This is a different sort of Life As a Wife episode.
Merry Little Christmas
By Laura McHale Holland
We hauled all of our Christmas paraphernalia down from the garage several days ago, but the boxes sat unopened in the family room until yesterday morning, when I decided to surprise Jim by putting the tree up before he awoke.
I was stringing blinking lights around the tree when he walked in, big smile on his face. He likes blinkers; I don’t particularly. The last several years, I’ve had my way: nice steady lights. This year I decided to do it his way: alternating blinkers top to bottom.
Jim sorted through some CDs, put one on. Soon James Taylor’s voice filled the room. Taylor’s renditions of “Winter Wonderland,” “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” “Jingle Bells” and other favorites set a warm, festive mood. I continued to fiddle with the lights and then sort through ornaments, garlands and knick knacks. Then “The Christmas Song” came on. It’s the one with the line, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas.” The words and melody gripped me, my eyes filled, tears spilled. I was surprised. Jim bought the CD last year, and the song hadn’t made me cry.
Jim’s response? He said to Romeo, one of our dogs, “Uh, oh, the waterworks; it’s time for us to go, fella.” I shook my head, thinking he was channeling John Wayne again—or maybe Humphrey Bogart since he’d just watched “Key Largo” the night before. He ambled toward the kitchen, the dog padding after him. When he returned, we hung the first ornaments: balls with Grateful Dead art on them, part of Jim’s assortment of the band’s memorabilia.
Jim had an errand to run. I decided to do some other chores—pay bills, do laundry, that sort of thing. I thought about “The Christmas Song” while I worked. I remembered that my father used to croon that one, along with many others. He would sing with everything he had, like the Welsh miners who harmonized throughout their days in the old film “How Green Was My Valley.” When my father was alive, my days were bursting with music, especially at Christmas. Then he died, and the holidays of my childhood grew quiet and bleak.
Later, I returned to the tree. I pulled out a box of golden orbs painted with a glittery holly pattern and checked to see whether they still had hangers attached. I didn’t notice that Jim was at the stereo until another voice filled the room: Robert Goulet singing, “If Ever I Would Leave You” from the Broadway soundtrack of Camelot.
Sometimes I think “If Ever I Would Leave You” is the best love song ever written. I always think of it as Jim’s and my song. Often, words of comfort aren’t Jim’s thing. Jokes and music are. He knows I lost my parents when I was far too young and that even though I am happy now, sometimes a song or movie or painting or remark will remind me of past times of sorrow. He realizes these memories are fleeting but that they shaped the person I’ve become. He also knows I know he’s never going to leave me as long as there is breath in his body.
I looked up. We smiled at each other. I thanked him for playing the song. He sashayed across the room and gave me a big hug. I told him I want to donate to a toy drive this year in addition to writing our year-end checks to the local food bank and a few other charities. We used to donate games, dolls, action figures and more when our children were growing up, but we haven’t done so lately. I know a toy won’t transform a grieving family into a thriving one, but it might provide at least a moment of happiness, something that could help tide a child over to another good moment, and another, and another until such time as there are far more good times than bad.
Jim, of course, said he’s all for it.
Copyright © 2013 by Laura McHale Holland