in its atrium, for everyone staying at the hotel. They have a special price that includes lodging and the party — you have to agree to spend the night there and stay off the roads — and people come back every year for it. That year, it was going to be two nights before our wedding, so we encouraged our guests to come to Raleigh early and party with us.

The monster bash

It was more fun than I’d ever had in one night. Great food, freely flowing drinks, good music, and dancing without care, followed by a massive balloon drop at midnight. I was wearing a sweater and burning up in that crowd, but I didn’t care. We still have a picture of me kissing Kim at midnight, sweat pouring down my face. I don’t know how she could stand it.

That night, I danced with Kim, her mom, my mom, her aunts, my godmother, and multiple bridesmaids. At one point I was dancing with Nancy Carol, Kim’s best friend and maid of honor, when some drunk stranger wandered up to me, pulled me toward him, and shout-whispered in my ear, “Yo, that girl totally wants your monkey!” I have no idea what he thought he saw, but I’m certain Nancy Carol did NOT want my monkey. Nor did I want her to have my monkey. We were simply dancing. So I admonished him, “Dude, come on! She’s going to be the maid of honor at my wedding in two days!” He got excited at that news, shook my hand, congratulated me on the impending nuptials, and stumbled off to offend someone else. I still have to wonder who this guy was, and why he felt he had to provide innuendo-laden affirmation to random guys on the dance floor.

Like the rest of us, Nancy Carol got a little tipsy that night. She was staying in Kim’s suite, and once the festivities were over and they’d made it back upstairs, Nancy Carol had an urge. No, it wasn’t for my monkey. It was for pizza. She tried her best to call Domino’s, but got a recording and left a drunken, disappointed diatribe about how all she wanted was to have some pizza delivered, and they were really making her mad, and why couldn’t they just listen to her and take her order? She never did get through, probably because she didn’t realize she had to dial “9” to get an outside line before dialing their number, 783-1801. She called seven times, talking to no one, but entertaining Kim.

Strangers at the wedding

At one point I was walking through the crowd when I heard a group of people calling my name. I turned to the table and didn’t recognize any of the four people sitting there. They gestured toward my brothers, about 25 feet behind me. Apparently my brothers had been shouting my name, but I hadn’t heard them. Those two couples did, and when they saw that my brothers were looking at me, they called out the same name. Nothing remarkable, but for the next two days, I kept running into those four people.

It started Friday morning, with me wandering around the atrium in a haze, unkempt and looking probably even more confused than I had the previous night. I walked right by them, and one of them jokingly said, “Hey, look, it’s Dan!” to his friends. I turned to see who had said my name, recognized them after a moment, grinned, and moved on.

It continued from there. Every time they saw me, they’d say, “Oh hi, Dan.” I’d turn to see who’d called me, and we’d laugh at the improbability of us continuing to cross paths. It became a running gag.

On Saturday morning, I ran into them for the last time. They were about to check out, and we chatted a bit. One of them said I looked lost, and I said, “I’m getting married this afternoon.” They hadn’t known that; for all they knew, I’d been there for an extended New Year’s celebration, just like them. I still remember one of the women putting her hand on her chest and saying, “Oh! I just got goose bumps.” All four of them congratulated me and wished me well before heading out. I thought that was pretty cool, and still wonder sometimes what became of them and whether they remember Dan, the sweaty guy with bad hearing who got married that time in Raleigh.

Oh, God…

On Friday, Kim had her bridesmaids’ luncheon, which she later told me was miserable for almost everyone involved. One of them was so badly hung-over, she couldn’t eat anything other than the free rolls at the restaurant. All of them were hurting. Nevertheless, they persevered.

I continued to wander the atrium in a haze, occasionally running into old friends who had missed the party but were checking in for Friday night. I managed to get sobered up and cleaned up in time for the rehearsal, where we had fun trying to teach my brother how to correctly pronounce “Corinthians” when he did his reading. Rehearsal dinner was in a roped-off area of the atrium, and the wine again flowed freely.

An ongoing gag from that weekend was a reference to a Saturday Night Live skit from three weeks earlier, “Orgasm Guy.” In it, Rob Schneider plays a guy who reacts to every mildly pleasing thing with a miniature orgasm. It’s stupidly funny, so it appealed to most of us.

I think the gag started when Charlie, one of my groomsmen, asked if anyone had seen the skit in December. Several of us remembered it, and suddenly the atrium was filled with stupid guys tensing up and saying, “Oh, God!” like Schneider. Charlie did it the most, and the best bit happened after rehearsal dinner, when he had gone upstairs to get something, then boarded the glass elevator to come back down. He saw us watching him from the atrium, so of course he put on a show, feigning an orgasm. We could see him mouthing the words, “Oh, God!” and shuddering until he fell on the floor of the elevator, still twitching his legs.

That’s when the elevator stopped on a floor halfway down. Its doors slide open while he continued to convulse in hyperbolic mock ecstasy, and the man and his two young daughters who were trying to come down to the pool, slowly backed away from the open door with mouths agape. We saw them a minute later, boarding the other elevator — the one without a maniac convulsing on the floor.

Hail, victory

Just before midnight, I kissed Kim goodnight and promised her I’d try to avoid seeing her until she walked down the aisle. That proved difficult, as we both had to pack for the honeymoon — from the same apartment. I’d moved my things to her place in the last days of December, letting the lease expire on the apartment I shared with my friend Paul. Her roommate was preparing to move out, and I just stacked my crap in their living room.

Bear in mind, there were no cell phones then. No text messages. And we were staying in suites right around the corner from each other. The easiest way to coordinate was to call her suite directly, dialing “7” and her suite number on the phone in my suite. I talked to Nancy Carol a couple times, asking if they were ready to go to the apartment yet. Once I got the word they were walking out of their suite, I stayed in mind for another five minutes, to give them time to clear the hotel so I could avoid seeing my bride on our wedding day. Once Kim finished packing, Nancy Carol called my room from the apartment, and I left the hotel with Charlie so I could go pack my suitcase at the apartment. Getting back into the hotel was slightly more difficult, but with help from Charlie and Nancy Carol, we managed not to see each other before Kim and the bridesmaids left for the church.

Meanwhile, we had a football game to watch. Charlie and I were big Redskins fans, along with everyone in my family and a couple other groomsmen. Paul, one of my best men, was a Vikings fan. They were playing in a wildcard game at 12:30 that afternoon, a fact that most of my friends weren’t willing to let me forget with the church deadline encroaching. But it was decisively the Redskins’ game after the Vikings’ first score, and between hotel room TVs and car radios on the drive to church, we experienced most of it.

Brothers, where art thou?

We had to be at the church in wedding attire by 3:30. We took some bridal party photos — minus the ones with the bride and groom in the same room — before the wedding started, which required a bit more coordination. Once the guys were finished, we were ushered out to the parking lot to wait, where I wouldn’t see Kim. It was 70 degrees that January day, a stark contrast to the freezing temperatures we’ve seen today.

While we were out there, a vagrant approached and asked me for spare change. Bear in mind, I was wearing a tuxedo and surrounded by guys in matching tuxedos, outside a church. We were obviously part of a wedding, waiting for it to start. And I’d left my wallet inside. I couldn’t help, but it was a little weird that someone would have asked under those circumstances.

At one point during the photos, I realized my brothers had gone missing. I went searching and found them in the sacristy, jokingly trying on robes. Fortunately, they were choir robes and not solemn vestments, so I didn’t scream at them. In fact, I joined in the fun and posed for a picture, kneeling in front of them for a fake blessing. I’m still surprised the robes didn’t catch on fire.

That’s why it’s called a cough drop

The time came for the ceremony to begin, and I was in an antechamber with Paul and Marc, my two best men. We joked about running the wedding like a football game, so I pretended to kneel in the dirt and draw a diagram. “Okay, guys,” I said. “You’ll run this pattern. This twig is me, this leaf is Father Perry, and this dirt clump is Kim.” I didn’t get any further before Paul repeated, “This dirt clump. Is Kim.” and cracked up. Okay, I hadn’t meant it to sound that way, but he had a point. We laughed it off, and Father Perry came in to tell us it was time.

I began to cough, and he offered me a lozenge. I unwrapped it with fingers that were shaking so badly, it flew out of them and through the vent on the floor, careening off the sides of the duct underneath. This time it was Marc’s turn to laugh, and I knew he was trying hard to get it out before we entered the church.

Back to the beauty

Which brings us back to the ceremony, and the specific time that I’d hoped to post this blog — more than six hours ago. (Told you I can’t plan things.) Well, with luck, I’ll finish it before January 2 is past.

When I saw Kim coming down the aisle, I almost wept in awe. Full stop. I don’t know what else to say. Like her, the ceremony was a thing of uncommon beauty.

Party-crashers, pen names, and pizzas

The reception was one more joyfully raucous party among a three-night string of them. We danced, we drank, we celebrated life and love. My college friends nearly dropped me on my head while we were moshing to Jane’s Addiction. The basketball players from Iona College tried to crash our reception. Some couple we didn’t know actually did crash it near the end, begging us to let them come in and dance. The open bar had closed, so it wasn’t going to cost us anything. The music was recorded and they didn’t know anybody there, but they just really wanted to dance. They were probably the only people left in the hotel who weren’t there for the wedding — we felt like we owned it at that point — so sure, why not? Kim was ready to leave by then, anyway.

I ran to the front desk to surreptitiously pick up the key card for our suite, only to be told there was no room registered to a Dan Bain. I’d forgotten, I’d registered under a pseudonym because we’d told my friends we were staying at another hotel that night. I knew better than to trust them to leave us alone. We left the greatest ongoing party we’ve ever known, hopped in a limo, and drove off.

The limo slipped around the back of the hotel and let us out at the kitchen. The driver came in with us, running ahead to see if the coast was clear. It wasn’t. “There are a bunch of them standing outside their rooms, looking around!” he said. “They’re looking for you!”

Plan B was to take the service elevator up. We made it to the eighth floor without being spotted, and ran into a college friend just outside our suite. He was staying right next to us. Not to worry, he assured us, he wouldn’t tell a soul. Besides, he didn’t know Charlie, who was the ringleader in the attempts to prank us.

We opened the door to room 831, got inside, and congratulated ourselves on having made it. Then I noticed the message light blinking on the phone. There were seven messages waiting for us! Luckily, each one was Nancy Carol, berating us for not being willing to deliver her a pizza early in the morning of January 1. It turns out, when she was trying to call 783-1801, she was connecting to room 831 by hitting “7” for a room-to-room call. By some weird, hilarious coincidence, she’d happened to connect to what was probably the only unoccupied room on New Year’s Eve, and we happened to be staying in it two nights later, where each of her rambling messages was still saved.

Sunday morning, Charlie was shocked to see us come down for breakfast. He’d apparently tried to find our room at every neighboring hotel, in an effort to send us pizza in the middle of the night as a prank. Suspecting I would have used a pseudonym and knowing me well, he’d asked for the room of John Lennon or Paul McCartney at each hotel, including the Embassy Suites. But I’d been smart enough to register as John McCartney.

Happily ever after

That afternoon, we flew to Orlando for our honeymoon and the beginning of a 25-year relationship with Disney. Life has been amazing during the years since then, and we’ve been blessed enough to know love and laughter many times over.

Tonight, we celebrated our silver anniversary by taking the boys to The Melting Pot, an old favorite that was pivotal to the early days of our courtship. But really, I’d have been fine with just ordering from Domino’s….

 

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Posted in Christmas, Family, Holidays, Life and how to live it, Nostalgia, Religion, The Wife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Time, warped

During a trip to my Dad’s this weekend, I ventured into the basement — a catch-all storage area the size of the entire footprint of the house, wherein one might discover any sort of stray memory. He led me down there to hand over his oscilloscope, the story of which I hope will be another blog entry. But a trip to his basement is an encounter with the random, and this entry is about the serendipity shown in the feature image.

There, on top of a stack of other documents that may or may not have been equally unimportant, was a Dean’s List Certificate from my days at Virginia Tech. It caught my eye immediately, and reading it — “This Certificate is Awarded to Daniel P. Bain who has demonstrated outstanding academic achievement and is hereby named to the Academic Dean’s List In the College of Arts and Sciences For Fall Quarter 1986” — resulted in multiple thoughts at once:

  1. “I don’t remember Tech sending this to me.”
  2. “Is it weird for a college to print an official certificate every time any student does this? That seems: 1, wasteful and expensive for an institute that large, and B, kind of non-collegiate. That’s more for high school and lower, isn’t it?”
  3. “Did Mom and Dad mean to keep this, or did it simply get stuck between more important stuff that they wanted to keep for 31 years?”
  4. “31 years?!? Shit, I’m old.”
  5. “If they meant to keep this one, did they keep any others?”
  6. “How in the world did this happen to end up here, on top of a stack, right where I would see it? Why would Dad have gotten it out from wherever it was after 31 years?”
  7. “Again with the 31 years?!? Stop reminding me!”
  8. “There’s a water stain on it; maybe the basement flooded and he left it here to dry it.”
  9. “Don’t be ridiculous; there’s nothing else here drying. If there was a flood, this certificate would not have been the only document to have gotten wet.”
  10. “What a cool, improbable set of circumstances if it really had been the only document to get wet in a flood.”
  11. “Why don’t you ask him how it came to be here? He’s right there in front of you.”
  12. “Nah, he’s busy trying to show you how to use the oscilloscope. In fact, you should probably start listening to him.”
  13. “I wonder if he’ll notice if I take a picture of it.”
  14. “Fall Quarter, 1986. That would have been when I…”

And then a flood did happen. A surge of memories washed over me, erasing those 31 years and warping time, taking me back to that quarter and that year. There was Blacksburg, and football in the snow. Christmas gifts before break, and R.E.M. at William & Mary. Co-parties with our neighbors, and validation from that professor with the squeaky voice. Mostly there was me, facing a decision and an uncertain future, reluctantly embracing the craft that would carry me across the next three decades. Does every moment seem pivotal in our memories, or was that time particularly rife with possibilities for me?

Am I vague-blogging? Maybe. Probably. But I’m not entirely comfortable revealing what I remembered in those moments, nor saying what I set out to say with this post as a result. Suffice it to say that’s about the time I discovered something I like about myself, and nurturing it has made for an amazing 31 years. It’s a shame it took me 31 years to figure that out.

I need to go back to Dad’s soon, to see what other discoveries await me in the basement.

 

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The twelfth song of Christmas: Wonder and hope

One of the great things about Christmas is being grateful for everything we have. Another great thing is acknowledging what we don’t have, and resolving ourselves to strive for it. I’m not talking about gifts, I’m talking about ideals. Things like the ever-elusive peace on earth. I never feel closer to that than I do on Christmas Day, even knowing we’re not close to it at all. But still, there’s hope.

I don’t know where Stevie Wonder found hope, but he did. Had I faced the circumstances he faced, I’d have lived a life of despair, but he had faith, found hope, and created happiness — many times over. And he continued to hold out hope for a better world, as evidenced by the lyrics of his classic, “Someday at Christmas.”

The song essentially describes a utopia, and promises the human race will see it one day, even if not in our lifetime. It exemplifies a simple, loving faith in mankind, with a powerful message at its core. This song gives listeners the gift of hope, something our world needs in abundance.

I hope your Christmas has been filled with faith, happiness, and hope, and I wish for all of us to be able to see and share the world Stevie promises in “Someday at Christmas.”

Thank you for reading part or all of my 12 songs of Christmas. I hope you’ve enjoyed the blog and found as much joy in the songs as I have. Merry Christmas!


Lyrics:

Someday at Christmas, men won’t be boys
Playing with bombs like kids play with toys.
One warm December our hearts will see
A world where men are free.

Someday at Christmas there’ll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for.
When we have found what life’s really worth,
There’ll be peace on earth.

Someday all our dreams will come to be,
Someday in a world where men are free,
Maybe not in time for you and me,
But someday at Christmastime.

Someday at Christmas we’ll see a land
With no hungry children, no empty hand.
One happy morning people will share
A world where people care.

Someday at Christmas there’ll be no tears.
All men are equal and no men have fears.
One shining moment my heart ran away
From our world today.

Someday all our dreams will come to be,
Someday in a world where men are free,
Maybe not in time for you and me,
But someday at Christmastime.

Someday at Christmas man will not fail,
Hate will be gone, and love will prevail.
Someday a new world that we can start
With hope in every heart, yeah!

(Someday all our dreams will come to be.)
Whoa, yeah!
(Someday in a world where men are free.)
Maybe not in time for you and me,
But someday at Christmastime.

Someday at Christmastime!


Stocking stuffers:

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The eleventh song of Christmas: Miller’s tale

With the whirlwind that today and tonight are going to be, I chose a song that’s simple and pretty, and perfectly captures the tone of Christmas Eve (once all of the commitments are over). It has one verse, sung a couple times, from the perspective of an adult speaking to a young boy who should be in bed. I used to sing it to both of my boys on Christmas Eve; they’d probably look at me funny if I tried that tonight.

I hope your Christmas Eve brings you all the magic, wonder, and love that I felt as a child (and still feel as an adult) on this night, and that are expressed in this song and the two stocking stuffers. Please enjoy Roger Miller’s “Old Toy Trains” and have a fantastic night.

Happy Christmas Eve!


Lyrics:

Old toy trains, little toy tracks,
Little boy toys, comin’ from a sack
Carried by a man dressed in white and red.
Little boy, don’t you think it’s time you were in bed?

Close your eyes.
Listen to the skies.
All is calm; all is well.
Soon you’ll hear Kris Kringle and the jingle bells

Bringin’ old toy trains, little toy tracks,
Little boy toys, comin’ from a sack
Carried by a man dressed in white and red.
Little boy, don’t you think it’s time you were in bed?

Close your eyes.
Listen to the skies.
All is calm; all is well.
Soon you’ll hear Kris Kringle and the jingle bells

Bringin’ old toy trains, little toy tracks,
Little boy toys, comin’ from a sack
Carried by a man dressed in white and red.
Little boy, don’t you think it’s time you were in bed?


Stocking stuffers:


Day 12:

Wonder and hope

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The tenth song of Christmas: Annunciation enunciation

Growing up Catholic in non-Catholic schools in the South, I heard all of the comments. Their families are huge! Their kids go to “Sunday school” on Wednesday afternoons! They have saints! They. Worship. MARY!

That last bit isn’t true, by the way. Catholics do not “worship” a mortal. I mean sure, I’ve said more than a few “Hail Mary”s in my life, but it was never about deifying her. Catholics just happen to think of her as special, to the point of celebrating the Annunciation — the moment when Gabriel delivered that whole “You’re gonna give birth to a savior” message to her. They merely believe in paying respect to the woman who was chosen for that arguably intense job.

Fast forward a millennium or so past that moment in the Bible, and the Basques decided to write a carol about it. I guess technically, the carol was about both the Annunciation and the Magnificat — Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. Regardless, its lyrics were inspired by two nearly adjacent passages in the Book of Luke. This thing is holy, okay? It’s treated with great veneration. I’m not sure if it went by the same title when it was first penned (or quilled, as the case may be), but in contemporary texts, it’s a folk carol known as “Gabriel’s Message.” And it’s serious, solemn stuff — as intoxicating and zesty as a bottle of Basque wine.

Sting recorded a version, and gave it every bit of zest and solemnity he had. As a result, it’s a thing of beauty. He harmonizes with himself, sings backup vocals to his lead, and proclaims the Word as clearly and respectfully as any priest could intone it. I doubt a choir of actual angels singing would sound as dignified and earnest as “Gabriel’s Message.” Basque it up.


Lyrics:

The angel Gabriel from Heaven came,
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame.
“All hail,” said he, “thou holy maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady.” Gloria!

“For known a blessed mother thou shalt be.
All generations laud and honor thee.
Thy Son shall be Emmanuel by seers foretold.
Most highly favored lady.” Gloria!

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head.
“To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said.
“My soul shall laud and magnify His holy name.”
Most highly favored lady, Gloria!

Of her, Emmanuel the Christ was born
In Bethlehem all on a Christmas morn.
And everyone throughout the world will ever say,
“Most highly favored lady, Gloria!”


Stocking stuffers:


Day 11:

Miller’s tale

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Interlude 3: And the children shall lead?

The final interlude concerns a group of people who aren’t disenfranchised from Christmas one bit; in fact, the holiday is considered by many to be “just for them.” Children win at Christmas, hands down. But for all that, they’re somewhat underrepresented in the music of the season.

For a child to take an important vocal role in a Christmas song, s/he must be one extreme or the other — either very, very good or very, very bad. That is to say, we can hear near-professional choirs, or we can hear schlock about a hippopotamus. If you give a child shmaltzy material to work with, you’re going to get a shmaltzy recording as a result. (This explains why the only version I truly like of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” is by an adult ensemble.)

Kids are at their best when they’re at their most sincere. Give them good, heartfelt lyrics and music, and they will soar. Better yet, let them write all of it themselves. There’s a mix of both in this entry, and I wish we could hear a lot more like them.

Patti Page recorded a song called “Christmas Bells” that made great use of children not in the lead, but as a “responding” choir in a call-and-response. It’s a catchy little song that might annoy some people, but that I love. I could swear a child or two is a tad off-key, but that makes it all the more genuine to me. Rough around the edges, but warm and glowing inside.

Cyndi Lauper’s “Early Christmas Morning” starts off with children in the first verse before Lauper takes over, but it’s an effective, engaging start. And it’s perfect for a song about children singing and enjoying Christmas. The lyrics convey some great imagery, and the song captures the magic of Christmas Day.

The children skating! The snowflakes falling in time with the lazy piano notes! The boys leaning on the fence, in sincere discussion of issues that no child should face — neuroses that are far too adult. Yep, I’m talking about A Charlie Brown Christmas, and that fantastic opening song that generates a Pavlovian response in me, hearkening back to those December evenings of my childhood. That was a time when the only way to see this wonderful Christmas special was to wait until CBS had its one annual showing. How delighted was I that day at 23 when I discovered a Vince Guaraldi Trio CD that included “Christmastime is Here” in its entirety? About as delighted as the day years before, when I found a VHS tape of the show itself, and knew I could watch it whenever I wanted….

Aselin Debison sang for the queen when she was 13. That was about the same time she released Sweet is the Melody, which included a cover song called “The Gift.” If you’ve heard it, you know why I’m including it here. If you haven’t, you’re in for a treat. It starts with Aselin singing a cappella, in a sweet voice as clear as a glass bell. The producer added a little bit of instrumentation later in the song, but it was wholly unnecessary. Her vocal talent is unmatched. The song grabs me from the opening “A poor orphan girl named Maria…” and gives me goose bumps — plus a few tears — throughout.

Lastly, the classic. A necessity for any seasonal event, and a staple background song in countless Christmas movies. The lyrics aren’t the most insightful ever, but I don’t care. Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is a tour de festive force. Having gotten married during the Christmas season, my wife and I wanted to include one Christmas song among the official, announced dances, and we went with this one. It was our bridal party dance, and it was a blast. Like Debison, Lee’s voice sounds older than she was at the time she recorded this; she was only 13.

Kids are amazing when we let them be.


Day 10:

Annunciation enunciation…

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The ninth song of Christmas: Can’t polka hole in this one

If December’s weeknights belonged to Mom and Nanny and candlelight reverence, its Sunday afternoons belonged to Dad and goofy tunes by sunlight. That’s when we pulled a different set of albums from the stack, listening to big bands being a little more playful with their carols. Two standouts in my memory are The Ray Conniff Singers and Mitch Miller and the Gang.

Dad would pull out one of their old records, the ones that smelled like what I imagined the 1940s smelled like (it should be noted that none of their albums had been released prior to 1958, but what does an eight-year-old know?), and load it up in the turntable drawer of “the radio.” We’d listen to a side or two, then he’d wander down to the basement to tinker with his scientific equipment (which is a blog for another day), whereupon the kids would take over and load up albums from The Chipmunks and The Caroleers.

Whatever the case, Sunday’s songs were usually lighter, less somber, and less likely to make someone cry (unless we forced an adult to listen to them too many times). But it almost always started with Mitch or Ray, and even though I typically eschewed their songs, a few of them grew on me. One in particular was unique; I’d never heard it covered by anyone else. I’m pretty sure I still haven’t, although I once read that Bob Dylan recorded a raucous version of it.

I enjoyed the call-and-response structure of the song, as well as its musical style, which I thought of as polka because it had an accordion (at least, I think that’s what’s making that sound). At its heart, it’s a simple, repetitive song that might just drive a person crazy, but for its childlike charm. Plus, it makes me laugh.

There’s an amusing voice in the response portions — I think a woman’s, probably an alto. She sounds a little like a kid, or possibly an adult who’s just sucked in a good helping of helium. Over the years, I’ve imagined her as a tiny, older woman with hair resembling Debbie Downer‘s. Imagine my surprise the first time I saw one of those skits, and thought Rachel Dratch must be channeling the unknown alto from Mitch Miller’s “Gang.”

Give a listen to “Must Be Santa” and see if you picture Debbie singing, “Special night, beard that’s white…” The song’s call-and-response is allegedly based on a German drinking song. Good thing, because if it were to go on for much longer than it does, it might drive you to drink….


Lyrics:

Who’s got a beard that’s long and white?
Santa’s got a beard that’s long and white.
Who comes around on a special night?
Santa comes around on a special night.

Special night, beard that’s white…
Must be Santa, must be Santa,
Must be Santa, Santa Claus.

Who wears boots and a suit of red?
Santa wears boots and a suit of red.
Who wears a long cap on his head?
Santa wears a long cap on his head.

Cap on head, suit that’s red.
Special night, beard that’s white…
Must be Santa, must be Santa,
Must be Santa, Santa Claus.

Who’s got a big red cherry nose?
Santa’s got a big red cherry nose.
Who laughs this way, “Ho, ho, ho!”?
Santa laughs this way, “Ho, ho, ho!”

Ho, ho, ho, cherry nose,
Cap on head, suit that’s red,
Special night, beard that’s white…
Must be Santa, must be Santa,
Must be Santa, Santa Claus.

Who very soon will come our way?
Santa very soon will come our way.
Eight little reindeer pull his sleigh.
Santa’s little reindeer pull his sleigh.

Reindeer sleigh, come our way,
Ho, ho, ho, cherry nose,
Cap on head, suit that’s red,
Special night, beard that’s white…
Must be Santa, must be Santa,
Must be Santa, Santa Claus.

Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen,
Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen.
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen,
Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen.

Reindeer sleigh, come our way,
Ho, ho, ho, cherry nose,
Cap on head, suit that’s red,
Special night, beard that’s white…
Must be Santa, must be Santa,
Must be Santa, Santa Claus.


Stocking stuffers:


Interlude 3:

And the children shall lead?

 

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