Dylan Thomas owns the imagery of Christmas for Jonathan, a friend of mine, who has read “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” to his children since they were old enough to sit still.
And he keeps the tradition alive, reading to his grown children and their spouses when they join him around the hearth on Christmas Eve. Playing Secret Santa at the office, he put a copy of “A Child’s Christmas” in my mailbox inscribed with his hopes for fostering the tradition in our young family.
Certainly, the eccentric Welsh aunts and uncles seemed normal to my son, Spencer, and his 4-year-old sister, Hilary. Nothing from “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” could top the Christmas Eve parade that trouped around and through our dining and living rooms that year.
Grandpa Lowell’s early Christmas present was a tape cassette recorder with built-in electronic drum pad and microphone, batteries very much included. A gift only a grandparent, who would return home long before the batteries expired, could love. It was fire engine red and had a long strap to be worn over the shoulder as an instrument. Spencer caught on immediately: he could play a tape in the cassette recorder while singing into the microphone and beating the buttons on the drum pad — press here for cymbal crash, press here for snare drum, press here for bass drum.
There was also a tiny switch on the side that swapped the drum sounds for animal noises — press here for dog barking, or goat or cat or lion. And Grandpa Lowell had thoughtfully included a tape of “The Complete Marches of John Phillips Sousa, Volume 2.” Sixty minutes of fanfare, bombast, twinkling piccolos, and stars and stripes that would very shortly sound forever. Brand new alkaline batteries last for centuries.
So, after Christmas dinner with the other side of the family, Spencer and Hilary got down from the table to begin their customary after-dinner laps of the dining and living rooms. On lap nine, a bright idea occurred to Spencer — time to trot out his new Sousaphone. (When Spencer goes upstairs and is quiet for a long time, we start to expect either water dripping through the kitchen ceiling, an outlandish costume or a new wave of music.) Spencer came back with a new wave of music, a spring in his step and an instant parade.
I love a parade. After the initial guffaws from the assembled aunts, uncles and grandparents, we all got up to join the column. Hilary with her tambourine, Grandpa Rob with a pan to beat with a wooden spoon. Gramps got the plunger and incorporated the trombone section. Someone was juggling grapefruit. My wife, Lesley, jumped in to cheerlead. “Left, right, left, right” through the den, around the kitchen and into the dining room we went. My mother, sitting in the reviewing stand at the head of the table, began the play-by-play, announcing with each lap of the house, the names of the soloists and their instruments.
Soon Spencer decided it was important to dress up a little, so everyone stopped to don silly hats, scarves, overcoats and stuffed animals. Then Rob shifted into high gear and hopped on Hilary’s tricycle, while Gramps picked up a broom to sweep up “after the elephants.” It was now a circus parade; Spencer flicked the switch on the drum pad and gave us lions, dogs, goats and kitty cats, while using the microphone to make human beatbox effects to the tune of “Nobles of the Mystic Shrine,” composed by Sousa in 1923, played by the Detroit Concert Band under the capable direction of Leonard B. Smith.
The kids are older now — young adults, in fact. I keep Jonathan’s tradition alive as much with this writing as with a Christmas Eve family reading. But the parade proclivity persists, and if the kids are home, I’ll be careful to emphasize other images in “A Child’s Christmas” as I read it aloud. Wolves in Wales? Lynx-eyed hunters and arctic marksmen? Mrs. Prothero and the firemen? Useless presents? The two-tongued sea? What could go wrong.
Todd R. Nelson is a former teacher and principal in Penobscot.
Follow BDN Editorial & Opinion on Facebook for the latest opinions on the issues of the day in Maine.