I can still picture the moment each December when we would open up the old piano bench and dig down through to find the treasure trove of sheet music for Christmas.
My mother would bring out those brightly colored folios and I knew that the best time of year was at hand; family sing-a-longs, freedom from school, treats and gifts galore, an overall feeling of happiness in our home.
The familiar images that perched like banners across each favorite tune’s cover are still vivid in my mind. They were old friends I welcomed back each year with pure and unfettered joy, with a goofy, crinkled smile.
I can see the top-hatted men and fur-bedecked women sitting atop a horse-drawn sleigh on “Jingle Bells.” “Frosty the Snowman,” featured a snowy gentleman with coal for eyes and a carrot nose, a slightly tilted head with crumpled black hat and arms encircling his belly as if to hold up his hearty laugh. “Away in a Manger” enticed with the bowed, blue-veiled figure of Mary, eyes alighting on her new babe, both sheltering alongside a bearded, kind-eyed Joseph.
Opening those books and sharing those carols with mother, father, sister and brothers was a fantastic gift unmatched by whatever came under the tree. Our voices together, some on pitch and others not, would ring through the house signaling strength, love, unity and hope.
The best years were those in which our entire family sang together. The memories can still make me cry if I linger on those long-since-past scenes.
I, being the youngest, would eventually experience my family’s contractions most acutely. The first waves of loss tinged those annual carols after each departure of my older siblings off to college and their adult lives. And later, at the greatest contraction of all, with the departure of my father as well: He left to join some other family’s choir.
I remember that first truly lonely Christmas for the added, painful absence of the music we had all shared before. No one’s heart had the strength to open up that old piano bench lid and it stayed closed; the house, quiet.
As our family recovered from that unexpected, devastating departure, we carried on and later began to add new choir members through marriages and births.
The beautiful music at Christmas eventually returned and grew into a new symphony of sounds and singers. Ultimately I and my brothers and sister all successfully carried that beloved, familiar music into our own homes, creating new family memories, interlaced beautifully with the old.
The music was the thread, and we the weavers, artfully knitting together the wonder and challenges of our lives.
In spite of the many humble, dazzling, surprising and wonderful gifts given and received over the years, it has always been the music that radiated the complex message of love, loss and renewal that Christmas offers to us all.
I am grateful for every melody, lyric and singer — all instruments in a hand much greater than our own.
Turn to page A5 for more Christmas Memories.