A lovely rendition of “Silent Night” is playing on my radio. It’s my favorite carol – brings tears to my eyes in fact. Not only does it bring to mind the touching manger scene, it also brings back my childhood.
My sister and I have been sorting through drawers and files and rooms and rooms of things from our childhood home since our mother died in September. Who knew that so much can be tucked away when to a casual glance there was no clutter?
Among the nostalgia we’ve uncovered are photos, of course. One of myself I totally do not recollect. It’s from Christmas, perhaps when I was 8 or 9. The tree in the background is covered with that silvery tinsel that hung so gracefully from branches and would be found nesting in corners for the rest of the year. But the reason for the photograph is that I’m sporting a Groucho Marx nose, mustache and eyebrows, holding a “cigar” to one side with panache. That little girl is having a great time!
Now anyone who knows me is aware that if I am ever seen donning Groucho Marx garb, they should call the authorities immediately because I have truly flipped out. I think I have a great sense of humor but the key to me is subtlety. Who was that little girl clowning it up? And where did she go?
These days it’s not such a big deal to take a picture of your kids – or your dog or anything that strikes your fancy. I take a lot of photos of outside the window where I work at home. I don’t know why. I sit at my computer and look out at the big pine tree in the front yard and think I’d like to remember it so I take a picture. I enjoy the view of the fog wrapping around it in the morning. I like the way the sun strikes the needles at noon. Sometimes a blue jay lands so I must record that.
But in the 1950s it was a big deal to get out the camera and take a photo. Especially in my childhood home. My father had an old Speed Graphic camera – those big boxes used by newspapermen. You would put a big casing with a piece of film into it, adjust the settings and take the picture - so you didn’t shoot away randomly like one might today with a digital camera. My sister and I at one time had those little Kodaks with the rolls of film that had to be strung into the side. But for family photos, my father brought out the Speed Graphic.
The Christmas photo was usually of my mother looking serene in some elegant outfit, although she really was not a serene person – she was always bustling about with some project. My sister and I would be sitting next to her in front of the tree, holding wrapped presents. I don’t know what inspired my father to document my clowning around like that. I vaguely remember him hauling out the Speed Graphic to record my pitiful appearance when I had a flaming case of the chicken pox – thank goodness that photo hasn’t surfaced!
But we were talking about Christmas carols. I love them but only in the proper setting. In a home, in a car perhaps. Definitely in a concert hall or sung by carolers spreading the season’s joy along the streets. In most stores, they are only noise. I’ve always wondered why stores play music anyway. Do they really make customers buy more? They make my husband, for one, head for the door. And the Christmas songs that stores play aren’t usually the uplifting sort, they’re more along the line of the “Chipmunk Song.” Not that I have anything against Alvin but he can be really annoying, especially when you’re spending too much money. As can the image of Grandma getting run over by a reindeer.
My other favorite carol is “Away in a Manger.” At my Catholic school, the nuns didn’t allow that song, written as it was by heretic Martin Luther. My piano teacher crossed it out in my music book with a big red X. So I can’t be sure that I really like “Away in a Manger” or if it just appeals to the rebel in me.