A Christmas Full of Longing and Ache

Friend of the blog georgetteann has a lovely post on Christmas music over at her site, A Walk on the Bright Side:

As my mind drifted away from the conversation at our table and focused on the music, I began to notice I knew almost every song in his repertoire by heart. Some songs were from my mother’s era—great emotional tunes of the 60’s and 70’s that she played over and over when we were growing up. Others were melodies from my high school and college days in the late 80’s and early 90’s. What I noticed was that I could remember exact moments associated with each and every one of them. I could recount people and places and events within the first few notes. As I drove home, I realized my life was like a soundtrack marked by a series of great moments tainted by plenty of unpleasant ones…and then the tears came…and then the words came.

Beautiful. She also reminds us of the devastating classic, “Please Come Home for Christmas” by Charles Brown.*

Lord, that’s devastating. I’ve worn out his album Cool Christmas BluesMy kids don’t get it at all, of course. In a way I’m grateful they don’t. They’ll understand it later, I suppose, as adults do. Until then it’s poppy, upbeat, sing-songy music. Songs in major keys.

We say Christmas is for kids, and I’m not going to argue. But Christmas for kids is Frosty and Rudolph and platters of sugar cookies. Adults have more refined palates. My tastes run to coffee and dark chocolate; my taste in music is for all the pining, longing, aching songs of Christmas. (Sinatra’s “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is the one that gets me.)

*I don’t know much about Charles Brown. Wikipedia says:

“Born in Texas City, Texas, Brown graduated from Central High School of Galveston, Texas in 1939 and Prairie View A&M College in 1942 with a degree in chemistry. He then became a chemistry teacher at George Washington Carver High School of Baytown, Texas, a mustard gas worker at the Pine Bluff Arsenal at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and an apprentice electrician at a shipyard in Richmond, California before settling in Los Angeles in 1943.”

Wow. What a life. Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it. May you and your families have much joy. Both the unadulterated joy of a nine-year-old tearing into presents, and the melancholy, nostalgia-infused joy of an adult watching the scene and smiling through sad eyes.

This song always reminds me of my grandfather, who was so upset by his youngest brother’s death in World War II he could barely speak about war, or his brother, for the rest of his life. You can listen to my podcast episode about my grandfather as a young boy, a story that was a gift to my own boys, by following this link.

A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #25: The Equation

My mother appeared in the doorway and my stomach fell. What was she doing at my algebra class? In my high school, in the middle of the day? This was exciting—it was my mother, she was here to see me—but it also felt dangerous.

Years earlier, my best friend’s mother had shown up one day wearing the same expression. We had been in gym class then, playing bombardment. From across the gym, I watched my friend jog toward his mother and disappear around the corner of the stage. Where was he headed? Somewhere cool?

No. He missed school for the next four days. Our teacher mentioned that Bobby, sadly, was attending his grandfather’s funeral.

And now this: I was in the ninth grade, my mother was here, it was me who walked out of the normal world and into the unknown. In the hallway she confirmed my worst fear. My grandfather had had a heart attack. She and my father were on their way to the hospital. I should go home by myself and wait there until they got back.

“Will he be okay?” I asked.

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A History of Jacke in 100 Objects #21: The Speed Trap

Some advance warning: I’m going to stop this story and start over because it’s the only way I can figure out how to tell it.

So it’s 1980, morning in America, and I’m riding in a car with my grandfather. We are on the way home from the golf course. It’s sunny and we’re in Wisconsin and the car is, I believe, a  1974 Gran Torino. Anyway I’m sure it’s a Ford, because my grandfather bought all his cars from Barney at the Ford Garage, which was just up the road from his house in the small Wisconsin town where he lived.

As we reach the crest of the hill, we see a police car stopped by the side of the highway. He has caught a speeder. Another car—a Ford, no doubt—sits in front of the squad car. The officer of the law is walking toward the driver.

I know what my grandfather is going to say. In fact, I’m about to blurt it out. But I don’t.

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