The first of a few memorable musical Christmases
BLOG NO.32 – IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO READ BLOG NO.31 FIRST, CLICK HERE
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Since it’s the season to be jolly and joyous (to quote The Muppet Christmas Carol) I thought I’d give you all, and myself, a break from the usual blogs and bore you with some different ones instead. No.1 is about the first Christmas I can vividly remember, that of 1963. There isn’t really a musical connection to this, apart from the carol, Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem. That comes about because my older nephew, David Calvert, wrote a fictional short story set in this, or one like it, snow-blanketed winter, and called it Yet In Thy Dark Streets Shineth. David has kindly given me permission to include it here, and you can read it after my little Yule Tide tale.
I remember it because it was one of the worse winters we have had, as you can see from some of the photos; but my main recollection is visiting my much older sister, Irene and her coal ming husband, Joe Calvert, and their children, Carol, David and Alan. These, strangely enough, were my nephews and neice, yet all older than me (6, 4 and 3 years respectively), but being closer to me in age seemed more like older brothers and sister than six of my older siblings, most of whom were married and had children by the time I arrive on the scene…much to my parents’ surprise. My dad would still have been alive then, and may also have been visiting along with my mam and sister, Betty (6 years older than me), but I don’t remember. He could have been in hospital at the time. (He passed away the following August.)
Anyhoo…what I do remember, is, along with the Calvert Kids, making the biggest snowball you can imagine! Well, I think it was huge, but I was pretty tiny aged 6 – I’m still pretty tiny aged 60 – so it may not have been as large as I remember. I recall it being at least twice my size…so let’s just say it was. We created it under the orange glow of the street lights by starting at one end of their snow covered road of King Edward VIII Terrace, Shield Row, and rolling it from a hand-sized snowball to its larger self, whatever that was, a couple of hundred yards later at the other end of the terrace…after a great deal of effort I might add! There wouldn’t have been any cars parked along that street to worry about, as so few people had them back in the day, and any there might have been would be parked in the back street; and the school opposite the row of red bricked council houses would be closed for the holidays, so no school buses to worry about the next day.
What we did with it after creating that white rotund monster, I don’t recall, but it would have taken it a hell of a long time for it to melt! For all the years, however, it has never melted from my memory.
That snow may have been an horrendous inconvenience for the adults, but it was magical for us kids, and David’s following short story puts that magic to great use….
‘Yet In Thy Dark Streets Shineth’
A Christmas tale
Young Danny Braithwaite had but one thought on his mind as he sprang from his bed and dashed to the window. ‘This time’, he thought, excitedly drawing back the curtain. A harsh white light invaded the bedroom chasing the sleep from his eyes, and he let out a jubilant whoop at the magical transformation that had taken place overnight. At last, the snows had arrived.
“C’mon young’un”, he urged, shaking his brother violently from his slumber. “It’s been snowin’. Let’s get ready and go out to play.”
Alan, two years his junior, pulled the covers over his head and grumpily told him to ‘nick off’; adding that it was far too cold to get out of bed. Then suddenly the import of the message struck home. Sitting bolt upright, he shrieked, “Snowin’!”
“Yeah! Look – it’s as deep as anythin’.”
Alan scrambled to the window, blankets in tow. “Cor! Look at that. It must have snowed all night to get that deep.”
A familiar voice called out from the adjacent bedroom, “What’s going on in there?”
The celebrations came to an abrupt halt. “Er, nothin’ mam”, Danny sniggered. “Where just gettin’ ready to go out.”
“Not until you’ve had your breakfast, you’re not. And besides”, she continued, “it started snowing last night, so I want you both properly dressed.”
“Yer know what that means young’un”, sighed Danny, “Before we get out of here, she’ll have us done up like Eskimos.”
That morning the conversation at the breakfast table was animated. Alan was helping himself to his third spoonful of strawberry jam, which he dolloped into his porridge and swirled around until a glutinous pink mass stared up at him from the bowl. Danny was in the throes of a protracted argument with his sister Carol, the eldest of the trio, over whose Christmas presents would occupy the sofa the following morning. In the midst of their dispute, an innocent question brought the proceedings to a shuddering halt.
“Mam – what’s the ‘Big C?”
Every eye was now trained on the youngster, as he noisily sucked the dregs of porridge from his tablespoon.
Mary’s face blanched as she slowly lowered the coffee cup from her lips. “What do you mean love? Why do you ask?”
“‘Cos Ricky Pinder said he heard his mam and dad talkin’ about me dad, and they said he had the ‘Big C'”.
She snapped, her face turning an angry shade of red. “Did they now! Well you just take no notice of anything they have to say, sweetheart.” Sipping the last dregs from her cup, she rose to collect the breakfast dishes from the table. It was then she noticed that her daughter had become very quiet and seemed preoccupied with her thoughts.
Carol was fourteen and was quite aware of the situation concerning her much missed father. When he had first been admitted to hospital, she and her brothers had been allowed regular visits, but as his condition worsened, only the adults were permitted to see him – a decision which she had found unbearably cruel, given that he would not be with them for very much longer. Tears welled up in the corners of her eyes as she pondered a life without him.
“Alright kids”, Mary chirped, “Seeing as how it’s Christmas Eve, why don’t you each write a note to Santa telling him what you want.” She knew, of course, that Danny and Carol were almost past the age of innocent belief, but this was a family tradition and there was still the youngster to consider.
As she had hoped, Carol’s sombre thoughts were soon distracted as they each took up pen and paper and began writing in earnest.
The task completed, they folded their sheets and ceremoniously burned them on the fire; the premise being that the smoke from the ashes would somehow be carried to the North Pole where, they were reliably informed, Father Christmas would, in some undisclosed manner, read them and fulfil their wishes.
Danny was first to be ready and waited impatiently as his mother dressed the youngster. True to his earlier statement, she had ensured that each of them was suitably attired for the wintry climate. They had no sooner left her sight when off came the balaclavas and scarves, and an energetic snowball fight ensued. As it progressed, so did the number of their group until, at length, it seemed as though an entire army of children were fighting a pitched battle at the end of the street. Eventually, the group filtered down to a mere handful. It was suggested that more fun could be had on the neighbouring pit-heap.
The ‘heapy’, as the boys were wont to call it, stood almost fifty feet in height and had a broad, evened top that stretched off into the distance towards the pit-head, creating a plateau-like effect which the boys put good use to as their personal playground. In their time it had served a multitude of purposes. Today, however, it would be employed as a gigantic slide from which they would propel themselves on remnants of conveyor belting, hurtling at breath-taking speeds down the icy covered slopes.
With boundless energy and screams of delight, they descended the south-facing slope, amid flurries of freezing snow, to the farmer’s field below. After an hour or two, their youthful exuberance eventually gave way to the cold and hunger and so it was decided they would all go home for dinner, returning later to continue their adventures.
After a hearty turkey dinner, followed by freshly baked apple pie and custard, Mary informed the children that she would be visiting their father later that afternoon, and that they would be staying at Uncle Tom’s and Aunt V’s until she returned to collect them.
For Danny in particular, the idea of spending Christmas Eve with his aunt and uncle was an appealing one. They were a childless couple who lavished attention on the children whenever the opportunity arose.
True to form, Tom greeted them with a cheery smile and proceeded to pull from behind the ears of each of them, much to their amazement and glee, a fifty pence piece which he deposited into their eagerly waiting hands.
On entering the living room, they gasped in admiration. Dominating one corner was a brightly lit Christmas tree, bedecked with all manner of ornamentation, and surmounted by a glistening star of silver. From the four corners of the ceiling to its centre were draped richly coloured streamers of green and red. An advent calendar, its tiny windows peeled back, hung from the centre of the fire breast, flanked on either side with a wreath of holly. The entire room had been lovingly decorated in a multitude of effects to delight and stimulate the senses. Only when the house lights were dimmed, and the multi-coloured tree lights switched on, was their true effect fully appreciated by the children.
Within half-an-hour of Mary’s departure Alan suddenly announced; “I’m hungry!”
“You’re always hungry”, his sister declared.
Veronica looked up. “I think that should do it”, she said, applying the final strokes of the brush to her niece’s fine auburn hair. “There’s some cherry pie due out the oven. Would anyone like some?”
An eager chorus of ‘Yes please‘ went out from the children – followed closely by a grunt from their uncle, who was otherwise occupied showing off his latest feat of legerdemain to an appreciative audience of two.
Carol declared, defiantly, “There’s no such thing as real magic! Nobody can do real magic.”
Danny was becoming increasingly tired of his sister’s ill-tempered moods and was about to say as much when Tom intervened.
“Oh, and what makes you say that?”
“Because there just isn’t”, came the terse reply. “If people could do real magic, then wishes would come true; but they don’t. They don’t come true – no matter how hard you try.”
She was now almost at the point of tears when her aunt entered, laden with the food and drink.
“You know”, Tom said, between mouthfuls of freshly baked cherry pie, “wishes can come true; can’t they love.” He turned to Veronica and smiled a knowing smile.
She returned his smile, the corners of her mouth accentuating her dimpled cheeks. “Alright then”, she relented, “If you must.”
It was then he announced, “We’re going to have a baby!”
Veronica coughed loudly.
He corrected himself. “Well – that’s to say – Aunt V’s going to have a baby. Soon you’ll have a new cousin to play with. So, you see”, he said, turning to his niece, “some wishes can come true.”
Carol wanted to believe with all her heart that somehow things could be made different simply by wishing it: that by some magical process the love she had for her father was strong enough to overcome the illness that kept them apart. In Danny and Alan too, a longing for their father began to stir, engendering cherished memories of Christmas’ past.
Tom rose from his chair and moved to the window. He gazed out at the snow-capped roofs and the streets beyond. He, too, missed his brother and sniffed back a single tear which threatened his composure.
Quite unexpectedly, the phone rang. V was the first to answer it. After listening for a few seconds, she called out to Tom, “You’d better take this”, she said, her hand shaking as she handed him the receiver. “It’s Mary”, she whispered.
With an awful sense of dread, he put the receiver to his ear and turned his back to the children. The first sound he heard was that of his sister-in-law’s weeping. Then came the words. “It’s Jim; he’s …”
“Oh God! Not tonight of all nights”, he cut in, slumping into the nearest chair.
By now the children were aware that something was wrong and Carol began to whimper.
“No, no! You don’t understand”, Mary went on. “Jim’s in remission. He’s getting better.”
“But I thought there was …”
“No hope?” Mary interrupted. “We all did, but that’s not the queerest thing Tom. Jim told me he’d had a curious dream this afternoon. He said he’d dreamt that three tiny fireballs had entered through his closed cubicle window and that as he watched, each of them turned into a sheet of paper that fluttered onto his bed. He recognised the handwritings on them as belonging to the children. It was the very same letters they had written to Santa this morning Tom; I’m sure of it.”
“But what makes you so sure?”
“Because of what they’d written. Ask them what they put in their letters Tom, and I’ll bet it was, ‘Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is my daddy back.'”
Tom did as requested, and was stunned at their replies.
Later that night, as a fresh fall of snow gently descended over a peaceful village, Carol, Danny, Alan and their aunt and uncle huddled contentedly around the tree, each knowing that something truly magical had taken place. It turned out to be a Christmas that neither of them would forget in the years to come.
© David Calvert 2011
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ONE AND ALL!
If you think these stories are interesting, they will be nothing compared to those the puppeteers from The Muppets or Sesame Street could tell. They’ve worked with more musical legends than I’ve had hot dinners. Having said that, I do have more to come, and Part 10 of the Close Encounter Of The Music Legend Kind will be about singing with the legends that are Kermit and Miss Piggy on the Muppet Beach Party album, and being involved in recording the sitcom Dinosaurs‘ BIG SONGS album at Capitol Records in Los Angeles.
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Until next time,