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The phone call always came last
So when are
we taking the boys Christmas caroling? asked my neighbor
Mary, cheerful beyond measure with only five days left before
Christmas caroling? Was she crazy? The
December 25th deadline for shopping, wrapping, baking, and
cleaning loomed with Scrooge-like orneriness.
Who had time to sing?
Yet passing up the
opportunity to take my three young sons and her little guy out
into the crisp night air to belt out Christmas carols for our
neighbors would haunt me like the ghost of Christmas past.
How does the 23rd look?
I asked, mustering as much enthusiasm as I could.
Perfect! said Mary, who
doubles as a highly organized art teacher. I’ll send out
flyers for our neighbors to leave their porch lights on if
they’d like us to stop. You bring the hot chocolate.
With that she hung up.
There was no backing out now. The event was rolling along like
the final verses of the Hallelujah Chorus.
When are we going
Christmas caroling? asked an eager son hovering nearby.
The day after tomorrow,
I get the
sleigh bells this year! all three yelled together.
Two days later, the
mystery of a winter night bloomed dark, frosty, and beckoning.
The three boys and I stuffed ourselves in as much warm
clothing as allowed us to move, filled the thermos with hot
chocolate, grabbed a bag of cups and marshmallows, and
snatched the sleigh bells from the mantle.
Just about the time we
started to sweat, Mary called to say they were on their way.
Meet you at the end
of the driveway,she said.
Let’s go! the boys yelled, dashing out the
door into the welcome blast of cold night air.
Across the street and down
the hill came Mary and Brad.
As we gathered in the road, the boys let out
whoops of joy at the sight that greeted us.
Wow! Look at that! Brad
Mary’s flyer had
done the trick. Beacons of porch lights, like a string of
constellations, twinkled around our horseshoe-shaped lane
directing us to a waiting audience.
We better do a warm-up before we go,Mary
rowdy Midwestern version of an English boys’ choir, our four
guys launched into a rousing rendition of Jingle Bells, our
caroling opener, ringing their bells with enough gusto to
spook even Marley’s ghost.
As they hit the last note, they were off and
running to the nearest house to see who could push the
doorbell first. Mary and I lagged behind struggling to keep up
with their energy.
soon as a neighbor swung open the storm door, the boys broke
into song. One by one, more friendly faces began to pop up
behind the first one until we had a small ensemble bobbing
with our beat. Ending our short medley with We Wish You a
Merry Christmas,the boys were rewarded with candy canes and
course, Mary and I had to have some too.
Then it was onto the next
welcoming porch light as more shivering neighbors shouted to
family members, Come quickly, come quickly, it’s the
After five or six houses, our throats were
ready for a short intermission. Sipping the soothing hot
cocoa, we looked skyward through the sculptured arms of a huge
old oak tree, studied the stars, and embraced the sudden
stillness of the night.
In that simple moment, I found the peace of
rustle of jingling bells indicated it was time to move on. One
of our favorite stops was at Bill and Paula’s. Although Bill’s
speech was impaired from a stroke, he opened the door like a
king welcoming his favorite minstrels to his court. Paula
appeared right behind him with an array of cookies made just
repertoire for Bill differed slightly from the rest. They knew
his favorite song was Silent Night, and they sang it with
all the sweet, awkward tenderness that their innocent young
voices could muster.
Like the crystalline beauty of a snowflake
drifting through a moonlit night, a moment of magic hung in
the air as the boys ended their song. With misted eyes, Bill
broke into enthusiastic applause and with great effort called
each boy by name.
J-John, B-Bob, T-Tom and B-Brad, that was
wonderful! he joyfully proclaimed.
The boys beamed with the happy awareness that
somehow they had given a gift.
As our guys grew older, musical instruments
began to replace the bells. Two trombones, a trumpet, and a
drummer made up a caroling band, with Mary and me as back-up
Some years we
sang in soft snowfall and some years the nights were so cold
the boys’ instruments stuck to their lips. Sometimes visiting
grandmothers trudged along beside us, and occasionally the new
voices of other children who had moved into neighborhood
joined the swell. Once we even sang Away in a Manager to a
neighbor’s stabled horse.
Always there were porch lights beckoning and
sweet songs answering.
Sometime during the teenage years, the
caroling phone call stopped coming. Band concerts, dates, and
sports took over the boys’ busy schedules, and we all moved on
to other Christmas activities.
Like the imperceptible beat of angel wings,
time flew by. Our boys became young men, Bill passed on, and
after twenty-six years as my neighbor, Mary moved away.
Yet even now, when the
hectic holidays threaten to turn me into a Humbug, I’ll step
out into the night and look up through the gnarled arms of an
old oak to the sparkling stars. The cold quiet warms my
soul. And if I listen closely, I can hear the peace of
Christmas in the whisper of young boys’ voices serenading back
to me, All is calm, all is bright.
The echo, forever, will be a hymn in my
sleigh bells and cowbells
can be heard for miles on
letting us know it's Santa Claus
buckboard is mighty frail.
miles and miles apart
delivering happy tunes and
in return getting moonshine or cowboy coffee
sheering cowboys before they go wack-o.
around the fire swapping tales
laughing and singing
drinking plenty of corn whiskey
all wishing they were in town a swinging.
Christmas like others, is a once a year
get together happy afar
cowboys sometimes get loud
all trying to get their equal share.
the range can be very lonely
swapping long shifts
keeping watchful eye
for cattle rustlers, robbers
never knowing what appears from the dark
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
dash of salt
Blend the above well and add clean, fresh
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