In the bleak midwinter…

A Christmas chant, merry mantra, something to dispel gloaming and gloom. The words, perhaps, are “I believe,” to vanquish thoughts of disbelief, to full-fathom-five it, so faith surviveth.  Loved ones may be far away. Maybe nothing gold can stay. Even if it’s Christmas Day. Alone. A koan: But a bright star shone.  I believe that Christmas shines in spite of gloam and gloom. I believe its boundless spirit crowds the biggest room. Shed a tear. Savior’s here. Kings rode far. Compass star.

Here’s a song for bleak midwinter, when frosty wind makes moan, when cherubs and sweet seraphim sing the Christmas koan:

If they ain’t got that do-re-mi…

The title of this post refers, of course, to the song “Do-Re-Mi” by Woody Guthrie — which is perfectly apt, since Woody’s buddy Pete Seeger is lending his voice to a campaign to raise money for the trailblazing Sing Out! magazine, which has hit a fiscal sour note as it marks its 60th year of publication.

Here’s Pete:

And here’s a treat. Woody sings about how folks treat you if you ain’t got that “Do-Re-Mi”:

In the evening when the lights are low…

I don’t recall her name but I remember how she looked: red lipstick, dark Bette Davis hair, tattered velvet robe, pink blush on her cheeks, thick mascara on her tired eyes,  red polish on her fingernails as she handed me money to pay for her subscription to the newspaper I delivered to her house every afternoon.

I’d seen her before. But I’d never seen her like this. I was making my rounds later than usual, maybe around 8 in the evening, collecting my payments for the week. I was 13 years old. She must have been in her late 40s. She was alone. She had clearly been crying — the trails of her tears were marked by lines of mascara running down to her cheeks.

“Come in,” she said. “I’ll get you the money.”

I’d never been in her house. I sat down and waited. Music was playing. I didn’t know the song then but now I know it was by Frank Sinatra, and it was a song from “In the Wee Small Hours” and he was singing “Mood Indigo”:

I always get that mood indigo
Since my baby said goodbye
And in the evening when the lights are low
I’m so lonely I could cry

The woman returned to the room and asked if I might like a glass of soda. I said “No, thanks” to the offer of water, stood up, and said I had to get going — I had more collection stops to make along my newspaper route.

Then I heard the radio announcer.  He said we were listening to WNEW in New York and to a show called “The Milkman’s Matinee.” The program’s theme song came on. It was the Modernaires singing “It’s Make Believe Ballroom Time”:

It’s Make-Believe Ballroom Time
Put all your cares away
All the bands are here to bring a cheer your way

As I left I turned around and took one last look and I glimpsed her as she stood near her hi-fi with a highball glass in her hand and sang along softly as Glenn Miller played and the Modernaires sang:

It’s Make-Believe Ballroom Time
And free to everyone
It’s no time to fret
Your dial is set for fun

.