I got an audio text message the other day from my daughter Jaime. It starred my 7-year-old granddaughter Ella singing, “Silent Night,” with Jaime accompanying her on guitar.
Now I know most people would think, “Awww… isn’t that cute?” And they would be right. It was wonderful. But there was a lot more going on with that than just a sweet, little Christmas message. It was Jaime’s sly, cunning way of delivering a message to me. The message was, “You’re too late grampa!”
These days, Christmas holidays are something I look back on rather than forward to. That’s because I now have over seventy of them to try and remember and not that many more in front of me. My old friend Ed asks me each time we put his sailboat away for the winter, “Do you think we’ll still be doing this in 10 years?”
I always tell him, “Yes I do. What I’m most worried about is that some year we’ll forget where we keep the boat.”
I am blessed in that there are many wonderful Christmas memories for me but the one that always comes to mind happened back in 1981 which co-incidentally is the one Jaime is referring to. In those days, I had three young children; an 8-year-old son and twin daughters aged five.
The ladies were in kindergarten. At that time, they thought—and in what’s left of my mind I have to say that I agreed with them—that I was the coolest guy in the world. I still remember the knee hugs I would get before I left the house to go to work, when I came back home, and most wonderfully whenever I asked for them. I say unto you now that if you are getting knee hugs from your little girls, “Enjoy them,” for they don’t last very long and when they are over, you are basically over as far as being, “the coolest guy in the world.”
Up in my bedroom there was a large colonial rocking chair and every night when it was time for my little girls to go to bed, they would try and prolong the day by saying to me with eager smiling faces, “Dad. We can’t go to bed yet… we haven’t had our rockypoo!”
My parents didn’t have a rocking chair in their bedroom but my grandmother did and that is where I had my rockypoos whenever I went to visit her. Sometimes my grandfather would come in and sing, “I went to the animal fair, the birds and the beasts were there, the big baboon by the light of the moon was combing his auburn hair. Oh the monkey he got drunk, and sat on the elephant’s trunk, the elephant sneezed, and fell on his knees and that was the end of the monk, the monk, the monk, the monk, the monk….”
I can still remember my grandfather telling me he had learned that song from his grandmother. So here we are a hundred years later and my kids are singing those same songs to my grandchildren.
I really looked forward to doing it too because I got to sit in my rocking chair and these two beautiful little girls would crawl up into that chair with me. Each would take a knee and lean back into my arms and we would start to rock and I would teach them a song. The first song I taught them was – of course, “The Animal Fair.”
Then we moved into, “Moonlight Bay.” That’s a great song for kids in a rocking chair because it seems to be able to keep perfect time with the rocking action. We also did, “A Shanty In Old Shanty Town,” “Hard-hearted Hannah,” “Ragged but Right,” “The San Francisco Bay Blues,” and, “Sixteen Tons.”
But… every once in a while, I liked to throw a monkey wrench at them… just to keep them on their toes; and also because—I am told—I have a very weird sense of humour.
The girls were always eager to learn a new song since that meant staying up a little longer, and I loved living in the dream that they just wanted to spend more time with me because they so loved spending time with me—which I now suspect was just a cheap trick to avoid going to bed.
This was in November and my little girls were starting to come under the influence of the Christmas advertising season and they asked me if I knew any Christmas carols. I decided to teach them: “Silent Night.”
When I came to the line, “Holy infant so tender and mild,” I decided it would be really funny if instead I taught them, “Holy infant so tender and wild.” When asked by my mother why I did that, I told her how John Lennon was asked by an interviewer why he used a certain brilliant word in a song and he had replied, “Because it friggin’ rhymes!”
My little girls trusted me to the max on that one and since it rhymed, that is the way they learned that Christmas carol.
Every night for the next two weeks or so, we would have our rocky-poo and go through our song litany and our last number was always, “Silent Night.”
Each time we sang it, I was killing myself with internal laughter as I stopped singing to let them do that one line alone telling them that they sang it so beautifully and I loved their wonderful melodious voices; those two little innocent girls as they sang, “Holy infant so tender and wild…” so beautifully. It brings tears to my eyes even today just to think about the way they believed in me. But I didn’t cry back then. It was everything I could do to avoid breaking out laughing which, I guess, backs up the “weird,” part.
That fairy tale lasted almost three weeks.
One night we were having our rockypoo and I was singing along with them. When I came to the, “Holy infant so tender and wild,” part they sang, “Uhhhh… no dad. It’s not tender and wild.”
The jig was up!
In a very reproachful voice they enlightened me, “You’ve got it wrong. It’s ‘tender and mild.’ Our teacher heard us singing it your way and she stopped the class and made us sing it in front of everybody and then told us the right way… tender and mild.”
As they said that, I couldn’t keep it in any longer and I burst out laughing. “What’s so funny Dad?”
What could I say?
I started tap-dancing as fast a I could and fortunately I still had enough credibility with them that I could say, “Tender and mild eh? Really? Whew… boy, did I ever get that wrong. I really thought it was tender and wild. But wait. You girls are going to a Catholic School… right?”
“Yes dad. Sacred Heart.”
I said, “Well then. That explains it. You see my grandfather was a protestant and that’s probably the way those savages sang it back then and that’s how I learned it.”
I must admit, I felt a twinge of guilt but hey, it appeared to be working. I mean come on now. The pile was getting pretty high so I figured I might as well see how high I could pile it. Right?
But by saying that my explanation “worked,” I need to qualify that by admitting that it only worked for a little while. By the next year we were still doing the rocky-poo thing but it had a decisively more adult bent to it. We were doing The Beetles albums although we still did and to this day, still do, “Sixteen Tons,” and “The San Francisco Bay Blues.” Of course we use all the right words… most of them anyway.
In their teens, as the girls started to introduce me to their boyfriends, this story always seemed to come up at Christmas and even though it was always a way to for them to prove to their boyfriends that I had a weird sense of humour, the boyfriends always thought it was funny… all except for this one guy but he didn’t last too long anyway… “No sense of humour,” I was later told.
When they were 19 and they came home for Christmas, I got them in to my favourite all time Christmas song: “The Christmas Waltz” sung by Nancy Wilson. It was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne for Frank Sinatra but he never came close to doing it as beautifully as Nancy Wilson did. (it’s available on iTunes)
Now as I listen to my recording of Ella singing, “Silent Night,” –(and beautifully I might add my dear Ella), I want to wish all of you and yours a Merry Christmas.
Now I know some of you may think it is not politically correct for me to say that, but these days I am feeling a little, “tender and wild,” so I want you to know that:
A. that is just my opinion I could be wrong and
B. even if I am, I don’t care.
Oh yes…one more thing…Happy New Year.