My parents moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in January of 1955 to find a climate that was more favorable to my asthma than the cold wet winters of Northeastern Ohio where I was born. I have no siblings, so there was just the three of us, in a new house in the Deep South, making visits to our Ohio family in the summer and hosting their visits to us at Christmastime.
As I grew up, the Christmas holiday in Florida held the most vivid memories for me because that was when my mother’s parents and her older sister and husband came to visit, and we all went to the midnight service at the Lutheran church that we attended. I always got to sit between my grandmother and my aunt. The warm feelings of love and acceptance were amplified by the seasonal music in the dim light of the church at a time when I should have been in bed.
My grandmother was a very proper Englishwoman and always wore a fox stole around her shoulders. I recall the beady black glass eyes in the head of the fox and the cool touch of the fur when I rested my head on her shoulder. What I remember most about those midnight services is the sound of my grandmother’s voice singing the Christmas hymns, Silent Night in particular.
That song was always the last one sung and it closed out the service just after one o’clock in the morning every year. Silent Night is more than just a Christmas carol to me, it is the embodiment of my grandmother, because she did not just sing it during the holidays. Year round, throughout my childhood and young adulthood, my grandmother could be heard singing Silent Night as she went about her day doing laundry, cleaning the house or just relaxing in a chair with our son in her arms.
Silent Night never fails to bring a tear to my eye whenever and wherever I hear it. I cry tears of joy for the memories of my wonderful grandmother and tears of sadness for the times that we will never again enjoy together.
I used to fight the feelings and attempt to stifle the inevitable tears at the sound of this song, but ultimately it was a losing battle every time. Now I just stop and think of the memories that I have of a childhood with a loving grandmother and give thanks for the time we had together. I have learned that the tears are going to come, they do every year, and to fight them is to disrespect the woman who was a major source of comfort and happiness to a child who was seeking that very gift.
If you see an older gentleman this holiday season who is discreetly wiping a tear from his eye while the Muzak is playing the Barking Dog’s version of Silent Night it might just be me; and please realize that I am not judging the Muzak, I am just recalling good times with a wonderful woman who helped me early on in this journey of life.