Even when we are bigger, something about this time of year is magical. These weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas holds different spells for grown-ups than for children, but they enchant us nevertheless. Evenings spent with lamplight falling on a page, seasonal music making its annual emergence from the stacks, an aromatic cup of tea just there… these are the treasures of the foul weather months. If it doesn’t seem there is enough time for all the tasks, there is still enough to linger for a half-hour with old favorites. I know, this is as cloying as those cherry cordial candies my great-uncle used to put out. But we all live with tender pleasures that come to the front now and then.
Books of the season: I have two in particular that I revisit this time of year. Both are short works. I have heard both read by the authors, and it’s impossible for me to read them in my own head without hearing the cadences of those original voices.
he of the too short career in art, tobacco and alcohol, gave us A Child’s Christmas in Wales, where he, like us, “…can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.” If I don’t read it myself this month, I let him do it. Sometimes both.
And I bring out A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, a tale with pecans, penny money, a rat terrier named Queenie, whiskey for fruitcakes, and the ghost of a boy named Buddy. Capote read this work perfectly in his grown-up child voice on a 1959 vinyl recording that is now of great dollar value. I don’t own it. You can listen to it here, however, in an NPR broadcast of This American Life: 255: This American’s Life’s Holiday Gift-Giving Guide. The reading comes at the 21st minute of the broadcast file. You’ll want to have a broadband connection to listen, but you can order a download of the piece for 95 cents or buy it on CD for $13.00. This is a photo of Truman and his “still a child” cousin Sook.
A number of years ago Richard’s young daughter Lucy came to spend Christmas with us, and we pulled out my collection of holiday music records. The budget had kept me a little behind the times with recording technology. I was still listening to thirty-three-and-a-third recordings and some cassettes when Lucy was connected to her CD player. She thought I was stunningly provincial with my black plastic records that required the needle to be set carefully on the rim, and the gentle hiss and puck that sometimes came across the speakers from the nicks and dust in the grooves. I had some medieval music performed on period instruments, some Carillon recordings, and some choral performances. After listening for a while, Lucy opined, “At home we have nice music for Christmas.” Well. I brought out a cassette of John Denver and the Muppets rollicking through some standards like “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” and saved my reputation. I still do enjoy listening to those guys. (Miss Piggy indignantly exclaiming: Piggy Pudding!)
I think the message is, you can be too serious about Christmas music. A couple of years ago a friend, younger than I and with a different experience in music, gave me a pair of holiday recordings by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. He asked me if I knew them. I said yes, and then realized I had no idea who they were. It’s a rock orchestra. The titles are familiar. The voices and instruments are… a little different. I made him laugh when I referred them as the Trans-Siberian Train Wreck. But… I like it. Not for all the time, but for some.
And that cup of tea. I get down the box of Lapsang souchong. I start the old record of medieval instrumentalists. I open the small pages of Dylan Thomas, and I hear his Welsh voice again from among the printed words, “One Christmas was so much like another…”