The title of today's post is from an old holiday song, "Deck the Halls", an 1860's version of a much older Welsh song, which dates back to the 1500's. The original, "Nos Galen", was a song meant to be sung on New Year's Eve. An English translation of the lyric, published in 1794, has it as, "Oh! how soft my fair one's bosom, fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la. Oh! how sweet the grove in blossom, fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la. Oh! how blessed are the blisses, words of love, and mutual kisses, fal lal lal lal lal lal lal lal la."
At any rate, I should note that the 'hall' hereabouts was properly bedecked and festooned for the season yet again. Once of these years I keep expecting that I'll stop doing it; but it hasn't happened yet. Acquiring and putting up a tree and etc. has been my own little statement of victory over the vicissitudes of life, a triumph of survival for another year. There have been years when it almost didn't happen, but fate (and the kindnesses of friends and strangers) has always intervened. And so the tradition continues. The tree sports the decorations which were given to me over the years, and the little niceties (such as two little birds touching beaks) once arranged by a close companion. It's my annual tribute to missing friends, the family I was building before time and disease changed things.
In better days, when I had jobs with real benefits, I always took some of my vacation time during the week between Christmas and New Year. My father used to do that. Both of his brothers did that. I liked the idea and continued it whenever possible. They all lived close by each other; there wasn't any real need for them to do it for family visits. Although, when I was young, their Aunt Norma, my Great Aunt, would come up for the week from Washington, D.C. where she lived and worked. And their Uncle Less and Aunt Arlene, both of whom lived several towns and some distance away, would make their yearly pilgrimage to see their visiting sister,, as well as the rest of us. The years, and changes in employment practices (both theirs and mine), eventually ended the week of holiday vacation time off. When I was a teenager, one of my aunts declared that the family should henceforth only give presents to the children (she had the only two at the time). The family, never close to begin with, began to drift apart. Perhaps my attempt to continue the vacation tradition, and my insistence on continuing to use the kinds of Christmas tree lights and decorations prevalent in the late 1950's and early 1960's, was/is really an all too typical longing for family, and a more innocent time before we all changed and grew apart. Maybe it's just because I like that style better than what followed.
Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. As I grew into my teens in my small town, I would join family members in staying up to watch Guy Lombardo and His Orchestra play in the New Year from a nightclub in New York City; a brilliantly lit ball would slowly descend a mast on the old Times tower until the New Year was declared in dazzling lights, cheers from the assembled crowd, cheers from the nightclub where Mr. Lombardo's wheezy band played 'Auld Lang Syne', 'Always', and other chestnuts of a lifestyle which had already faded and passed. As my father began going away on business trips, and then started dating again, I would find myself sitting home alone, pathetically watching the same routine observances year after year, vowing that another year would not find me in such circumstances. Of course, the next year did, and the years after that. The year I moved to New York City, I headed down to Times Square to join the hoopla. While being part of the madness was fun, I was somewhat uncomfortable in the crowd. Partly, it was the crowd. And partly it was the same kind of discomfort I always felt at parties where I didn't know anyone, and routinely moved myself to a corner where I could watch other people having a good time. I've never been comfortable at parties, even when I know the people there. I wanted to be, I wanted to have a good time, I just didn't know how to go about it. I was too socially awkward and shy, with little patience for some kinds of small talk, hiding that fact behind manners and a ready smile.
I went to Times Square on New Year's Eve one or two more times. At one point, I managed a large bookstore at 43rd and Broadway, right in Times Square. At 2pm on December 31st, we would close the store, put plywood over the windows, and get the hell out. I often joke that that approach was good advice for life. I never thought of that until I was past 50, however, and often never had that much sense when it might have done some good.
I never made enough money to go out to the nightclubs of my own times. I never did get to go to, or stage, any fabulous New Year's Eve parties. There were a few years when that night was held close in a lover's arms, but to tell the truth, I don't remember them very well. The years do tend to blend together. I became content with being a single person. Except for the occasional New Year's Eve, watching whatever passes for the party I could never get to, when my teenage self knowingly mutters that not much has changed in 50 years. And when that little bastard appears with his remonstrations, I just smile, and adjust an ornament on the tree.
For last Saturday's radio show, the old Philco's tuning mechanism got a workout as we sampled a number of different Holiday Week programs over a number of years, listening to broadcasts with everyone from Duke Ellington (performing 'Let the Zoomer's Drool') to Bing Crosby, Artie Shaw (with Roy Eldridge), Tommy Dorsey, Kay Kyser, Cab Calloway, and Louis Armstrong. And, of course, Guy Lombardo.
As always, I hope any listeners enjoy the show.