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Mitch and Martina

One of my fondest Christmas memories as a child is listening to my grandmother sing Christmas carols. Nancy Sinatra she was not, but Grandma could sing along with Mitch Miller like nobody’s business. From the time our Christmas tree was situated in front of the big picture window in the living room ... Mitch was spinning ‘round and ‘round on our record player, and Grandma didn’t miss a beat.

Grandma sang along with Mitch as the season progressed. I can’t say Grandma was always in tune, and I’m really not sure she sang every word accurately. But regardless of those minor details, the Christmas tunes blared through the house, and the Grandma/Mitch Miller duet is a memory that still plays over and over again in my head.

After Grandma passed away in the early ‘70s, I found I couldn’t listen to Christmas carols for quite a few years. Every song reminded me of her and what was, and just the sound of a simple Christmas carol sent tears running down my cheeks. It took a long time before I was able to listen to those Christmas carols again.

I’m fairly sure Grandma’s often off-key solos throughout that old, chilly farmhouse is what caused me to develop a fondness for Christmas carols. Every year when the season rolls around, I find myself digging out the Christmas CDs, and I spend many hours at home and in the car listening and singing along with whichever more-recent artist I’ve chosen. I probably have 30 or 40 Christmas CDs; it’s often difficult to decide which one to play.

And so it was the other day, when my mom and I headed out for our annual Christmas shopping trip. Before we left, I took special care to choose a CD I knew she would like — a country CD with a mixture of songs and artists. I like country music, but the thought of a whole day of twangy music didn’t really appeal to me. But I knew Mom would like it. When I picked her up at her house, the CD in my car was playing; it would be the perfect accompaniment to our shopping excursion.

“Silent Night” ... “O Holy Night” ... “O Come All Ye Faithful” ... “Jingle Bells” ... they kept playing over and over again, as we drove from store to store, shop to shop. Clearly, it added a frivolous and joyous aura to our journey. Lunch. More shopping. A cold drink to sip on for the ride home. We turned toward Princeton, and I turned up the CD player as we scooted through the countryside.

Although we had chatted all day long, the conversation was now only in our heads. Our feet were tired, and our legs ached. Other than the CD, the silence in my vehicle was a welcome retreat after dealing with the Christmas chaos all day long.

And then it happened ... Martina McBride began her country version of “O Holy Night” on the CD, and almost on cue, I realized Mom and I were both singing along. At first, it really didn’t hit me, but as the song continued, the memories of Grandma and Mitch Miller filled my head ... and my heart. I turned my head so Mom wouldn’t see the tears that were filling my eyes. Quickly, I wiped away a stray tear on my cheek. Something about what was with Grandma ... and what is with Mom ... opened my heart, and made me realize that this — to me — is Christmas.

OK ... just like Grandma, we both might have been a tad out of tune, but for the most part, we performed a respectable version of the song along with Martina. The songs kept playing ... and we kept singing. Christmas came to me this year on that day in the car. I will tuck away that memory for safe keeping.

Merry Christmas, my friends. May your holiday be filled with memories that warm your heart and stir your soul.

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