Biographical Non-Fiction posted December 21, 2021

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Dragging Christmases Past to Christmases Present

Where Have All the Carolers Gone

by Jay Squires

I have a couple of handfuls of dear friends here on FanStory who are from the United Kingdom; one or two from Wales, I believe; several are from Down Under. In all cases, the Spirit of Christmas that those I've singled out experience today is still the same as young Dylan's was from “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”

No, don’t bother!

My conviction won’t allow for any dissenting voices.
Theirs is the Spirit of Christmas over which this old codger spends probably too much time reminiscing. Putting an American frame around it, their Spirit of Christmas resembles that singular part of my Christmases Past that I’m struggling to pin down. I long desperately to tuck the spirit of it into a pocket of my emotional memory, so I can return with it to my Christmases-Present.

The 70-Year Slide Back to Christmases-Past.

Beginning perhaps two weeks before Christmas, I could hear the ghost of their voices blocks away, making their gradual progression into our neighborhood. Reason would tell most people that Linda Place might not even be on that night’s route. But I wasn’t most people. I didn’t entertain a single doubt they would soon be here. The carolers’ voices grew richer and more melodious as they approached.

The harmony of voices was flowing like rich honey down Center Street, not far from McKinley School, my school. The carolers were detouring up the side streets, as was only fair to the other kids. But they would soon be arriving at the vacant lot on our corner, then turning up Linda Place.

“You’ll catch your death of damn foolishness standing at that screen door, Junie,” Mom said from the kitchen. Yes, Junie. I don't apologize for it.

“We’ll all catch it, if you don’t shut the door, Son,” Dad chimed in.

“But listen, Daddy. You can hear them clear as a bell. And if we shut the door—”

Dad must have seen something in my eyes. “We’ll give them five minutes.”

It took more like twenty before I announced, “Look, there they are, Daddy, Mama. Where’s Sis? Donna,” I hollered, “they’re here!” The carolers had to be tired. What were we, the two-hundredth house they’d stopped at? Still, they treated ours like it was the first. Better, like it was a command performance. Donna stood back from the screen door. I knew she was studying their faces to see if she recognized anyone. After all, she was a teenager. I didn’t know quite what that meant. Only that she was going through some changes, and Mom and Dad gave her some leeway on account of it.

The Moment—the Magic

The carolers—there were about fifteen of them—formed a half-circle on our walkway, a few of them on either side, spilling out onto the grass. There was something magical about their bundling together in their semi-circle. Their cheeks and the tips of their noses were red from the cold. Little puffs of steam left their mouths and noses as they exhaled.

The leader blew a reedy sound through his pitch pipe and they began.

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come …” And now their breaths combined to produce a communal jet of steam. In measure with the music, it rose, then dissipated just above their heads.

I glanced over my shoulder to see if Mom and Dad were feeling the same magic. Dad was fishing in his wallet, looking, I was sure, for a one-dollar bill among a few fives and tens. There weren’t too many of any denominations on his salary as a cop. His face, though, registered his enjoyment as he dug.

Mom scurried in the kitchen, putting still-warm chocolate-chip cookies on a platter to pass around the carolers. She smiled and her lips silently formed the lyrics.

“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie ...”

And I, a towhead ten or eleven-year-old, turned back to the carolers. My heart was filled with the magic of their voices, all mixed in my memory with rising steam from a held note vanishing an instant later, my own breath icy on the inhale, warm on the exhale. Little things like that carried such meaning—a meaning I'm struggling to pin down so it doesn't slither away.

Too soon they finished their selections and tasted Mom’s cookies, all roll-y eyed and chattering like magpies.

And then they were gone ….

Again, the in-rush of feeling from Christmases-Past tries to make permanent residence in this geezer’s Christmases-Present.
~     ~     ~
The heavy front door closed against the winter chill, now, I invite you to share with me a few moments in this child’s—no, not Christmas in Wales—but his nest-of-remembered Heaven at 627 Linda Place.

With the last batch of cookies still in the oven, Mom stirred the cocoa to just shy of boiling. This steaming brew didn’t come from a Swiss-Miss packet. It was made with Hersey’s bitter cocoa powder. Lord help us if she forgot to add in the sugar, which she did more than once. (You see, Mama was a bit of a scatter-brain—which I say with a heart full of love. One morning she brushed her teeth with
Brylcreem which men used at the time to slick back their hair. “Well," she reasoned aloud, "it was white and in a tube.”) The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, you say? Or, you think? Either way, I hear you.

But then I was giving you the cocoa recipe, wasn’t I? 

So, to the cocoa powder she added half-and-half (never plain milk), sugar, we hoped, and a dash of vanilla extract. She brought it to just short of a boil. Left too long on the heat, a wrinkled skin of chocolate formed that she had to skim off with a tablespoon.

Onto the tops of the cups of cocoa placed before us at the table, she added a dollop of whipped cream. Dollops don’t come from cans, my younger Fanstorian Brothers and Sisters. They come, hand-whipped from the bowl, transported by a brown wooden spoon to each cup.

As we sat there, munching our cookies, sipping the scalding liquid from cups cradled in both hands, dabs of white cream on the tips of our noses, the Spirit of Christmas seeped right down into our bones, stored like a muscle-memory where it would never be forgotten.

To this day, a little over seventy years later, I can still draw my imagination’s deep breath and take in the scent of the pine tree in the front room, which adds its heady, warm fragrance to the chocolatey ambiance.
~     ~     ~
There is no caroling on our block today. On any block or neighborhood that I know of. Gone for about three-quarters of a century on my side of the world. I know that caroling is still a seasonal celebration in the U.K., in Wales, and Down Under. And that’s as it should be. It’s where the tradition was birthed, and …

Oh, no, no, no, no, no! I told you I won’t listen to the obscenity of it! Caroling
is alive and well in Great Britain, thank you! As it is in Australia (though they carol in shorts and tank-tops, owing to the heat in December)—and I’ll brook none of your denial on that, either!

Tell me, though ... where have all the American carolers gone? And, why their demise?

Our country needs carolers so much this Holiday Season. You know what I’m talking about, my brothers and sisters. We Americans need the seed-givers of song as never before. And more than that, we need to leave our hearts’ doors’ open to receive their song—even if it means the discomfort of waiting with only the faith that they’re … coming. They’re just down the block.

O, the joyous celebration! Give me an
Amen and a resounding Hallelujah,  all of you who await the congregation of the song-givers and the song-receivers. Pray for us ... the hoarders of Christmases Past! 

It’s time, isn’t it, Brother? Isn’t it time, My Sister?

Tell me, from your heart of hearts …

Isn’t it time?



Christmas Story contest entry



For your enjoyment, "A Child's Christmas in Wales," written and narrated by Dylan Thomas. I read it every year at this time.

Once when I was much younger, I memorized it and planned to clothe myself as the young Dylan Thomas and offer a dramatic rendering of it to those shut-ins in our city's homes for senior citizens. I would have done it, too, had I not suffered a debilitating injury ....I'm speaking of fear and timidity that so gripped my innards, that so disabled me, that my joints turned to jelly at the mere thought of opening my mouth in front of a world of critics.

It would be such a blessing to these folks, if a Fanstorian the likes of Gregory Cody, or Judiverse, or Lobber would pick up my discarded gauntlet, and use their performing skills to entertain and inject hope into these deserving hearts.

Again, accept this Christmas gift, with love from me, and enjoy "A Child's Christmas in Wales":

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