We gathered around the tree hanging ornaments on its branches while baby Jacob looked on and Christmas music played over the stereo. It was our first Christmas in our new home and Jacob’s first Christmas, as well; he was less than a month old. After the tumultuous circumstances surrounding his birth and a period of time settling into home life with a new baby, we were finally catching our breath when we decided to decorate the house in mid-December, 2001. Embracing the spirit of the holidays, Sophie bounced around excitedly, hanging decade old knickknacks as high as she could reach, posing for photographs with her baby brother, and dancing to the likes of Nat King Cole, Vince Guraldi Trio and the modern Christmas classic by The Waitresses, ”Christmas Wrapping.”
Sure, no December is complete without Springsteen and the Big Man ”ho ho ho’ing,” but in recent years the Waitresses’ song has become my favorite rock and roll Christmas single. Written by bandleader Chris Butler, sung by the late Patty Donahue, and recorded on a hit August day in 1981, ”Christmas Wrapping” recounts the tale of a single woman’s desire to spend Christmas Eve alone after a year of missed opportunities with a man she met a year earlier. The narrative plays out like the plot of a nice romantic comedy, the kind of upbeat chick flick you’d expect to see Amy Adams or Rachel McAdams starring in someday. The tone is not cynical or sad. Donahue sings with a hip, matter-of-fact cadence that hides a hint of hope that some kind of magical ending may find her by the end of the song… and it does. Besides Donahue’s talk/singing that captures the harried nature of December, there is one hell of a bass line carrying the song on its back, Nile Rodgers-like guitar licks, slick drumming, and one of the most infectious sax/horn parts in any song, holiday or otherwise. This hip little song conveys the frigid east coast and reminds me of Ohio. It always lifts my spirits, more than the Boss, Linus and Lucy, or John and Yoko.
Our spirits needed lifting in December of 2001, for one day after we’d hoisted the tree, hung the stockings and burned the finest log Duraflame had to offer, Jacob was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. One day after so much joy, life threw us a sucker punch right in the gut and sucked the wind right back out of us. At a time when I should have been rejoicing, all I could wonder is, ”Why?” Of course, Sophie had a wonderful Christmas, unaware of the fear and sadness her parents were working through. Julie and I were wrecks. Some nights the only thing that could calm my tears was hearing this silly, wonderful song while driving in my car. Each Christmas since then, when we pull down the decorations from the rafters, put on A Christmas Story and fasten the icicle lights around the outside of the house, as December 25th approaches another anniversary looms in our consciousness.
This past weekend, the tree went up as it’s now tradition to get in the holiday groove over Thanksgiving weekend. We were all joyful as we watched White Christmas and then relived the exploits of Ralphie and his pursuit of a Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle. Jacob walked around in my favorite toque and Sophie took charge of distributing the hundreds of ornaments we’ve accumulated over 15 years. If I was careful, I didn’t linger on their exuberant faces or let myself stand still for too long for fear that thick fog that clouds my mind, a fog called cystic fibrosis, would taint the moments and bring me down. It was a good day.
As I write this it’s past midnight and I’m worn out. After a long, hellacious day at work, Julie called with some disconcerting news about Jacob that has my stress levels rising. Tired, angry and scared, it’s in moments like this that I want to punch the sky to get God’s attention and scream at the heavens. It’s in moments like this that I have to step back and remind myself of the good things. And it’s in moments like this that I need a festive song to raise my spirits once again. I have to remind myself that both kids are doing well; that I have a true companion in Julie, who loves me, forgives me, and is there to catch me when I sinking (God, I love my wife); I have the support and guidance of my family; and I have friends who stick by me no matter how many times I disappoint them. This disease is just one part of our reality.
I realize that there are people, maybe even some of you, that have it worse than I do. Different diseases, different dilemmas, different situations that could ruin the holidays. I’m no philosopher or soap box preacher; I don’t have answers. However, I do have a remedy that can give you five minutes of relief from the darkest blue Christmas. Press play and then… Dance! Sing! Play the air bass! Grab your loved ones and shake your booty! Scat along with the saxophone (ba do da ba doo dah dah!). Let this terrific little pop song by an obscure new wave band take you over and give you hope. It works. Trust me, it works.