As you read this, I’m returning from a wonderful vacation with my brother and his family in Florida. The Fourth of July is coming up, and I’m thinking back to how my family spent the holiday when I was growing up.
When we lived in Tucson, Arizona, we often attended fireworks displays at the local university. Although my vision was limited, I enjoyed watching the pyrotechnics show in the sky. I might have been scared at first of the booms and bangs, but I most remember gazing in fascination at the explosions of color and shapes. One year, I could even see them from our front lawn.
We moved here to Sheridan, Wyoming, when I was twelve. At the time, there were no public displays, so we bought our own fireworks. These consisted mostly of sparklers, pop bottle rockets, and Roman candles. They weren’t as elaborate as the colorful displays we saw in Tucson. So, for me, they weren’t as fun.
One year when I was in high school, Dad was kneeling in the middle of the street, about to light one, when a car slowly approached. Thinking it was a police car, we held our breath, since fireworks were illegal in town. Then, to our relief, we realized it was Grandma, who was always a slow driver.
After I became a registered music therapist and started working in a nursing home, Dad acquired an Irish setter who was born on the Fourth of July. Her original owner had named her Old Glory, but Dad changed that to Maud, after William Butler Yeats’ mistress. Fireworks must have been shot off at Maud’s birth because she was fearful of booms and bangs. After she came along, no more fireworks were shot off in our family.
You can now click the link below to hear me sing a medley of familiar patriotic songs. This may inspire you to shoot off some fireworks of your own. If so, please enjoy them responsibly.
What do you remember about the Fourth of July when you were growing up? Did you shoot your own fireworks or attend a display? Did your family traditionally have a picnic? What did you eat? Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!
Christmas 2018 is looking bleak for ten-year-old Miller and his family in rural South Carolina. Miller’s father, a shrimp boat captain, has been forced to dock his boat by rising fuel prices and limited income while his mother works two jobs in an attempt to make ends meet. As a result, his parents have no choice but to tell him they can’t afford to buy him the dog he wants for Christmas. To make matters worse, Miller’s brother Taylor, a veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, receives a service dog, but a miraculous surprise is in store. Each chapter alternates the storytelling from the first person point of view of Miller, Taylor, and their mother Jenny and is preceded by a quotation from Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. Recipes are found at the end of the book.
I would like to have known more about what happened to these characters after that miraculous Christmas in 2010. The prologue and epilogue take place in 2015, and we learn that Taylor still has the service dog and is married with a baby, but how did he get to that point? We also realize that Taylor did not reconcile with his high school sweetheart, with whom he broke up after returning from Afghanistan, but how and where did he meet his current wife, and what sort of work did he find once he’d overcome, to a certain extent, his post traumatic stress disorder?
What about Miller’s family’s financial situation? In 2010, after docking the shrimp boat, his father was working whatever construction jobs he could find, but did he end up with more stable work after that? Did his mother continue to substitute teach and clean houses? The prologue would have worked better as part of the epilogue.
I liked the many references to A Christmas Carol. I was moved to tears when Taylor was first presented with his service dog and fascinated by the training process, not unlike that of preparing a guide dog for someone with blindness or low vision. This is a great holiday read. I know it’s a little late now, but maybe you can put it on your reading list for next year.
The following double Tanka was inspired by Colleen Chesebro’s weekly poetry challenge and a song. This week’s words are “belief” and “joy.” You’ll note I’m using “happiness” and “idea.” Please click on the Play button below the poem to hear me recite it, then play and sing the song that also inspired it. I know this song is a day late, but the sentiment still exists. I hope you had a joyous Christmas and wish you a happy New Year.
At this time of year,
we are filled with happiness
at the idea
that Christ, born in Bethlehem,
came to save the world from sin.
As we celebrate
the passing of an old year,
ring in the new,
our hearts are light, yuletide gay
with those we love gathered near.
The following short story was published in the fall/ winter 2018-19 issue of Magnets and Ladders. I can think of no better way to commemorate Christmas Day and the 200th anniversary of the creation of “Silent Night” than to include this story along with a recording of me playing and singing the song. Merry Christmas, everyone.
The day before Christmas, my seven-year-old daughter Hannah was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. I opted to spend CHRISTMAS Day with her. My parents, as they’d done every year since the divorce, had invited Hannah and me to their house for Christmas dinner, but I couldn’t leave my little girl alone in the hospital.
Hannah wasn’t on solid food yet, but a nurse offered to bring me a tray, perhaps realizing it would be difficult for me to navigate to the cafeteria with my limited vision. While Hannah slept, I sat by her bed and enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner complete with stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pie. The food was surprisingly good for a hospital.
I said as much to the nurse when she came to collect my tray. “We have a chef now,” she said. “Of course many of our patients are too sick to appreciate it, but it’s certainly better than the fare we used to serve.”
The little girl in the other bed moaned and then started crying in earnest. I looked over and couldn’t see anyone sitting with her. “Oh, that’s Jessica,” said the nurse in a conspiratorial tone. “Poor kid, she fell out of her neighbor’s treehouse yesterday and broke her leg in three places. She’s in a body cast from her chest to her right foot.”
Hannah must have awakened for she said, “Ou, I guess I won’t complain about my tummy anymore. I’m glad I don’t have a treehouse, and I hope Santa didn’t leave me one.”
I marveled at how sensitive my daughter was. As the nurse went to Jessica and tried to comfort her, I said, “How are you feeling, sweetie?”
“I’m okay, but my tummy still hurts.”
“I thought you weren’t gonna complain about your tummy anymore,” I said, as I ruffled her hair.
Hannah giggled, then winced. “Out, Mommy, it hurts more when I laugh.”
“It sounds like you could use some pain medication too,” said the nurse, as she started to leave the room.
“No, it only really hurts when I laugh,” said Hannah.
“Well, in that case, laughter’s the best medicine,” said the nurse. “I’ll be back soon.”
“How old is Jessica?” asked Hannah.
“Oh, I think she’s about your age,” answered the nurse. “I’ll be back in a bit with some medicine for her, and that’ll make her feel better.” With that, she was gone.
Jessica was still sniffling, but it wasn’t as loud as before. “Mommy, you should go sing her a song,” said Hannah. “like you did for me last night when I was really hurting. I’m not hurting as much now, and I think she’s hurting more.”
Years earlier, I’d worked as a registered music therapist. That was before Hannah was born, before I’d started losing my vision, before my world changed. My husband hadn’t wanted a child but was resigned to the idea once he learned I was pregnant. The vision loss after Hannah’s birth was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Fortunately, he paid plenty of child support. That, along with my disability payments, allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom, and once I learned to use a computer with screen reading and magnification software, I brought in a little income from freelance writing.
Now, I looked over at the little girl in the other bed. My specialty as a music therapist had been with elderly nursing home residents, not hospitalized children. I hadn’t even done a clinical practicum with that population. I remembered bed-ridden residents who smiled and relaxed when I sat by their beds, held their hands, and sang. I even performed at some of their funerals. The fact that my singing in the emergency room the night before had calmed Hannah made me think that perhaps I hadn’t lost my touch. I rose and pulled my chair next to the other bed, where I sat and took the child’s hand that lay on top of the white sheet covering her.
“Hi Jessica,” I said. “I’m Joan. My little girl Hannah is in the other bed. What’s wrong?”
“My leg really hurts,” she answered. “I’ll never play in that stupid treehouse again.”
“That’s too bad,” I said, stroking her hair. “Would you like to sing a song with me?”
“Will that make the pain go away?” she asked.
“It’ll take your mind off of it. What’s your favorite Christmas song?”
She was quiet for a minute, then said, “I like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”
“All right, let’s sing it together, shall we?”
I started, and soon, she joined in, followed by Hannah. When we finished that song, Jessica suggested “Jingle Bells,” then “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The nurse appeared and said, “What lovely singing. Jessica, I have some medicine that will make you feel better. I’m going to put it in your IV now.”
As she started to do this, I said, “Why don’t we sing one more song?”
“I want to hear you sing something by yourself,” said Jessica. “You have a pretty voice, and so did my mommy. She used to sing to me at night before I went to sleep.” A wistful look crossed her face.
“Why doesn’t she sing to you anymore?” I asked.
“She was killed in a car accident a few months ago,” she answered. A tear rolled down her cheek.
“Oh honey, I’m sorry,” I said, as I stroked her hair. Tears welled in my own eyes.
Holding them back, I said, “What song did your mom like to sing to you this time of year?”
“‘Silent Night,'” she answered.
“Yeah, sing that one, Mom,” said Hannah.
I took a deep breath and began. To my surprise, the nurse joined in, singing alto. Our two voices blending together in harmony was almost too much, but I managed to continue.
As we started the second verse, I sensed a presence at my side and turned to see a man standing there. “Daddy!” Jessica said, her eyes wide with delight.
“Hey princess,” he said, reaching over me and ruffling her hair. Then he said, “oh, don’t stop singing on my account. It’s beautiful.”
His voice broke, and it was all I could do to keep from losing it. We started the song where we’d left off and finished the second verse. To break the spell, I turned to the nurse and said, “You and I need to talk. I sing in a women’s group that could use an extra voice.”
“Wow, that sounds interesting,” she said. “You also have a nice voice. I need to see to other patients, but I’ll come back later after my shift, and you can tell me more about it.” She turned and started to leave the room.
Jessica’s father put a hand on my shoulder and said, “You and I also need to talk. It’s only been two months since I lost my wife, and I never dreamed I’d say this to another woman, but could I buy you a cup of coffee, maybe in the cafeteria?”
From the doorway, the nurse said, “Our coffee here isn’t as good as the food. Why don’t you two go across the street to Starbuck’s?”
We hesitated. “Your kids will be fine,” she said. “They’re both out of the woods. I have your cell numbers in their charts. If anything drastic happens, I’ll call you. Joan, you’ve been here all day. You need a break. Go!” With that, she was gone.
I looked at this stranger, not knowing what to think. Finally, I said, “I’ve been divorced for about six years. I’m losing my vision, and I never imagined another man would ask me out for coffee.”
I expected him to back away, but instead, he said, “Any man not interested in you is a fool. You’re a beautiful woman. You’re good with kids, and you have a lovely voice.”
Flabbergasted, I said, “You just got here. Don’t you want to spend some time with Jessica?”
Jessica said, “I’m okay. My leg doesn’t hurt so much now that the nurse gave me some medicine in my IV. Daddy, Joan could make you happy like Mommy did.”
“Yeah,” said Hannah. “Mom, I think this guy could make you happy like Daddy did.”
Jessica’s father laughed and said, “I think these two, along with that nurse, are trying to play matchmaker.” He extended his hand. “By the way, I’m Don Gray.”
“Joan Clark,” I said, taking his hand and shaking it.
Still uncertain, I turned to Hannah and said, “Honey, don’t you remember what I’ve told you about not going off with a stranger?”
“Yeah, but he’s not a stranger. He’s Jessica’s dad.”
“She’s got a point,” said Don.
“My dad told me not to go off with a stranger too,” said Jessica. “but he’s okay. He’s been really sad since Mom died.”
I could feel my heart melting as more tears threatened. “Jessica and I could sing another song,” said Hannah. “How about 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall?”
“Yeah,” said Jessica. She started the song, and Hannah joined in. Laughing, we both made our way out the door.
“Do you need to take my arm?” Don asked.
“Yes, please,” I answered, realizing I’d left my cane in the room. As I grasped his muscular arm and walked with him down the hall, I had a good feeling about this.
This blog challenge was created by Helen Vahdati. The theme this week is “season.” Tis the season for wanting stuff, but this song’s singer is only requesting one thing.
I can relate to this sentiment. Even after six years, all I really want for Christmas is my late husband, but I know I won’t get that wish until, perhaps, the day I leave this world. If our story interests you, check out My Ideal Partner. I hope that this Christmas, you get as little or as much as you want.
This Audible original program examines the evolution of popular Christmas songs. Starting with the creation of “Silent Night” a hundred years ago on Christmas Eve, it talks about how such songs as “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Baby” were written and recorded. It includes interviews with songwriters and others who explain how certain songs and albums were produced. In the background, you’ll hear snippets of these songs.
Being a musician and a music listener, I was fascinated to learn what inspired such songs as “All I Want for Christmas is You” and how these songs were written. I made a note of one or two of the Christmas albums mentioned, since no doubt they’re on Amazon Music, so I can ask my Echo device to play them. If you’ve ever wondered how and why these songs were written and sung, Jingle Bell Pop is where you’ll find this information. Even if the only thing you play is the radio, this production will enlighten you.
The following nonet was inspired by Colleen Chesebro’s weekly poetry challenge and a song. This week’s words are “fly” and “sing,” and you’ll note that I used “carry tunes” and “soaring” as synonyms. You can click the button below the poem to hear me recite it, then play and sing the song that also inspired it.
SINGING CHRISTMAS PRAISES
During the holiday season, I
carry tunes of joy, peace, hope, love,
celebrate this holy night
of the blessed Saviour’s birth
with soaring voice, heart,
fall to my knees