Michael Overall: Thoughts linger on Christmas goodbyes
BY MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer
Monday, December 31, 2012
12/31/12 at 6:01 AM
On Christmas morning 1928, Irving Berlin woke up to find his infant son dead in the crib, a case of what we now call sudden infant death syndrome.
You wouldn't blame him for hating the holidays for the rest of his life.
But 13 years later, Berlin went on to write one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time, by some accounts the best-selling record in history - beating Elvis, the Beatles, U2 and all the rest.
One interpretation of the song involves American GIs who were stuck in the balmy jungles of the south Pacific during World War II, dreaming of a "White Christmas" back home, like the ones they used to know.
But Berlin, according to another theory, had a different kind of homecoming in mind, when there will be no more goodbyes.
The song was stuck in my head all day Christmas as Tulsa waited for a winter storm that never came.
Nobody wanted to drive in it, of course. But since we had no place to go
Wait. That's another song.
"And children listen for sleigh bells in the snow."
That's "White Christmas."
Some people hear a somber shift in the melody as those lyrics come along, evoking the memory of children who can listen no longer.
Maybe that's reading too much into it. But there's definitely a mournful undertone.
And until now, it always struck me as odd and inappropriate for a season that's supposed to be about hope and joy and good will toward man. Save the wistful songs for Memorial Day.
But this year seemed a bit less merry and bright with Newtown, Conn., fresh on our minds and Webster, N.Y., in the news cycle.
My wife baked everybody's favorite chocolate pie. And I pictured my grandmother, who started that tradition when I was a little boy.
My father ended the gift-opening frenzy by handing out envelopes of cash. And for a moment I saw my grandfather, who used to send everybody home with a crisp $50 bill.
Uncle John called from Florida. And I thought about all my cousins who live too far away - and the ones who live just across town but have their own families now, which creates a kind of distance, too.
My little boy opened toy after toy, merrily oblivious to the empty seats all around the room because he has spent every holiday of his young life with exactly the same group of people.
Nobody's missing. Yet.
You have to be a little older to appreciate the melancholy side of Christmas morning.
But it's an important part. An indispensable part.
Holidays aren't just about the people you spend them with. They're about the people you used to spend them with.
Original Print Headline: Thoughts linger on Christmas goodbyes