Monday, December 29, 2008

Made it home from Christmas yesterday with our sanity intact (no small feat!) Friends and family dropped in and out of my sister's place in Vegas over the five-day period that we were there, and it was a welcome pleasure to have it staggered like that -it kept the overwhelmingness of the holidays at a manageable level.

My brother-in-law pointed out that the theme of this year's holiday was music and it was an astute observation, given that everyone got iPods and we spent Christmas night engaged in a spirited "Guitar Hero: Rock Band" competition on the Wii. As well, I mentioned previously that Hark! The Herald Angels Sing had become the Little Ditchman's new favorite song on the road trip out there, demanding to hear it over and over and over again (and to our delight -there are a few things we could listen to our little girl sing repeatedly.) We had it on the iPod (from the Peanuts soundtrack) and it was "Again!" and "Again!" and "I wanna hear hark the angels again!" for the last hundred miles or so. We obliged. It was kinda nice, actually.

But imagine the little girl's astonishment when Uncle Chris received a certain oversized Christmas card from his kids and his wife. This was a record-album sized card with the perrenial image of the Peanuts around the little Christmas tree, and when you open it the thing bursts into a ten second clip of "Hark! The herald angels sing..." sung by those cartoon kids, the tinny sounds emanating from a hidden microspeaker in the folds of the card -fad gift of the times. Well, she immediately took the card, called it her own, and opened it up to sing along every ten seconds. She had it wired after the first fifty times, but interestingly, Hallmark chose to cut off the song before it sings the phrase "God and sinners reconciled" and it just goes, "Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and si..." and trails off. So that's how the Little Ditchman sings it. I can't get her to retain the controversial "sinners reconciled/joyful all ye nations rise" part just yet, but it's cute all the same, and she carries it along wherever she goes, flipping it open and closed, singing along joyfully. Also, she doesn't exactly get the "herald" part either, so there are several significant lyrics missing. We'll work on her for next year.

Somehow she began referring to the card as "My iPod!" and demanded to know where it was if ever it was misplaced. I think the connotation was acquired when we were in the car the following day and she demanded more "Hark the angels" and we told her we accidentally left the iPod at home. When we got home, she saw the card under the table and screamed, "My iPod!" and ensued in another half hour of "Hark the angels," flipping the pages open and shut. Uncle Chris never got to keep the card, by the way. He was forced to relinquish the thing. We have it here in Oceanside now, and are ruing the day the batteries die (but it's the cheapest iPod you can buy.)

Yes, we sang "The Twelve Days of Christmas" around the dinner table, as is the tradition in my family. It was a tremendous rendition, with the Little Ditchman fully into it -though she was actually singing "Hark the angels" and opening and closing the card between verses. We had a nice bottle of wine or two, and the oven broke early on with a loud POP, some smoke, and the reek of burning electrical components, which forced us to microwave the roast beast and cook everything else on the stovetop -but it was terrific all the same. There are more stories. Come to my family's house for Christmas dinner and stories are made, not told.

As if to make it all picture-perfect, it began to snow after dinner and the family all moved outside to see the Las Vegas miracle. The Little Ditchman was most impressed by the sight of snowflakes falling beneath the glow of the festive house lights and she wanted to stay outside, regardless of the freezing temperature. My brothers and sisters and cousins shivered and rubbed their elbows as they headed back inside, but me and my kid -we stayed out catching snowflakes on our tongues and repeating lines of dialogue from the Charlie Brown Christmas ("Needs sugar!") I'll never forget any of it.

Our section of the clan finally made it home to the suburbs last night and ordered some pizza for dinner. Mommy went out to get it and I flipped on the tv to find The Sound of Music airing in HD. I turned up the sound as that beautifully choreographed opening aerial shot of the Austrian countryside came on, the music swelling, and Julie Andrews spinning there in the field and launching into it:

The hills are alive with the sound of music,
with songs they have sung for a thousand years.
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music,
my heart wants to sing every song it hears...

The Little Ditchman heard this and stopped in her tracks. She gazed at the screen, mouth agape, drool rolling down her chin. She couldn't take her eyes off the screen, and Julie Andrews continues to sing that wonderful song:

My heart wants to beat like the wings of the birds,
that rise from the lake to the trees.
My heart wants to sigh like a chime that flies,
from a church on a breeze.
To laugh like a brook when it trips and falls over stones on its way,
To sing through the night like a lark who is learning to pray...

And watching my little girl watch this irresistible classic, getting totally swept up by that entrancing quality that only good cinema has, I just knew the movie was reaching in and wrapping its fingers around her little soul, like it had mine when I was a kid. Hers is a heart filled with song and dance, I know, and here was the ultimate Hollywood had to offer and that tinseltown magic was working right before my eyes. Like the Charlie Brown Christmas, The Sound of Music is another timeless classic, a story told with truth and beauty that will capture the hearts of generation upon generation. I watch it and am always taken away by it. I see the movie and I am twenty-five in Austria again. I am a child again. I am in love again. Only a true cynic, retired in isolated despair, can resist it.

And then Julie Andrews finishes her song:

I go to the hills when my heart is lonely,
I know I will hear what I've heard before.
My heart will be blessed with the sound of music,
And I'll sing once more.

And she's late for church. She runs off.

I had a big smile on my face and nudged the Little Ditchman. "Do you like this movie?" I probed.

She turned to me, as only a child can, and asked,

"Any animals in this?"